Kathleen Mcluskie’s essay about King Lear insists that there is no proper reading of the play that does not recognize the play’s inherent misogyny. This essay approaches the text from a feminist theory perspective, paying special attention to the role of patriarchy and how Shakespeare reinforces that system with this play. Ultimately, Mcluskie’s assessment of the play from that perspective holds that King Lear supports the notion of patriarchy and that Shakespeare must be subverted in order for alternatives to misogyny and patriarchy to be possible. Mcluskie’s argument that the play reinforces patriarchal values is well-supported by the text of the play itself, particularly through the play’s treatment of Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, but she falsely asserts that Shakespeare endorses patriarchy as a preferred social order because he addresses “permanent, universal and essentially unchanging human nature” in a patriarchal setting.
In this essay, Mcluskie uses ample evidence from the text of the play to support her claim that the play reinforces values of a patriarchal system. She correctly points to the treatment of Goneril and Regan throughout the play as women who attempt to disturb the order of that system, only to suffer and be punished. Their disruption of traditional gender roles results in chaos, but Cordelia’s willingness to accept her role in that patriarchal structure serves to reinforce order and peace. While Mcluskie correctly demonstrates how these relationships support patriarchy and a sort of misogyny in the play, she steps too far when she suggest that the play can only avoid that sexism by not reconstructing it “with its emotional power and its moral imperatives intact.”
Mcluskie rightly points out that the play’s sexism can be undermined through production choices, but her essay essentially argues that, in order to retain its grasp on Shakespeare’s interpretations of universal truths about human nature, it must continue to reinforce that...
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