“Have I Caught Thee?”: Cordelia and the Runaway Jesus

Robert W. Reeder
Providence College


Robert W. Reeder. '“Have I Caught Thee?”: Cordelia and the Runaway Jesus'. Early Modern Literary Studies 15.1 (2009-10). <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/15-1/reedcord.htm>.


1. Critics Richard Strier and Deborah Shuger have related the radicalism of King Lear (1605-6) to radical strains within mainstream sources of cultural authority: early Christianity, humanism, and Protestantism. Strier compares the view of legitimate rebellion he finds endorsed in the play with the range of stances available in humanist and Protestant thought. At every turn, Strier argues, Shakespeare carries the notion “of right obedience as sometimes consisting of disobedience as far as it would go” (Resistant Structures, 165-6). Shuger, meanwhile, contrasts the play’s willingness to question the social order with the conservatism of the later humanists and of most Elizabethan and Jacobean preachers. When Shakespeare counters this conservatism, however, he is not rejecting Christianity but rather coming closer to its roots. According to Shuger, “precisely those moments in Shakespeare identified by modern critics as radical and subversive derive (however indirectly) from traditions of Christian radicalism … characteristic of the Church Fathers, particularly the Greek Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries” (Subversive Fathers, 47).  

2. In the spirit of these arguments, I suggest that King Lear taps into a radical strand even further back in Christianity—as far back as the figure of Jesus in the gospel of Luke. In King Lear 4.4, as the play builds towards battle, a messenger informs Cordelia that the British army is nearing her French forces.[1] Not surprised by the news, she apostrophises her suffering sire: “O dear father,/ It is thy business that I go about;/ Therefore great France/ My mourning and important tears hath pitied/ No blown ambition doth our arms incite,/ But love, dear love, and our aged father’s right” (23-28). In what Arden editor R.A. Foakes deems the play’s “most direct Christian reference” (323), Cordelia’s words echo the words of the boy Jesus. The only canonical story about Jesus’ childhood appears in Luke 2:41-52. Returning from Jerusalem, where they have taken their twelve-year old for Passover, Mary and Joseph realise he is not with them. A frantic search leads them back to the Temple, where the boy is discovered astonishing the religious teachers with his precocious understanding. Mary confronts him with her worry: “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee with heavy hearts” (2:48). Offering no apology for this runaway behaviour, Jesus responds with questions of his own: “How is it that ye sought me? knew ye not that I must go about my Father’s business?”(2:49) They, apparently, were lost.[2] Nevertheless, according to Luke’s narrative, Jesus subsequently followed them to Nazareth and was “subject” (2:51) to them. 

3. Shakespeare therefore alludes to a biblical story which seems to depict, without condemning, a child’s disobedience. Jesus possesses greater wisdom than his mother—and he is not afraid to show it. This biblical model of disobedience, in this case within the familial realm, certainly resonates with Cordelia’s overall characterisation, and most obviously with her refusal to participate in Lear’s love contest.

4. At the same time, Shakespeare’s allusion may reflect another cultural influence (besides the gospels, the early church Fathers, the humanists, and the Reformers). This particular episode was most prominent, arguably, in the rosary and related Roman Catholic devotions intertwining the vita Christi with the life of Mary.[3] In an article on John Donne’s “La Corona” (1607-8), A.B. Chambers remarks that “rosary meditations are surely a strong force behind the popularity of the incident and perhaps an explanation for Donne’s remembering it” (213). (Donne’s sequence devotes one of its seven sonnets entirely to Jesus among the Doctors.) These meditations lend the event a prominence not obvious in Luke, let alone the collective impression created by the gospels. In fact, the rosary skips over the public ministry entirely, moving from the boy’s appearance at the temple to the adult’s embrace of the cross.[4] Inspired by this tradition, “La Corona” even forges a causal link between the two scenes. The precocious child begins to arouse the envy that will result in his execution.    

5. When Cordelia embarks on her father’s business, she, too, subjects herself to spiteful enemies and speeds towards death. And, as in the rosary, the play dramatises her suffering through the toll it takes on a parent. In other words, Shakespeare’s allusion to the temple episode may prepare us for another point of resonance with Marian devotion: in the “concluding tableau,” Peter Milward argues, “the sorrowing old man is shown holding the dead body of his innocent daughter. The parallel with the pietà, showing the sorrowful mother with the dead body of her innocent son, is all but inescapable” (Biblical Influence, 157).[5]

6. Louis Martz suggests that, in this period, “the methods of the rosary” influence “poets of Catholic rearing” (101). Does their possible influence on King Lear help to confirm that Shakespeare is in this category?  For this position, there are three major strands of documentary evidence (although each is a matter of debate).[6] There is also evidence in the plays. Milward finds in them a striking knowledge of Roman Catholic customs, noting (for example) that the histories frequently mention “the ‘beads’ of our Lady’s Rosary” (Shakespeare’s Religious Background, 26).[7] Based on Shakespeare’s writing, John Klause claims that “it is certain” he “was familiar with the … verse, and much of [the] prose” (46) of Jesuit martyr Robert Southwell. (Southwell himself has a rosary-like sequence, but one in which the temple episode is replaced by a more benign encomium to “Christes Childhoode.”) This aspect of my argument, however, only requires that Shakespeare was familiar with the rosary mysteries. Interwoven lives of Mary and Christ, I suggest, loosely inform Shakespeare’s treatment of Lear and Cordelia. There were regulations against saying the rosary. On the other hand, given its long sway in England, some basic knowledge of this practice might indicate “the layered faith that was characteristic of the mainstream of Elizabethan religious life” (Cox 555) rather than recusant identity.[8] My reading tentatively supports, but does not assume, the theory of Shakespeare’s “Catholic rearing.”

7. Denominational leanings aside, to what extent is this a Christian play at all? Cordelia has often been seen as a Christ figure, and King Lear surely associates her with the possibility of redemption.[9] While my conclusion will glance at this larger theological dimension, I am concerned with more particular comparisons. Shakespeare’s heroine resembles the boy Jesus in Luke, who shows surprising defiance (even while combining it with deference). She also resembles the boy Jesus of these popular Roman Catholic traditions, whose swift passage from debut to death plunges his parent into sorrow. As Shakespeare addresses the inevitability of disobedience and disappointment within the parent-child relationship, these Christian sources lend credibility to his endeavour. The gospel words grace Cordelia with certain messianic overtones, but they also evoke the struggle of individuation, from both the child’s and parent’s perspective.

 Blown Ambition

8. The local effect of Shakespeare’s allusion, at first glance, seems to undermine any allusion to disobedience. Because it accompanies Cordelia’s eventual return to Lear rather than her initial rebuff, the reference can be puzzling. The allusion, perhaps, would better befit her principled refusal, but refusal nonetheless, to love her father all.  To put the point more strongly, she seems to express her filial loyalty by using the very language the boy Jesus uses to mark its limits.  Indeed, several scholars have noticed Cordelia’s biblical language[10]—and have noticed that she and Jesus favour different fathers. As Strier observes, Cordelia does not reject “her earthly father for a transcendental one,” but rather aims her allegiance at Lear himself. Given this discrepancy, Strier concludes that the parallel is fairly general: Cordelia exhibits “Christ-like devotion to a cause” (Shakespeare and the Skeptics, 186). Others find, in the gap between source and allusion, significant thematic implications. Foakes calls the reference “deeply ironic, for Cordelia’s business is to restore Lear’s right, whereas Christ’s was to leave his parents to attend to God’s affairs in the Temple” (Arden, 323). C.L. Barber and Richard P. Wheeler even contend that “the play is a tragedy precisely because it is not God the Father whose business Cordelia goes about, but her finite father, Lear, who now compels by his helplessness what he has been unable to command from his daughter by his power”(290). Taken together, these critics suggest that the dramatic context either undercuts the gospel analogy or renders it somewhat innocuous.

9. There is good reason for these interpretations. The speech is shot through with affection: “O dear father,/ It is thy business that I go about;/ Therefore great France/ My mourning and important tears hath pitied/ No blown ambition doth our arms incite,/ But love, dear love, and our aged father’s right. Soon may I see and hear him” (4.4.23-29). Indeed, it closely mirrors Gloucester’s loving outcry a few scenes earlier: “O dear son Edgar,/ The food of thy abused father’s wrath,/ Might I but live to see thee in my touch,/ I’d say I had eyes again” (4.1.23-26). Starting with similar apostrophes—a dramatic irony, in Gloucester’s case—the speeches employ parallel phrases (“abused father’s wrath;” “aged father’s right”) and conclude with the desire for reunion (with reference to specific senses). Taken together, they sweep towards reconciliation, from both sides of the parent-child bond.

10. On the other hand, there is a double-edge to these lines. Their primary purpose is to disavow “blown ambition,” which suggests that some such disavowal is necessary. She undertakes a military campaign, striving to overthrow the current rulers of England. If it is not her “father’s right” that she upholds, she comes as a usurper. But his “right”—and her right to defend it—are not exactly clear-cut. He has, after all, handed over “rule,/ Interest of territory (1.1.49-50) and power (l.131). Although he did reserve for himself “The name, and all th’addition to a king” (l.137), his current claim to the throne is at best ambiguous. Fighting on her father’s behalf, Cordelia appeals to a logic of succession which may only apply if she wins. Paradoxically, a victorious Cordelia would be an heir of her own making.

11. In light of early modern gender conventions, Cordelia’s claim looks even more paradoxical: in effect, she acts as her father’s son. Even after events summon her husband back to France, she proceeds with the military and political mission. She prepares to take the part assigned her in the chronicle literature and in Spenser: “And after all an army strong she leau’d,/ To war on those, which him had of his realme bereau’d./ So to his crowne she him restor’d againe,/ In which dyde, made ripe for death by eld,/ And after wild, it should to her remaine:/ Who peaceably the same long time did weld” (II.X.31,8-32,4).  Despite minor variations in this story, the lore establishes Cordelia as a defender and successor of her royal sire. Shakespeare’s heroine, as Graham Holderness and Naomi Carter suggest, contains “strong traces of that ‘woman of manlie courage’, the Cordelia of historical romance” (18).[11]

12. It was not inevitable, however, that the play would afford her this kind of masculine agency (albeit ill-fated). Shakespeare’s dramatic precursor, The True Chronicle History of King Leir (performed in 1594 and published in 1605), changes the story’s gender dynamics. Cordella’s husband heads the campaign against the British, while she plays a rather less aggressive role: “We that are feeble, and want vse of arms,/ Will pray to god, to sheeld you from all harmes” (I3). Leir rewards the one who reinstates his rule, his son-in-law, by handing over that same rule. This play closes by redressing the political problem its first scenes had emphasised: Leir’s lack of a son. In Shakespeare’s, Cordelia herself volunteers to supply this “deficiency.” 

13. Her pledge of loyalty (“Dear father,/ It is thy business that I go about”), therefore, is less straightforward than it first appears. As Holderness and Carter contend, there is an uneven texture to the speech: “the balance of moral and political values in her language presents genuine difficulties” (17).  King Lear depicts a Cordelia “in whom the emotional tension between daughterly compassion and indignant anger is paralleled by the tension within her cause, between the potentially violent subversion of invasion and usurpation, and the proper observation of filial duty” (18).[12] In this sense, I suggest, the play’s allusion to the boy Jesus is true to its source.[13]

14. While the allusion might seem more pertinent to Cordelia’s previous challenge to Lear, then, it in fact registers her current conflict. Of course, it could also look back to the earlier display of principled defiance. The reference, in other words, may provide a kind of key or signature that holds together a character who appears in two very different situations and in two very different lights. The story of the boy Jesus directs us to the heart of her mystery. She is, above all, a figure whose “love, dear love” nevertheless complicates any stark opposition between obedience and disobedience.

Like a Runaway

15. But did contemporary biblical interpretation consider Jesus to be disobedient? What did the kind of cultural authorities to whom Strier and Shuger refer make of this passage? Erasmus designed his Concio de puero Iesu, first printed in 1511, for one student at St. Paul’s School to deliver to the others. This child served as an educational ideal; indeed, in Colet’s school, “Over the high master’s chair is a beautifully wrought figure of the Child Jesus seated in the attitude of one teaching, and the young flock, as they enter and leave school, salute it with a hymn” (cited on DeMolen, 22).[14] In keeping with this project, Erasmus’ sermon offers Jesus as a pattern for imitation. Drawing on Luke’s Infancy Narrative (chapters 1-2), he claims that Jesus models “a new kind of childhood” (C.W. vol. 29, 64), one characterised by wisdom instead of folly. This “new child” is a serious learner, still pure and innocent but free of childish frivolity.

16. Although Erasmus primarily presents Jesus as a puer senex, he also acknowledges his potentially upstart behaviour. He frames his (rather extensive) treatment of the boy’s “secret disappearance … at the age of twelve” by noting that Jesus “left his parents like a runaway” (65). The episode, as Clare M. Murphy remarks, poses rhetorical difficulties: “How does one praise a boy of twelve who goes away for three days without telling his parents, then seems to rebuke his mother when she speaks to him about it?” (715). According to Erasmus, the story exemplifies preference for the sacred over the familial—a mark of maturity: “Then as he grows up in us, he teaches us to transfer our natural feelings for our parents and friends to God …. Let us remember that our true father, country, family, and friends are in heaven” (C.W. vol. 29, 65). This shift in allegiance, however, is not to be confused with “arrogance or disobedience” (65). After all, Jesus returned home and became subject to Mary and Joseph. Instead, Erasmus argues, “no one loves his parents more truly, no one pays them more dutiful attention, no one obeys them more scrupulously than he who neglects them in this manner” (65). Erasmus resorts to paradox: the boy Jesus is dutiful and neglectful, a loving runaway.

17. In Reformation commentary, the point grows sharper. With his question to Mary, Jesus shows (according to Calvin) “that therefore Earthly parentes do amisse who are grieved that they are neglected rather than God.” Except for God’s, Calvin asserts, “All power hath her boundes”—even the parent’s over the child. In effect, the boy Jesus declares “I will obay you so farre forth as I disobey not my heavenly father.”[15] A gloss on this passage in the 1599 Geneva Bible more or less supports Calvin’s interpretation, professing that authority (including parental) has limits: “All duties which we owe to men, as they [are] not to be neglected, so are they according to our vocation, not to be preferred before the glory of God.” Indeed, the passage may have gained special relevance for Reformers and their followers: “For many,” Shuger observes, “conversion to Protestantism entailed repudiating paternal authority out of obedience to the Father’s will” (Renaissance Bible, 153).

18. Still, Erasmus and Calvin are not so far apart in their response to the passage. Naturally, they do not promote a stormy, Blakean Jesus: “Obey your Parents what says he/ Woman what have I to do with thee/ No Earthly Parents I confess/ I am doing my Fathers Business/ He scorned [his] Earths Parents scorned [his] Earth’s God/ And mocked the one & the others rod.”[16] Neither, however, do they argue that Jesus only represents a special case (because it is his human father whose paternity is figurative). Erasmus and Calvin find normative import in his example of one who prioritises heavenly over human parents.

19. In this respect, it is worth comparing Jesus to the period’s most popular figure of filial rebellion: the prodigal son, also from the gospel of Luke. The parable, illustrating divine forgiveness, is counterintuitive. The son that seeks an advance on the inheritance, as if impatient for his father’s death, eventually brings more joy to his father than his apparently dutiful (but inwardly resentful) older brother.  In the hands of sixteenth century pedagogues, however, the story often hardened into a strict morality tale. Educators on the Continent wrote Latin plays, loosely based on the prodigal son parable, to provide a more conservative alternative to Roman New Comedy. Along with the many English translations and imitations they spawned, these plays tended to take a hard line—sometimes even withholding mercy from their protagonists.[17] In the sixteenth century, the prodigal may have been associated with this harsher humanist paradigm—and with its opposite, a common, non-judgmental equation of youth and prodigality[18]—than with the parable itself.

20. For my purposes here, however, the prodigal’s crucial difference from the boy Jesus—from that other lost son—is already present in the original version. For the prodigal, heavenly and earthly fathers present a united front. According to the rules of the parable, the human father stands for his divine counterpart. Even within the narrative, however, the son’s confession reinforces this logic: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you” (Luke 15:21). Since these fathers do not separate, the prodigal’s impulses of rebellion and submission can only resolve themselves in a penitential sequence. He moves from one stance to another by coming to his senses. The movement of the boy Jesus, meanwhile, superficially resembles this trajectory: he speaks back to Mary, and then subjects himself to her. Jesus also, however, combines rebellion and submission simultaneously: his disobedience towards Mary doubles as obedience to the Father. As such, his varying responses to Mary create a dialectical rather than a penitential sequence. Because he enjoys divine favour throughout, his apparent changes in attitude reflect a consistent purpose, a purpose that in its unfolding involves both shows of defiance and shows of deference. As such, his example—when examined closely—probes the notion of filial loyalty even more profoundly than does the parable of the prodigal son. His attitude towards his mother is something like “loving disobedience” or “questioning obedience.”

Cordelia’s Gospel (Dis)obedience

21. His story, in any case, prompted some articulations of the limits of parental authority—an issue apparent in King Lear’s opening scene. It is here, of course, that Cordelia most clearly resembles the biblical prototype she summons later. “‘But now our joy, / … what can you say to draw/ A third more opulent than your sisters?’ ‘Nothing, my lord.’” (1.1.82, 85-7) This reply protests Lear’s theater of flattery, his staging of himself as recipient and rewarder of love. Cordelia’s “nothing” initiates the play’s aesthetics of shock, its perverse but thrilling tendency to confound expectations (of the characters, of the audience) with the greatest possible violence. The situations of Cordelia and the boy Jesus differ significantly: Mary has placed no unjust demands on her child. Nevertheless, Cordelia and Jesus oppose their parents in the same manner: they do not rebel outright, but rather appeal to a competing authority or obligation.[19]

22. These children give voice to what Othello’s Desdemona calls a “divided duty” (1.3.181). (In that play, her voice of principled defiance is taken over, in Act Five, by Emilia.) Besides their human parents, they insist, other parties have some claim on them: a heavenly Father, a future husband. So Cordelia: “Haply when I shall wed,/ That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry/ Half my love with him, half my care and duty./ Sure I shall never marry like my sisters/ To love my father all” (100-104). She intuits his fears about her impending nuptials. One of the darker purposes behind his abdication and love test, we surmise, is to retain his daughter’s devotion as she begins a new phase of her life. By giving her the most, he will oblige her the most, enabling him to “set [his] rest/ On her kind nursery” (123-24). Cordelia’s coming marriage so troubles Lear that, at the first hint of rejection, he preemptively banishes her in order to cover over the wound. But Cordelia forces his withholding tendencies into the open. By splitting her love, care, and duty between husband and father, she—in the mode of the boy Jesus—expresses rebellion and submission simultaneously.

23. With respect to Lear himself, Cordelia seems to express these impulses in succession. In a two-step motion, she first demonstrates her independence from, and then demonstrates her concern for, her father.  Even the scene of her resistance, in fact, anticipates her subsequent obedience. Much hinges on the proper ordering of deeds and words, as if any speech preceding action qualifies as hypocrisy. Cordelia, in the presence of France, diagnoses her own offense against Lear as follows: “I want that glib and oily art/ To speak and purpose not—since what I well intend, / I’ll do’t before I speak” (226-8).  France catches her meaning: “Is it no more but this?—a tardiness in nature,/ Which often leaves the history unspoke that it intends to do?” (237-39). Perhaps the most relevant gospel parable here comes from Matthew 21. As in the prodigal son story, a comparison between two brothers illustrates why the legally unclean were entering the kingdom of God before the Pharisees:

A certain man had two sons, and came to the elder, and said, ‘Son, go and work today in my vineyard.’ But he answered, and said, ‘I will not;’ yet afterward, he repented himself, and went. Then came [the father] to the second, and said likewise. And he answered, and said, ‘I will, Sir;’ yet he went not. Whether of them twain did the will of the father?” (28-31)
Although the elder son repents, we could almost read (through the lens of King Lear) his initial refusal as a purist’s unwillingness to speak before doing. The temple episode, as we have seen, attributes this odd dance of disobedience and obedience to Jesus himself. The wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11) affords a similar example. When Mary informs him that the wine supply has been depleted, Jesus seems to dismiss her (in the line that grabs Blake): “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” He then changes the water into wine. According to this rhythm, common to the gospels and King Lear 1.1, Cordelia’s cold treatment of Lear ironically predicts good behaviour.

24. The Quarto’s 4.3 especially accentuates this effect, with its elaborate account of Cordelia’s filial grief. In both versions of the play, though, she returns from banishment to enact the love she had previously refused to speak. We should not, though, confuse this change with repentance. In fact, the dramatic weight falls firmly on Cordelia’s forgiveness of Lear. Susan Snyder argues that Shakespeare purposely inverts the prodigal son paradigm here. “And wast thou fain,” Cordelia asks in astonishment, “To hovel thee with swine and rogues forlorn/ In short and musty straw?” (4.7.38-41)—an account that seems to superimpose the sufferings of the prodigal onto Lear’s sufferings in the storm. (When her troops attempt to bring him to safety, it is Lear who plays the runaway child: “Come, and you get it,/ You shall get it by running” [4.6.198-199].) Cordelia mercifully restores her ashamed father, as Snyder notices, instead of the other way around.

25. Harold C. Goddard eloquently captures her two-step motion, her dialectic of opposition and embrace. Through Cordelia’s initial break with Lear and mending of that breach, “King Lear reconciles the polar principles of radicalism and conservatism and in doing so largely dissipates the riddle of Hamlet (138-39). In reconciling radicalism and conservatism, I suggest, Cordelia follows a Christ-like formula.

Choosing the Father

26. It is only when coming back to Lear, however, that she employs Jesus’ specific phrase about his Father’s business. At this point we should pin down, more precisely, the import of these words. Throughout Acts 4 and 5, as several critics have observed, she persistently addresses her father in regal terms. Holderness and Carter go so far as to argue that “Lear and Cordelia in the ‘recognition’ scene—he speaking the new dialect of sincerity, she adhering to the traditional rhetoric of power—do not really recognise each other all, since they fail to speak a common language” (29). This may be willfully bleak, overlooking Cordelia’s beautifully simple, sincere responses: “And so I am, I am” (4.7.70);” “No cause, no cause” (l.75). But it is nevertheless true that she, without any encouragement from Lear, continues to refer to him as king.[20]

27. Psychologically, her habit of address might suggest the strategy of creating or choosing one’s father. As David Pollard notes, drawing on Freud’s “Family Romances,” this oxymoronic gesture often plays a role in individuation: “the process of separation often involves the child becoming disenchanted with his father and repudiating him by imagining another parentage—the child fantasises that he is the offspring of a different, ‘grander,’ more ‘aristocratic’ progenitor” (40).  To be sure, Cordelia hardly repudiates the father she now forgives, the man who has wronged her and who has suffered. But she also deliberately recognises his “grander” counterpart. As such, her biblical language acquires a level of resonance beyond what Strier calls “Christ-like devotion to a cause.” With his pointed insistence that he is about his Father’s business, the boy Jesus provides the locus biblicus for this individuating strategy. From a psychoanalytic perspective, he chooses against his earthly parents and for the larger-than-life, archetypal father who will sponsor a high calling.[21] By pursuing her “aged father’s right,” Cordelia advances towards maturity by claiming descent from an exalted father: “O dear father,/ It is thy business that I go about;/ Therefore great France/ My mourning and important tears hath pitied./ No blown ambition doth our arms incite,/ But love, dear love, and our aged father’s right: Soon may I see and hear him” (23-29).

28. Of course, she is not wildly fantasising when she calls Lear “royal lord” and “your majesty” (4.7.44). Despite his current condition, and setting aside for the moment the matter of his abdication, he could hardly be a more aristocratic progenitor. (Similarly, from a Christian perspective, God is Jesus’ real father.) In her father, we might say, Cordelia apprehends both of the king’s two bodies. As Ernst H. Kantorowicz famously describes, Tudor legal theorists distinguished between—while also insisting on the unity of—the king’s person and office. Kantorowicz quotes from a finding in Edmund Plowden’s Reports (1571):  the king’s “Body natural (if it be considered in itself) is … subject to all Infirmities that come by Nature or Accident, to the Imbecility of Infancy or old Age” (7).  It smells of mortality. The body politic, on the other hand, is every inch a king, impervious to change and even death. Legally speaking, the king’s “Body politic, which is annexed to his body Natural, takes away the Imbecility of his Body natural, and draws the Body natural, which is the lesser, and all the Effects thereof to itself, which is the greater” (qtd. on 10-11). Cordelia seems to appreciate this mysterious annexing, which follows the legal principle that “the worthier draws to itself the less worthy” (10). She clearly registers Lear’s weakness, and will further know his miseries (as Edgar knows Gloucester’s) “by nursing them” (5.3.180). But, like expounders of the “two bodies” doctrine, she considers Lear to be defined by his worthiest self.

29. Her loyalty to this father does not simply reverse her earlier decision to marry. It is true that she now leaves her husband behind in order to save her sire: “O dear father,/ It is thy business that I go about;/ Therefore great France/ My mourning and important tears hath pitied.” But the royal figure she now heeds is not the same man she once forsook.  In effect, the Lear Cordelia rejects is a parody of the king’s two bodies. Asking what good greatness affords the king’s person, given the immense responsibility of office, Shakespeare’s Henry V concludes that the “wretched slave” (4.1.265) has “the fore-hand and vantage of a king” (l.277). Lear’s actions in the opening scene attempt to rectify this “injustice.” With the love test, he attempts to trade power for affection. Of course, in order to make such an exchange one must have power in the first place: one uses the body politic to benefit the body natural. When he retains the name of king, Lear reveals the slight of hand: his real aim is to separate the private person from the office just enough so that it can exploit this office. Renouncing only responsibility, he becomes a monster with the privileges of a king and the “infinite heart’s ease” (l.233) of an ordinary mortal.  Cordelia refuses to support this distortion of the two bodies. Upon her return, however, she dedicates herself to the ideal of which the abdicating Lear was a parody. 

30. But should she attempt to reinstate Lear? Or, does the play indicate that this “foolish, fond old man” (4.7.60)—clearly an improved human being—is nevertheless not fit to rule? “However disturbing it may be to admit,” writes Paul A. Cantor, “the Lear of act 3 is in no condition to walk back into court and resume command of his kingdom” (192).  The play, in other words, might purposely stretch the doctrine of unified bodies (by which the higher controls the lesser) to its breaking point.  At the same time, I propose, we should not overlook the agency with which this restoration effort endows Cordelia. She tends to the broken man before her, without forgetting the king whose “right” enables her to oppose the existing regime and to enter the masculine sphere of warfare and politics.[22]  As he acknowledges his true Father, the boy Jesus asserts his own divinity. As Cordelia acknowledges Lear’s body politic, she asserts her own royalty, by birth and not only (second hand) by marriage.[23]  

31. This father’s daughter is the Cordelia of the chronicles, a “woman of manlie courage.” In Holinshed, Higgins, and Spenser, fighting for the old king leads to succeeding him, as if they were parallel activities. As mentioned above, Cordelia’s sisters, Albany, and Edmund have hardly stolen the throne from Lear: the legitimacy of her cause remains uncertain. This uncertainty only underscores the initiative, and the temporal paradox, inherent in choosing one’s father. She battles on Lear’s behalf, not her own—as an heir, rather than a contender. But is he even the proper king? To an extent, her own success must determine the right of succession on which she relies to justify the campaign.

32. Without this campaign to reinstall Lear, in any case, her return takes on another character: that of capitulation. In such a scenario, she concedes to his abdication, validating Barber’s and Wheeler’s remark that Lear “compels by his helplessness what he has been unable to command from his daughter by his power.”  But the military project expresses a firmer, less pliable spirit. Maureen Quilligan, in fact, contends that her agency is greater here than when she stands up to her possessive sire.[24] Without going so far, I would nevertheless argue against the view that Cordelia regresses. Instead, she seeks an alternative individuation to the one she sought in marriage. In the second half of the play, Cordelia may respond to the needs of helpless old man, but she also undertakes the glorious business of a grand father.[25]

From Temple to Cross (Through Envy)

33. On the other hand, in Shakespeare’s King Lear—as opposed to the chronicle versions—the main dramatic point of this undertaking is its tragic outcome. The battle results in her capture and hanging, and therefore in her breaking of Lear’s heart. Unintentionally, Cordelia separates the king’s two bodies (even as she strives to unite them in the worthier). She shows no hostility toward Lear in his “body natural.” Her dedication to the “body politic,” however, shatters the natural man’s dream of a shared existence with her.[26] Taking arms against the rulers of England, she winds up devastating her father.

34. The contrast between Cordelia’s agenda and Lear’s surfaces most clearly in the prison scene. “For thee oppressed King, I am cast down; / Myself could else outfrown false fortune’s frown./ Shall we not see these daughters and these sisters? (5.3.5-7)” As in the earlier apostrophe to her “dear father,” she cites his interest rather than her own, construing it as the interest of an “oppressed King.” Even in defeat, she longs to confront their familial and political enemies.  But Lear’s own preference is absolute: “No, no, no, no” (l.8). He has no wish to face the competitive court atmosphere and he is anything but cast down. He exults, hardly able to believe his good fortune: “Have I caught thee?” (l.21). Transmuting prison into paradise, Lear demonstrates his improved spiritual state, banishing the whole world instead of Cordelia. At the same time, he also tries to compel “by his helplessness what he has been unable to command from his daughter by his power.”[27] Having used privilege to insulate him from physical and emotional vulnerability, he now renounces it in order to escape dangerous participation in life.

35. But this preference for private harmony comes poignantly after the fact. The Cordelia before him is something of a mirage. She has already gone about the business of her royal father, a business that entailed more than being one of “God’s spies” (l.17), and in doing so has put herself in harm’s way. Immediately following Lear’s reverie, Edmund orders Cordelia’s execution. Because she asserts the king’s right when she arrives from France, her return (as I argued above) does not signify surrender to her old man’s caprice.  In the prison scene and its aftermath, we can appreciate the nature of this return even more fully: ultimately carrying her out of Lear’s protective grip, it is simultaneously a leave-taking.

36. At this stage in the play, I propose, we can begin to discern the influence of Marian meditation. The function of the boy Jesus allusion in King Lear resembles, in two ways, this story’s function in the rosary. The first is a shared emphasis on the parent’s perspective. Cordelia’s individuation is sketched in its own right, but registers primarily in its impact on Lear. The rosary devotion, similarly, offers a parent’s eye view of the child’s development. Erasmus’ sermon rouses the boys of St. Paul’s to “pueri christi imitatio” (in DeMolen’s phrase), while Calvin’s commentary draws lessons from both mother’s and son’s behaviour. The very structure of the rosary, by contrast—its exploration of the Christ career as Mary experiences it—makes her the locus of identification.

37. This ordering premise also suggests the second parallel between King Lear and the rosary: the close connection, in each, between debut and death. Cordelia’s foray into her father’s business soon ushers in—and, importantly, brings about—her downfall. In Luke, the temple appearance does not represent the actual start of Christ’s ministry, but rather (as Calvin notes) “an entrance into the calling, the due and time whereof, was not yet cometh” (Marlorat). Nevertheless, the Dominican rosary —already officially recognised by Pope Pius V in 1569 and apparently the most common version in Elizabethan/Jacobean England[28]—charges directly from this incident to the passion, bypassing the adult ministry. The “finding in the temple” constitutes the last of Mary’s five joyous mysteries, and the “agony in the garden” constitutes the first of her five woeful mysteries.[29] The related practice of meditating on Seven Sorrows of Mary,[30] too, propels one from the “losing in the temple” to the encounter with Jesus as he bears the cross. Faced with these different classifications, we might ask whether the temple adventure is an occasion for joy or sorrow.[31] Sometimes its affective ambiguity becomes the point, as in Richard Verstegan’s stanza on the “Finding”: “Sequestred love doth foster grief and ioy,/ Twixt feare of losse and hope of happy gaine,/ Such was her case that lost her little Boy,/ Whose joy revyv’d in fynding him againe” (qtd. on Patterson 84-85). Even when decisively marked a “joy,” the scene falls in the shadow of the cross.

38. In fact, some narratives of Christ’s life by “poets of Catholic rearing” construct a causal bridge from lost child to crucified adult. Marco Girolamo Vida’s Latin epic The Christiad (1535) is a case in point. When Jesus is on trial, Joseph tells the story of his birth and childhood, hoping that an account of divine origins will stay Pilate’s hand.  Reaching the temple episode, he lavishly describes the grief that overtook Mary as she searched: “Blaming only herself, his lovely mother wept and let her golden hair fall over her ivory neck” (III.933). It is not this gorgeous sorrow, however, that Joseph terms “the first spark of our woe.” Rather, the real pain begins when Jesus’ remarkable display provokes enmity: “Hence came the first spark of our woe, for the Boy was envied from that time on by the leaders of the city for his formidable powers, and he caused them to harden their heart. And then with such a tinder a mighty fire was kindled, and day by day their madness mounted, and their rancor grew” (III.969-972). Indeed, Joseph calls Jesus a “prodigal” (“ne uitae prodigus hosti/ Obijceret”) because he is so reckless with his life: “I used to beg him not to be so fearlessly prodigal of his life by exposing himself to enemies and wittingly handing himself over to destruction” (III.973-976). This talk of enflamed enemies here suits the crucifixion—the occasion, within The Christiad, for Joseph’s story—more than it suits the temple-going of a twelve-year-old. Joseph soon resumes his account, and then hands it over to John. For a moment, though, the runaway story merges with the larger narrative frame of the passion, in which these angry opponents have now arrested Jesus.

39. Donne’s “La Corona,” clearly informed by Christ-and-Mary meditations, likewise features a Christ child who provokes deadly resentment. In this series of seven interlocking sonnets on the life of Christ, Martz detects the imprint of the corona rosary and Patterson the influence of the Dominican rosary, especially as described and illustrated by Thomas Worthington. (The poem’s title does not close the case, since “corona” also denotes the poem’s verse form, based on continental models.) Donne’s “La Corona” devotes a sonnet each to six of the rosary mysteries, Patterson observes, “including only those …which were compatible with Protestant devotion”—that is, removing those which concentrate on Mary’s life, “except in so far as she is inseparable from the life of Christ” (Patterson 75-7, 80).  The Seven Sorrows scheme, too, may exert an influence: Donne proceeds through the second (flight to Egypt), third (losing in the temple), and fourth sorrow (bearing the cross) in exactly this order. When fashioning “La Corona,” in any case, Donne need not have relied on only one model of the Christ-and-Mary career. His engagement with this type of meditation, in whatever precise form, encourages a sharp transition from precocity to passion. 

40. This progression is rather overt, as Donne follows a sonnet entitled “Temple” with a sonnet entitled “Crucifying.” In keeping with the poem’s intricate verse form, the sonnets share a line—enabling Donne to create a causal relationship between the two mysteries. Thus, “Temple” takes the boy’s astonishing wisdom as a sign that his mission is urgent:

[Whence comes it] That all which was, and all which should be writ,
A shallow seeming child, should deeply know?
His godhead was not soul to his manhood,
Nor had time mellowed him to this ripeness,
But as for one which hath a long task, ’tis good,           
With the sun to begin his business,
He in his age’s morning thus began
By miracles exceeding power of man. (4.7-14)

This interpretation hardly derives from Luke, in which the precocious display anticipates, rather than truly begins, the Son’s business. “Crucifying,” meanwhile, suggests that Christ’s suffering stems from this behaviour and the envy it arouses:

By miracles exceeding power of man,
He faith in some, envy in some begat,
For what weak spirits admire, ambitious hate;
In both affections many to him ran,
But oh! The worst are most, they will and can,
Alas, and do, unto the immaculate,
Whose creature Fate is, now prescribe a fate … (5.1-7)

Again, the positioning of this episode (in accordance with the rosary sequence) colours its meaning. In Luke’s gospel, the boy Jesus’ show of learning does not beget the murderous impulses of his enemies. As “La Corona” places this episode just before the crucifixion, then, it also endeavors to tie them together logically. Here, as in The Christiad, envious onlookers make up the missing link between debut and death.

41. Cordelia’s Christ-like cry resonates with this understanding of the boy Jesus.  She, too, is a special child who pierces a parent’s heart by exposing herself to a violent, envious world. At the play’s opening, she is more like the boy Jesus of Erasmus’ or Calvin’s exegesis, placing limits on authority and mixing love with defiance. This portrayal continues when she, choosing her kingly father, defies the forces of England. The play’s outcome, however, aligns her with the boy Jesus of Marian meditation, who defies most deeply by running into danger.   

Finding and Losing

 42. If the rosary foreshortens the Christ career to reflect its effect on Mary, Shakespeare compresses the Cordelia story—as he finds it, especially, in Spenser—even more dramatically. In The Faerie Queene, she fights her father’s enemies, regains his crown, and rules after his death; later imprisoned by her sisters’ children, “woxen strong/ Through proud ambition” (II.X.32:6-7), she hangs herself. Shakespeare’s play recombines these elements (fighting, prison, hanging) so that Lear outlasts her and can therefore respond to her every move. For this change to make sense, Cordelia must not hang herself (and deliberately pain her living father). She can, however, be hanged after a failed attempt to restore and to succeed him.

43. In a sense, then, Cordelia does not escape from Lear. This narrative structure, shaping both the rosary and King Lear, folds the child’s life into the parent’s so that the parent can react to its entire span. Christ’s resurrection and ascension, of course, give this structure a far more optimistic orientation. (For Shakespeare, the Folio’s ambiguous “Do you see this? Look on her: look, her lips,/ Look there, look there!” (5.3.308-309) —Lear’s delusion that she is alive?—is as close as we come to the rosary’s glorious mysteries.) Cordelia’s premature demise, in any case, means that she is encircled by her father—that her little life is “rounded” by his. It is fitting, then, that Lear clutches her in the end: perhaps he has caught her.   

44. On the other hand, the creature in his arms has “no breath at all” (l.306) and refuses his invitation to “stay a little” (l.269). The rosary structure may embed Jesus in Mary’s existence, requiring an early death, but its basic premise is his profound impact on her.[32] This narrative arrangement presupposes that any event in the child’s life also happens to the parent, perhaps even more so.  Lear feels, full-force, this power to hurt. Since Cordelia chose the business of her royal father, resisting her real father’s deepest impulses to shelter and be sheltered, he has (in another sense) not caught her. Instead, he suffers the pangs of letting her go. The ending of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (1898) reproduces this dynamic, in which an adult both has captured a child and has been eluded: “I caught him, yes, I held him—it may be imagined with what a passion; but at the end of a minute I began to feel what it truly was that I held. We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped” (85).[33]

45. In the story of the young Jesus, then, Shakespeare finds precedent for a potentially radical reflection on filial loyalty. The lessons are paradoxical—that in order to mature, a child must disobey; that the truest obedience sometimes involves disobedience; that a child can choose his or her parents—but hardly shocking from our standpoint. And yet, in a culture that easily equated father, king, and God, the lessons are subversive enough. The period’s ultimate authority, Jesus himself, could model a degree of rebellion. Shakespeare does not, however, isolate this necessary disobedience from its consequences. Drawing on the meditative practice of the old faith, he represents its emotional cost to parents. Parenthood, in this picture, is unbearably intense. Every “finding” of one’s child’s hides, behind it, a “losing.” Partly based on Christian symbolism, Shakespeare projects a stark, if not bleak, vision of the parent-child relationship. 

46. Nevertheless, for a Christian audience, the suffering of Lear and Cordelia might intimate the story of salvation. In other words, the tale of this pre-Christian father and daughter might anticipate a different agony, one that would transform suffering into a means of grace and that would open up hope for all reunions. In such cases, it is hard to know in which direction the analogy moves.[34] The play’s hints of Mary and Jesus could, just as well, secularise this sacred pair. This is Barber’s and Wheeler’s reading: the play turns tragic because sacred wine—the longing for infinite love—cannot be contained in secular, familial wineskins.

47. To the extent that it sacralises the secular, instead of vice versa, the emphasis seems decidedly Catholic. Speaking about Lear, an unnamed Gentleman posits “Thou hast one daughter/ Who redeems nature from the general curse/ Which twain have brought her to” (4.6.201-203). If Cordelia’s experience redeems nature, it belongs to twain. If anything, Lear bears the heaviest burden. To say that Jesus’ life caused his mother anguish is not, in itself, incompatible with Reformation soteriology. But the anguish in King Lear corresponds more closely to the Roman Catholic view, in which Mary holds co-redemptrix status and in which the parent’s work cannot be separated out from the child’s.


[1] Taylor (80-81) argues that the campaign is not a foreign invasion in the Folio (as it clearly is in the Quarto). In both versions of the play, though, the messenger warns Cordelia about “British powers.”

[2] I am indebted to Lauri Dietz for this point. Richard Crashaw entitled a Latin epigram on this episode “Non fugitivus Amor.” The speaker reassures Mary, who evidently needs to be comforted, that the boy Jesus is no “runaway love.” Crashaw’s epigram (1634) implicitly contrasts the sacred mother and child with pagan counterparts Venus and Cupid: in a poem by Moschus, elsewhere translated from the Greek by Crashaw, Venus seeks her runaway son. See Crashaw 292-5 and 518-521.

[3] The currently accepted rosary (also called the Dominican rosary) includes a vocal element (recitation of 15 Ave Marias, each preceded by a Pater Noster and succeeded by a Gloria Patri) and a meditation on 15 Mysteries (5 Joyful, 5 Sorrowful, 5 Glorious) involving the lives of Christ and Mary. It was officially recognized in 1569, although variations were still widely available throughout Shakespeare’s life.

[4] As Winston-Allen remarks about an influential set of rosary illustrations, employing a scheme that closely resembles the official version, “what is conspicuously missing … is the entire public life of Christ” (46). Interestingly, in 2002 Pope John Paul II added 5 (optional) Luminous Mysteries that fill this gap.

[5] See also Goodland (who looks at parallels in medieval cycle plays) and Barber and Wheeler (296). Duffy describes the attraction of the pietà: “the message is affective not theological, an appeal for repentance and compassion with the suffering of Christ – ‘Who cannot weep, come learn of me’” (36). Compare Lear: “Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones!/ Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them so/ That heaven’s vault should crack” (5.3.255-257). 

[6] John D. Cox (541-543) offers a clear summary of the “documentary tripod”: John Shakespeare’s Spiritual Testament; financial records which could be explained by the theory that a recusant John Shakespeare was hiding his assets from confiscation; a will suggesting that William Shakespeare (or “Shakeshafte”) served as tutor to the Catholic Hoghtons in Lancashire. Citing the work of archivist Robert Bearman, however, Cox suggests that “the case is far from closed” (545). Even the more convinced David Beauregard, arguing that “all of these recent lines of converging evidence point to a Catholic Shakespeare and to a continuity of Catholicism in the Shakespeare family,” acknowledges that “conclusive and unambiguous documentary evidence of Shakespeare’s Catholicism is lacking” (14-18).

[7] But Cox (551) indicates that Milward here “exaggerates the difference” between Catholics and Protestants “for rhetorical effect.” 

[8] See Martz (96) for the importance of the rosary in 14th- and 15th-century England. For the prohibitions in Protestant England, and the rosary’s ongoing popularity in recusant circles, see Martz (96-101) and Patterson (71-74).

[9] “Thou hast one daughter/ Who redeems nature from the general curse/ Which twain have brought her to” (4.6.201-203); “This feather stirs, she lives: if it be so,/ It is a chance which does redeem all sorrows/ That ever I have felt” (5.3.263-65). See Elton for the classic case against Christianizing readings of the play.

[10] Besides the examples to follow, see Bethell (60-1) and Rosenberg (260).

[11] The phrase is taken from Holinshed. Holderness and Carter argue, less than persuasively, that this masculine courage is more evident in the Quarto than in the Folio.

[12] Barber and Wheeler acknowledge this point (“The whole speech is designed to legitimize her cause in English eyes by making clear that she does not serve an aggressive foreign purpose”), but then downplay it by referring to her stance as “the sainted quality of the daughter’s devotion” (290). See also Foakes: “she defends herself as acting out of pity and love, which merge with and paradoxically are alien to the image of the war she is seeking” (Hamlet versus Lear, 201-202).

[13] True Chronicle, interestingly enough, includes a temple visit which may have helped remind Shakespeare of the biblical scene (without itself alluding to it). Cordella chides herself for not “going to the Temple of my God” and, by the end of the same speech, pledges to correct this fault: “I will to Church, and pray vnto my Sauiour,/ That ere I dye, I may obtayne [Leir’s] favuor” (D4). In keeping with this play’s habit of Christian reference, Cordella indeed appeals to her heavenly father, whom she distinguishes from her earthly father. At the same time, however, her soliloquy possesses no rebellious energy. It is Shakespeare’s complexly divided heroine, rather, who evokes the spirit of the temple-going boy Jesus (although she addresses only an earthly father and although there is no temple in sight.) This comparison bears out Stephen J. Lynch's claim that King Lear foregoes the earlier play’s explicitly Christian register but “seems to uphold values that are more substantively and more rigorously Christian” (46) or, in this case, more alert to the element of disobedience within gospel depictions of Christ.

[14] From Erasmus’ 1521 letter to Jodocus Jonas. For the evidence that he describes a painting rather than a statue, see C.W. vol. 86 (503-504).

[15] For Reformation commentary on this episode, including Calvin’s, see Marlorat.

[16] From “The Everlasting Gospel,” in Blake (851).

[17] See Helgerson (34-38) and Young.

[18]“The assumption that is natural for youth to rebel,” Rowe, Jr. remarks, “is attacked in play after play” (58). The very proliferation of play after play, however, may have solidified this assumption (even when the returning youth is punished as an unnatural offender). 

[19] There are other similarities as well. Even Cordelia’s severity finds some precedent in the biblical narrative: for the bewildered Mary, her heart still beating wildly from the hunt for her twelve-year-old, Jesus’ righteous rebuke might add insult to injury. These children possess genuine wisdom, perhaps, but prove surprisingly curt. They also prove cryptic, crisply asserting the filial relation in terms that imply its boundaries: “I must go about my Father’s business;” “I love your majesty/ According to my bond, no more or less” (92-3).

[20] For a more modest version of Holderness and Carter’s point, see Foakes (Arden introduction, 35). For an eloquent statement of the traditional view that this is a recognition scene, see Cantor (195-96).

[21] According to William Kerrigan, Milton takes Jesus as exemplary in just this fashion: “How can [Milton] assert himself against a revered father? Divide him. ‘Insofar as I am a poet, I am not your son; my origins are divine, my authority is God…’ Symbolized in Paradise Regained in the difference between ‘Son of Joseph’ and ‘Son of God,’ this splitting of the imago of the father constitutes the major psychological strategy of Milton’s life and work” (114). Kerrigan, unlike Milton himself, places little emphasis on the biblical episode in which Jesus most clearly distinguishes between his two fathers. 

[22] Millard (on 149-50) observes the same two-sidedness to Cordelia’s mission, which involves a “militant role” and a “ministerial role.” For Millard, “Goneril and Regan demonstrate more obviously the dangers of female assertion”—but Cordelia, too, participates in the play’s “ominous theme regarding female ascendancy in conflict with patriarchal order.” The argument is compelling. Rather than view Cordelia’s military campaign as a fatal flaw, however, I view it as an attempt to merge filial piety and initiative (on the model of the boy Jesus).

[23] There is some historical basis for this analogy between Christ’s human and divine natures and the double nature of royalty. As Kantorowicz explains, “we need only replace the strange image of the Two Bodies by the more customary theological term of the Two Natures in order to make it poignantly felt that the speech of the Elizabethan lawyers derived its tenor … from theological diction” (16). “The jurists,” he adds, “worked out a genuine ‘Royal Christology’” (16). 

[24] In the opening scene, Quilligan suggests, the apparently defiant Cordelia in fact becomes a spokesperson for “the traffic in women.” According to Quilligan, the trope of incest—by which Cordelia reverses her original preference of husband over father—suggests a way to short-circuit this traffic. The “incestuous” daughter never breaks out of endogamous attachment, and therefore disrupts the system of exchange. (See especially 216 and 234.) Even without recourse to the incest model, however, we can find a conceptual category for Cordelia’s subversive agency: succession through the female.

[25] Contra Adelman (124): “The sacrifice of Cordelia’s otherness is not an incidental requirement of the plot; it is the meaning of her return.”

[26] The play’s relationship to the “two bodies” doctrine is therefore complex. Hadfield sees the play as supporting a “radical interpretation” (105) because Cordelia and others oppose the monarch himself in the interest of the body politic. But Cordelia’s efforts primarily oppose Lear’s desire to remove power from his own person. Tennenhouse (134-142) finds the play supporting a conservative, “metaphysical” view of this doctrine.

[27]Adelman (116) interprets Lear’s stripping in Act 3 as his “deliberately putting himself in the position of infantile need from which he will experience the rest of the play.”

[28] The English rosary manuals Martz discusses include this form first, even when they also add alternatives. Its mysteries are as follows: Five Joyful (Annunciation, Visitation of Elizabeth, Nativity, Presentation at the Temple, Finding in the Temple), Five Sorrowful (Jesus’ Agony in the Garden, Scourging, Crown of Thorns, Carrying of the Cross, Crucifixion), and Five Glorious (Jesus’ Resurrection, The Ascension, Pentecost, Mary’s Assumption, Mary’s Coronation).

[29] Worthington adds a short narrative summary (23-4) in order to facilitate the transition to Gethsemane.

[30] Also called the Seven Swords of Mary, based on Simeon’s grim prophecy: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising again of many in Israel…. (Yea, and a sword shall pierce through thy soul)” (Luke 2:34-5). This tradition was given a feast day much later than was the Rosary, but first took shape in the 13th Century. Duffy (231) notes its presence in an English primer from the Henrician period. Worthington (112-113) includes a different list of Seven Sorrows.

[31] The corona, which Martz ranks as the other “most important” (101) variety of the rosary, includes the episode in a larger narrative unit dedicated to the joys and sorrows between Christ’s childhood and passion. See Worthington 4-5, 86-89 and Chambers 261-272. In the corona, the temple episode does not immediately precede the passion.

[32] Patterson, too, finds reciprocity in the structure of the Rosary meditations, “whereby the life of Christ is framed within that of the Virgin, as the infant Christ took shape in her womb, and the honors due to her are to be understood in terms of that necessary carnal enclosure” (76).

[33] The question, of course, is whether Miles is dispossessed of Peter Quint or of the narrator. As in the Folio King Lear, a (possibly) deluded adult points emphatically towards the delusion:

“‘Peter Quint!—you devil! … Where?’ …. Then for the demonstration of my work, ‘There, there!’ I said to Miles” (85).

[34] Rose makes the same point about the element of “demonic possession” in Othello: “What Shakespeare is doing in this play is appropriating spiritual conceptions, turning them into metaphors for secular experience. But metaphors work two ways. If Othello incorporates a process of demystification, the assimilation of the supernatural to the natural world, it also incorporates the antithetical movement” (287).

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© 2010-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).