Dr. Kate Liu
Apr. 25, 2000
"No one . . . escapes the effects of language in the construction of desire" (Van-Pelt 100)
Tamise Van-Pelt's "Entitled to be King: The Subversion of the Subject in King Lear."
A. Argument: "[A]s daughter/subject of a king, Cordelia is as much the incarnation of Absence as Lear is of Presence. Throughout the play, these absolutes persist, signifying the nothing and the king, the castration and the phallus. Lear's demand to signify confronts Cordelia's reciprocal demand for truth as reference. Their mutually negating desires clash powerfully, violently, lacerating the familial bond between them and constructing Lear's madness as a profound resistance to the discovery that he is empty of significance" (101).
B. Kingship: "Lear Performs linguistic self-castration. When Lear gives up the phallus, he reveals to everyone the gap between the chain of signification and the chain of drive on which castration locates itself in the unconscious" (100-1).
"King Lear invites the theoretical reading of kingship as signification because Lear's dynamics of mad desire and prodigious suffering derive from the discovery that his own kingly signifier signifies nothing" (100).
II. The Linguistic Paradox of Kingship (101-3): King Lear misconstructs his identity by the signifier of "nothing" and kingship.
A. Cordelia's reply by "Nothing": "Nothing" means "no thing" in signified. Lear misunderstands the signification of Cordelia's response. With no answer, Lear hardly can build up his identity from Cordelia, so he then turns to his the other two daughters to fulfill his desire for constituting his subjectivity as a king and a father and then to be the King and the Father.
B. Lear's "addition" as his honor and prerogatives: The existence/presence of knights symbolizes the power of kingship that is the reference.
C. The Law of the Father. "Even the king cannot be the phallus, and the phallus is, as Lacan points out, 'our term for the signifier of his alienation in signification'" (qtd. in Van-Pelt 103).
1. If rules/laws are the exercise of the phallus, Lear's problem is that he does not alienate himself far and good enough from his demand for this signify--the kingship, which is endowed with many by-products. So, his failure is not caused by his attachment to referent but his demand for the reference.
2. "Kingship in Lear's case is even more complex because the king is also a father, because the role of authority belongs to the Father, and because the Father's authority is sustained by a 'privileged mode of presence' beyond the subject" (103).
III. Cordelia's Demand (104-8): Cordelia "locates truth in action in resistance to the power of speech" (104).
A. In articulation, Lear decenters him exchanging back with Codelia's nothing the answer. Lear denies Cordelia and defers his self-recognition until two of them unite together at the end.
B. "Cordelia" is a symbol castrates Lear's power of the/a Father: "As a symbol of Lear's own castration, Cordelia signifies, at the level of desire, Lear's self-castrating self-division" (105).
C. Cordelia's nothing the answer makes nothing of Truth constructed.
1. Cordelia limits the power of speech/language: Nothing is the castration of father in a non-articulated form.
2. Cordelia's rejection of lying to Lear is to deny Truth's construction: "[T]he Father . . . is the expected source of the sanction from the locus of the Other, the truth about truth" (qtd. in Van-Pelt 104).
3. Cordelia's nothing displays her non-understanding or misunderstanding of the power of the Father: "The Father must be the author of the law."
4. Cordelia's speechless forces Lear to take actions and deprives him of his centrality of phallocentrism: As a castrated father, Lear must punish her because Lear's position has been changed--"the Father is only . . . a father and the King only a king" (105).
D. Cordelia's banishment represents the absence of the signify for Lear to constitute the presence of his kingship and fathership: "Absent from both the symbolic and imaginary realms of Lear's construction, she must absent herself from the real as well, must 'be gone' in every register--Lear's repression of Cordelia's nothing is total" (105).
IV. The Stand-In (106-8): Fool joins the nothing game to empty the signify of nothing--nothing is really no thing, and to point out the gap and the lack of nothing in the referent King.
A. "Thing" is a sexual pun also indicates phallus in Renaissance English. Therefore, Fool also reinforces that Lear has been castrated by repeating word game of nothing. (106-7)
B. Lear's recognition: Lear finally loses his identity and subjectivity and regains them after his self-recognition from his madness.
1. The word game serves as a therapy for Lear "If the unconscious is the discourse of the Other, and the discourse of the Other is nothing, then the cruel hoax the other's discourse perpetuates is the illusion of presence--the negation (nothing) of nothing (the unconscious awareness of the castration)" (107).
2. Lear's fantasy about King in his madness changes his demand for the signifier King to a wish only. His fantasy in his speeches also makes him an infantile figure when it is the chance that he reconstructs a new subjectivity in his utterance by the Other that Fool mirrors up for him.
C. Lear restores himself after the disappearance of Fool and re-appearance of Codelia: "[K]nowing that though subjectively decentered and no longer the absolute referent, Lear is yet a king" rather than the king (108).
V. The Repressed Returns--With a Vengeance (108-11): After Lear restores himself, Cordelia's nursery giving to Lear with actions but without much speech tells that Lear is still constituted by Cordelia's discourses. (108)
A. After Lear affirms his manhood, both father and daughter finally are linguistically constitute their subjectivity in their recognition scene; furthermore, they Lear is no longer the king and the father as he was for Cordelia. (109)
B. Towards the end, "Lear and Cordelia 'two alone' singing and telling tales, blessing and forgiving, in womb-like resistance to an outside world where mutability rules with its winners and losers . . . (110).
C. Nearly the end, Cordelia has no more utterance. In her death by strangulation Lear eventually will die soon, even though she once made him a man again: "Lear wants to breathe, for he is, as Janet Adelman writes, suffocating, returning to the first moment of merger of action and speech. And thus he dies" (111).
Valerie Traub's "Prince Hal's Falstaff: Positioning Psychoanalysis and the Female Reproductive Body."
A. "The Henriad and psychoanalysis are parallel narratives, similarly positioning male subjectivity and the female reproductive body" (Traub 457).
B. Hal's subjectivity is constituted in his relation to Falstaff and on the repression and control of the female Other--Katherine (Traub 459).
II. Father figure: (460)
A. Two fathers:
1. King Henry IV--biological father: conviction, duty, control.
2. Falstaff--a father substitute: hedonism, lawlessness, wit, alternative.
B. Hal's oedipus complex:
1. Hal retreats himself from the court in order to repress his impulse of regicide.
2. Hal's harsh rejection of Falstaff is a symbolic action of killing the father; therefore, his unconscious temptation to parricide is fulfilled (460-1).
III. Hal's construction of subjectivity.
A. Falstaff's fat body is shaped like a pregnant woman: "Hal's public disavowal and humiliation of Falstaff . . . suggest his need to externalize just such an intra-psychic threat [of the immanence of femininity coexisting in a male subject]" (464).
B. Falstaff --a mother figure: "Falstaff represents to Hal not an alternative paternal image but rather a projected fantasy of the pre-oedipal maternal whose rejection is the basis upon which patriarchal subjectivity is predicated. I see in this process of the oedipal rejection of the maternal and identification with the paternal not merely the individual psychosexuality of one character but a paradigm for the cultural construction of phallocentric subjectivity. Furthermore, through his militaristic courtship of Katharine, Hal's subjectivity is established as thoroughly phallocentric, depending upon the repression of the object of his erotic desire" (461. Traub's italics).
C. In order to avoid effeminizing, Hal needs to separate him from Falstaff: Hal's masculine subjectivity is affirmed by war.
1. An official order helps Hal to separate him from Falstaff.
2. Through meeting with Hotspur and other male characters in battles, Hal can be more powerful, masculine, and superior by identifying King Henry IV becoming a man to give punishment rather than being repressed.
D. Hal constructs his subjectivity by his repression of Katharine's linguistic power.
1. Katharine's native language French has been associated with effeminacy throughout the play.
2. Hal takes power over Katharine because Ktharine is incapable to but speaking English fragmentally.
Arthur Kirsch 's "Macbeth's Suicide."
I. Introduction: The two passions of mind: ambition and fear are the main features to make Macbeth's tragedy.
II. Macbeth's construction of his masculinity and individualization:
A. Before the murder of Duncan, Macbeth has the fear of self-recognition; therefore, he is afraid of behaving as a masculine figure. Macbeth is presented less masculine than Lady Macbeth.
B. After the murder, Macbeth transfers his fear and manifests his ambition in his bawdy speech (into sexual desire). Therefore, by killing a father figure--king, Macbeth replaces the father for the further step of his psychological development.
C. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are inseparable pair that completes each other by uniting their fragmental individuality into one.
III. The construction of Macbeth's subjectivity:
A. By borrowing larger robes, Macbeth displays him a dwarf rather than a child. In between a small child and a grown-up man, Macbeth with an infantile thought and imagination to take his father's place.
B. After killing Duncan, Macbeth is often hallucinatory. His illusion/fancy reflects his inner "infantile fear of disintegration" showing his persistent anxiety of the incompleteness of his subjectivity, (284) these hallucination are like his fancy in the feast and his meeting with witches.
C. Macbeth's usurpation is his fulfillment of combining his thoughts, minds and body together. Hence, Macbeth should have "the omnipotent power to contain the whole world within his own mind and to make it entirely in his own image" (286).
IV. Macbeth's destruction of his subjectivity:
A. On the other hand, Macbeth therefore has a lack desiring for nothing after he successfully kills Duncan and takes the throne (like Richard III). Consequently, the ambivalence caused by the sense of emptiness leads to Macbeth's suicide in "increasing sense of paralysis and depletion of energy" (291).
B. Macbeth as a hungry infant desires for more and more on account of "deprivation of maternal nourishment" (291).
C. After he gradually loses more and more, including his manhood by the death of Lady Macbeth, Macbeth's subjectivity inevitably is disunited. "It is common to say that Macbeth's ambition [for his own good] is suicidal" (288). He is doomed to die when he first meets his illusion/fancy of the witches.
If you would like, according to the presentation of these three articles, can you make a contrast and comparison of the construction of subjectivity of King Lear, Hal, and Macbeth, and also to see how the father/mother figure and language functions for constituting their individuality and subjectivity?
Kirsch, Arthur. "Macbeth's Suicide." ELH 51.2 (1984): 269-96.
Traub, Valerie. "Prince Hal's Falstaff: Positioning Psychoanalysis and the Female Reproductive Body." Shakespeare Quarterly 40.4 (1989): 456-74.
Van-Pelt, Tamise. "Entitled to be King: The Subversion of the Subject in King Lear." Literature and Psychology 42.1-2 (1996): 100-12.