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A Structuralist Interpretation of King Lear

Author HouBin
Tutor LiQuanFu
School Northwest Normal University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords King Lear structuralism binary opposition deep structure The Palace of Eternal Youth
Type Master's thesis
Year 2005
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The worldwide criticism on Shakespeare’s works is enough to fill a house to the rafters. Yet, as the chief editor of A Series of Translations of Shakespeare’s Classics, Ran Kun says in the prologue to them that Shakespeare belongs not only to England and Renaissance period, but also to the whole world and all ages. Reading King Lear (hereafter referred to as KL) today from a new perspective, through eyes of this age may contribute to the diversity of its interpretation. Therefore, the author of this thesis probes into the deep structure of KL by applying the structuralist narrative theories, and draws a comparison between it and one of famous Chinese classic drama The Palace of Eternal Youth (hereafter referred to as TPEY), hoping this new and comparative perspective might provide a different visual angle for understanding both tragedies. The thesis falls into five parts.The first part is literature review of KL, as well as of TPEY, which aims at showing the reason of the author’s choosing structuralist narrative theory as the theoretical perspective, and the significance of this study. It shows that the previous KL Criticism tends to go to the pessimistic or optimistic extremes and in which structuralist perspective has been hardly applied in details. While the dynamic characteristic of structuralist narrative theory provides the possibility of avoiding going to polarity in KL interpretation. The similar case is true to TPEY. , In the second part, the theoretical frame applied in the thesis is presented. It includes three divisions: the first one introduces the general principle of literary structuralism, and the second one, binary opposition, which, to structuralists, is "the start of signification and narrative", "the relation that are most important in structural analysis", and governs the narrative structure of a text Therefore, when reading, literary structuralists usually begin with exploring into the basic binary opposition underlying a text. In division three, the structuralist narrative theories of Greimas and Todorov are quoted and analyzed, which serve as the concrete theoretical approaches to the two plays. Greimas maintains, "this beginning of narrative in a semantic opposition leads to situations and actions which are characterized by this same opposition". Based on that, he puts forwards three pairs of "anctantial models" in binary opposition: Subject/Object, Sender/Receiver, Helper/Opponent, and their functions can be grouped into three structures, the first one of which is "contractual". Yet some succeeding literary structuralists such as Culler points out that this "actantial model" is hardly to meet the diversity of characters in a work. Hence, it is applied with critical eyes. Todorov takes characters and their functions within a text respectively as the subject and predicate of a sentence, which form a "proposition"; a series of "proposition" make up a "sequence", which, in succession constitute narrative structure of a text. Thus Todorov draws analogy between sentence structure and textual narrative. Greimas’s narrative theory on semantic focuses on the content of text, while Todorov’s theory on syntactic, on form. The combination of the two is beneficial to grasping the narrative structure of a text. The theoretical frame analyzedabove is charted into a diagram at last.Part three focuses on the binary oppositions underlying KL and TPEY. Firstly, by exploring into binary oppositions in the two tragedies, the author opposes the idea that the Gloucester plot in KL is a. repetition of the Lear plot and even an encumbrance to the play. Then binary oppositions in the natural images, images of clothes, and the settings are explicated. In spite of the diversity of them, a fundamental and consistent one can be found among them. That is, binary opposition of order and disorder, which is the start of signification and narrative of the two tragedies and governs their narrative structures.Part four deals with the narrative pattern of both tragedies. It’s subdivided into two sections: The first section deals

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