“The Naked Fellow”: Performing Feral Reversion in King Lear


Recent work on early modern cultural mobility (Lee Bliss, Valerie Wayne Roger Chartier) suggests that the first part of Don Quixote circulated in England shortly after its publication in Spain in late 1604. Allusions to this work appear in English plays by Beaumont, Wilkins, Middleton or Fletcher as early as 1606. This article explores the possibility that Shakespeare may have had access to this Cervantes material between 1605 and 1606. This would explain many structural and thematic anomalies in King Lear, like the relevance of outdoor scenery, the pervasiveness of a comic undertow, the structural split into plot and subplot and the presence of a mad antagonist (Edgar) eliciting empathetic identification. It would also help explain the singularity of Edgar, a profoundly enigmatic character whose ironic feral reversion is evocative of Cardenio’s wild antics and of Julio’s similar reversion in Double Falsehood. Although conducted largely as a comparative analysis that seeks to trace a Cardenio moment in King Lear, this article aims at providing a new interpretation of Shakespeare’s play with a fresh focus on ironic fictionality, post-historicity and post-humanism.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.