The many disguises of Edgar in King Lear have led critics to dub the chameleonic figure a choreographer of human compassion in a play that holds compassion as a vital dramaturgical principle. This essay argues that Edgar's performances of suffering and his choreographies of deception reveal how costly are the demands of performing true compassion, and thus how rare is the response he will come to recognize as “good pity.” Examining closely the responses elicited by Edgar's performance of affliction alongside Edgar's response to witnessing the suffering of others, the article explores how the elusive Edgar serves as an embodied exploration of problems of poverty and almsgiving, of the moral status of playacting, and, most profoundly, of the complex nature of Christian charity and compassion. In the space Edgar opens between coerced care and complicit compassion, between the obligations of caritas and the possibilities of drama, Shakespeare questions what it entails to meaningfully respond to the suffering of another, and what tools — if any — theater might offer this project.
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Research Article| September 01 2022
Lindsey Larre; “Do Poor Tom Some Charity”: Performing Poverty and Pity in King Lear. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 September 2022; 52 (3): 533–565. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-9966121
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