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Revenge and Gender in Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Literature$
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Lesel Dawson and Fiona McHardy

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474414098

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474414098.001.0001

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The Avenging Daughter in King Lear

The Avenging Daughter in King Lear

(p.111) Chapter 5 The Avenging Daughter in King Lear
Revenge and Gender in Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Literature

Marguerite A. Tassi

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter addresses the scarcity of avenging daughters in early modern texts, arguing that Shakespeare’s Cordelia in King Lear provides an exception to this paradigm. In scripting such an unexpected part for a female character, Shakespeare subverts the traditionally male gendered role of the avenger son and reconfigures earlier versions of the legend (such as those found in accounts by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Holinshed, and John Higgins and the anonymous King Leir). The chapter demonstrates the play’s structural affinities with the revenge genre, arguing that King Lear offers ethically contrasting forms of requital that are also gendered: while Goneril and Regan correspond to negative stereotypes about vengeful women, Shakespeare’s Cordelia (particularly in the 1623 folio), resembles the ‘male-like’ Cordelia depicted in the historical chronicles. Finally, the chapter asks what commentary on injustice, filial duty, and revenge Shakespeare’s harrowing, unsentimental dramatization of the Lear legend offered its early seventeenth-century audiences.

Keywords:   Revenge, Shakespeare, vengeful women, King Lear, Cordelia, daughters, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Holinshed, John Higgins, King Leir

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