There are ten recorded deaths in King Lear: those of Lear, Goneril, Regan, the Duke of Cornwall, Cordelia, the Earl of Gloucester, Edmund, Oswald, the unseen and unnamed man who kills Cordelia, and Cornwall’s Servant. Of these, the only deaths that take place onstage, in sight of the audience, are those of Lear, Oswald, and Cornwall’s Servant. Cornwall himself receives his death blow onstage, but he exits with Regan and dies offstage. Edmund is borne offstage to die, while Cordelia is killed offstage and her body is carried onstage in the last scene. The paradox of death’s unknowability, coupled with its promiscuous ubiquity in tragedy is enacted again and again in the play, stressing the paradox with each example and further complicating the mystery that arises out of the ubiquity of death in life and art. We, the living, know we must die but have no way of knowing what death is or means beyond the obvious-but-culturally-determined perception that death is or seems to be opposite to life.


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pp. 371-389
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