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Literary Criticism Shakespeare

The Lear World

A study of King Lear in its dramatic context

by (author) John Reibetanz

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Dec 1977
Shakespeare, Eastern, Drama
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    Publish Date
    Dec 1977
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The dramatic traditions and conventions available to Shakespeare at the time he wrote King Lear were so rich and varied as to constitute an extremely resonant and complex vocabulary, one that Shakespeare fully utilized to shape his audience's response and to create the unique world of this play.


Professor Reibetanz argues that many of the qualities that set Lear apart from Shakespeare's other tragedies are those it shares with Jacobean drama rather than with earlier Elizabethan drama. The tightly enclosed world of the play, operating within an internal logic independent of the real world, reflects a structure, to cultivate sheer virtuosity of technique, however, Shakespeare used it to reinforce a profound, archetypal emotional experience, an effect more characteristic of Greek than of Jacobean tragedy.


Shakespeare's use of popular Elizabethan conventions of character definition similarly conveys the elemental quality of a play-world detached from ordinary reality. Yet Shakespeare adopts the conventions not to catapult his characters into the abstract and theoretical world of earlier drama but to apply the power of that world to an essentially human experience. The play asserts, structurally and thematically, the dominance of feeling above form.


The Lear World reflects the depth and eclecticism of Shakespeare's use of dramatic traditions, and deepens our understanding of a compelling and powerful tragedy.

About the author

John Reibetanz was born in New York City, and grew up in the eastern United States and Canada. He put himself through university by working at numerous non-poetic jobs, and is probably the only member of the League of Canadian Poets to have belonged to the Amalgamated Meatcutters Union. A finalist for both the National Magazine Awards (Canada) and the National Poetry Competition (United States), he has given readings of his poetry in most major cities in North America. His poems have appeared in such magazines as Poetry (Chicago), The Paris Review, Canadian Literature, The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, The Southern Review, and Quarry. His fifth collection, Mining For Sun (Brick Books, 2000), was shortlisted for the ReLit Poetry Award; his sixth, Near Relations, was published by McClelland and Stewart in 2005. In 2003 he was awarded First Prize in the international Petra Kenney Poetry Competition. John Reibetanz lives in Toronto with his wife and three children, and he teaches at Victoria College, University of Toronto, where he received the first Victoria University Teaching Award. In addition to poetry, he has written essays on Elizabethan drama and on modern and contemporary poetry, as well as a book on King Lear and a book of translations of modern German poetry. When he is not writing or teaching, he bicycles, kayaks, reads local history, and listens passionately to 1930s jazz.

John Reibetanz's profile page

Editorial Reviews

' … one of the best books on the play. It is well-written, well-balanced, and at times, eloquent.'

Kenneth Muir

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