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13 - Gored States and Theatrical Guises

from Part III - Tragedy and the Self

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2022

Greg Chase
Affiliation:
College of the Holy Cross, Massachusetts
Juliet Floyd
Affiliation:
Boston University
Sandra Laugier
Affiliation:
Université de Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne
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Summary

Questions of authority, legitimacy, and meaning emerge in Cavell’s essay on King Lear, “The Avoidance of Love,” with reference to “Music Discomposed” and “A Matter of Meaning It.” Shakespeare raises these themes in peculiarly poignant ways, exposing them through testing the resources of theatre itself. Early in Must We Mean What We Say? Cavell is pondering problems of theatricalization, where they are related to the “all but unappeasable craving for unreality.” This puts into question the nature of the everyday and the ordinary, and the human tendency to drift into a state of “exile from our words.”

The sub-plot amplifies the questions of legitimacy and succession, democratizing these through its focus on bastardy and baseness. The problems of inheritance raised in Cavell’s discussion reverberate through ordinary language philosophy and through political settlements in the modern world. With some acknowledgment of the manner of Cavell’s participation in the “drama of the nation’s conscience,” in Ralph Ellison’s phrase, around the time he was writing the essays in this volume, the essay assesses Cavell’s contribution to the nation’s “painfully slow advance toward true equality” (again, Ellison).

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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