Poor Tom: Living King Lear by Simon PalfreyPoor Tom: Living King Lear by Simon Palfrey

Poor Tom: Living King Lear

bySimon Palfrey

Hardcover | September 10, 2014

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King Lear is perhaps the most fierce and moving play ever written. And yet there is a curious puzzle at its center. The figure to whom Shakespeare gives more lines than anyone except the king—Edgar—has often seemed little more than a blank, ignored and unloved, a belated moralizer who, try as he may, can never truly speak to the play’s savaged heart. He saves his blinded father from suicide, but even this act of care is shadowed by suspicions of evasiveness and bad faith.

In Poor Tom, Simon Palfrey asks us to go beyond any such received understandings—and thus to experience King Lear as never before. He argues that the part of Edgar is Shakespeare’s most radical experiment in characterization, and his most exhaustive model of both human and theatrical possibility. The key to the Edgar character is that he spends most of the play disguised, much of it as “Poor Tom of Bedlam,” and his disguises come to uncanny life. The Edgar role is always more than one person; it animates multitudes, past and present and future, and gives life to states of being beyond the normal reach of the senses—undead, or not-yet, or ghostly, or possible rather than actual. And because the Edgar role both connects and retunes all of the figures and scenes in King Lear, close attention to this particular part can shine stunning new light on how the whole play works.

The ultimate message of Palfrey’s bravura analysis is the same for readers or actors or audiences as it is for the characters in the play: see and listen feelingly; pay attention, especially when it seems as though there is nothing there.
Simon Palfrey is professor of English literature at the University of Oxford and a fellow of Brasenose College. He is joint general editor of the Shakespeare Now! series and the author of many books, including, most recently, Shakespeare’s Possible Worlds.
Title:Poor Tom: Living King LearFormat:HardcoverDimensions:280 pages, 8.5 × 5.5 × 1 inPublished:September 10, 2014Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022615064X

ISBN - 13:9780226150642


Table of Contents

On Texts

1.   Prelude: The Hanging Man
2.   Introduction
3.   Interlude: The Stranger
4.   Scene 1: Into the Hollow
5.   Interlude: Job Redux
6.   Scene 2: Enter Tom
7.   Interlude: Tom Is?
8.   Scene 3: Tom’s Voices
9.   Interlude: To Be Allegory
10. Scene 4: Tom’s Places           
11. Interlude: History Man
12. Scene 5: Lurk, Lurk
13. Interlude: Living King Lear
14. Scene 6: Shuttered Genealogy
15. Interlude: Decreated
16. Scene 7: Fool to Sorrow
17. Interlude: Humanist and Posthumanist: A Dialogue
18. Scene 8: To the Edge of the Cliff
19. Interlude: The Binding
20. Scene 9: Fallen, or Not?
21. Interlude: Everyman
22. Scene 10: Alive, or Dead?
23. Interlude: The Pending World
24. Scene 11: Dark Places
25. Interlude: Jacob and Esau
26. Scene 12: Departures
27. Conclusion: Shakespeare’s Radical
28. Afterword


Editorial Reviews

“By putting us in touch with Poor Tom, a near nullity, this book draws us irresistibly into the surcharged plenum of King Lear. Palfrey’s critical gifts and skills are exquisite, but perhaps more singular still is his openness to the playworld’s life-making possibilities. His is a practice of vitalization, animating even the most inert recesses of the tragedy, and so compellingly that we might well wonder why we missed so much before.”