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Sanford Freedman CHARACTER IN A COHERENT FICTION: ON PUTTING KING LEAR BACK TOGETHER AGAIN Criticism has never been able to talk about fictionality very long without talking about an "inside" and an "outside," a fictional world's relation to a non-fictional world. And always there lies an immediate tension in this relation posed by the concept of coherence. That is, does a fictional world cohere because it corresponds to meanings "outside" die text or does a fictional world cohere because its "inside" parts stand in meaningful relation to each other? Northrop Frye, in explicating his dieory of symbols, distinguishes between "inside" and "outside" critical directions: Whenever we read anything, we find our attention moving in two directions at once. One direction is outward or centrifugal, in which we keep going outside our reading, from the individual words to the things they mean, or, in practice, to our memory of the conventional association between them. The other direction is inward or centripetal, in which we try to develop from the words a sense of the larger verbal pattern they make.1 That Frye suggests that critics see in both directions at once separates him from most twentieth-century Shakespearean critics who exaggerate one direction at the expense of the other. In this essay I will examine criticism of King Lear, specifically criticism about the play's characters from the eighteenth, nineteenth , and twentieth centuries, as a way of assessing this distinction, focusing on two related problems: first, how the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries' legacy of"inside"/"outside" talk affects twentieth-century critical debate, and second , how twentieth-century controversy polarizes "insides" and "outsides" without acknowledging the implications of doing so. If such an exaimination serves to undermine dominant twentieth-century concepts of coherence within Shakespearean criticism by pointing to unwritten rules-of-thumb, it does so, ultimately, to alter perspective on the supposed rites of passage from theories which give us cleair, alternative versions of a fictional world (traditional theories) to theories which seem to leave us floundering in a pluralist acceptance of all possible versions of a fictional world (deconstructive theories). 196 Sanford Freedman197 Eighteenth-century critics do not scrutinize King Lear from the point of view of character but rather through the mental images or ideas which the characters' words evoke. When Johnson faults Shakespeare's description of Dover Cliff in, he argues diat the passage "does not impress die mind at once with the horrible idea of an immense height. The impression is divided; you pass on, by computation, from one stage of the tremendous space to another."2 Lifting Edgar's words out of die context of character, Johnson assumes the role of the purveyor of literature, akin to the role Pope assumed when he starred the "beauties" in his Shakespearean texts. What concernsJohnson is the "true" effect of looking down from a precipice, and he implies that the description should produce in different minds the same idea, an idea which is for him a singular idea, unmediated by composite ideas because the idea of looking down from a precipice necessitates that the immediacy of effect be synonymous with that of the idea. Edgar's purpose in leading his father to the cliffis overshadowed by the idea of looking down from a cliff, and we would do well to investigate an "outside" source, Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, rather than the Shakespearean text, as a means of discovering the purposefulness of Johnson's comment. Critical significance lies notjust inJohnson's airing ofneoclassical concern, but, more importantly, in his failure to find what he expects to be "there" in the play's "inside." Ideas, not characters, matter to the eighteenth-century's coherence, and the scope or comprehensiveness of that coherence has relatively local application; that is, editors range over several lines looking for relevant ideas but not between scenes or acts. In fact, one explanation of why they do not see a double plot is that their critical attention, like that of Swift's Lilliputians, lacks scope; dierefore, they fail to anticipate, to see patterns. Again, Johnson, for example, does not observe Gloucester's, Edgar's, and the fool's repetition of...


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