Shakespeare and the Grace of Words: A Doxological Reading of "King Lear" and "The Winter's Tale"
University of Cambridge
Faculty of Divinity
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Gerlier, V. (2020). Shakespeare and the Grace of Words: A Doxological Reading of "King Lear" and "The Winter's Tale" (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.60486
This thesis explores the connections between theology and literature through a doxological approach, an understanding of all language as grounded in praise for the divine. My textual analyses of Shakespeare’s plays both instantiate and complement this approach, learning from insights from the literary tradition while attending to the theological compass of the poetic. Part One sketches my methodological approach. Chapter 1 explores scholarship on Shakespeare and religion and notes that contemporary literary approaches have struggled with reading language and religion in terms of an ontology of power which divorces words from the real. Taking my cue from theologically inflected readings of Shakespeare, as well as more supple metaphysical accounts, I suggest an approach to language that is relational, performative and metaphysically ‘participatory’ and which can thus account for a notion of ‘gift’, or ‘grace’. Chapter 2 draws a connection between Shakespeare and Nicholas of Cusa, as a distinct theological voice that can help further my account. In his late works, Cusa suggests a doxological turn, showing that praise is a mode of speech that is also a mode of knowledge, culminating in participation with God, who is ‘The First Praise’. I show that speech as praise is both a performative, poetic response to and voicing of ‘the First Praise’ that has always already called us into speech. The doxological approach culminates in ‘liturgical’ speech, a donative mode of language which unites theatricality and truth, art and nature, potency and being, and offers redeemed relationships and blessings and care for the material world. Part Two develops this approach through my readings of King Lear (Chapter 3) and The Winter’s Tale (Chapter 4). Taking language as such as my hermeneutical key, I associate to the transition between the two plays a narrative of language’s fall away from, and return to, its doxological roots. In King Lear, the transformation of love-speech into a technology of manipulation is coincident with a situation in which the material world is made mute and therefore controllable. To respond to this loss, the language in the play attempts to reach beneath and beyond stable utterance to find the ‘grace of words’, a kind of speech that can re-weave a bond between human beings, words and world. The Winter’s Tale, by contrast, stages the gradual rebirth of speech, by slowly reweaving the ultimately paradoxical relationships required by the language of doxology. In its final scenes, the play incorporates truth and fiction, art and nature into its middle-voiced speech of praise—this paradoxical ‘middle’ being truly the site where the ‘grace of words’ can be heard. I conclude that a doxological approach entails a poetic vision of the real, and that Shakespeare writes a theological kind of poetry where fiction is not a movement away from ‘truth’, but a manner of representing reality in the light of its transcendent source.
Shakespeare, Theology, Theology and Literature, King Lear, The Winter's Tale, Doxology, Nicholas of Cusa, Praise
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.60486
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