“Is This the Promised End?”: The Tragedy of King Lear

Another Apocalypse post. Year 13 will be reading these and discussing the idea of the Apocalyptic shortly… I would like to thank the wonderful world of bloggers for posting this originally…

Celestial Timepiece

By Joyce Carol Oates

Originally published in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Fall 1974. Reprinted in Contraries.

Thou art a soul in bliss, but I am bound
Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears
Do scald like molten lead.


The moment of Lear’s awakening is one of the most moving scenes in our literature, coming as it does after so much grotesque and senseless horror; it marks not simply the reconciliation of King and mistreated, exiled daughter, the reconciliation of the tyrannical, aggressive Lear and his loving, all-forgiving Cordelia, but the mysterious moment of “awakening” of the soul itself— for Cordelia, with her unearned kiss, symbolizes that moment of grace that forces the tragic action to a temporary halt, and allows a magical synthesis of the bliss of eternity and the tragedy of time that is so powerful in Shakespeare, because it is so rare.

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