Closure, Copia, and Commonplaces: Three Meditations on Rhetorical Technologies and Discontinuities in Conclusion of King Lear
King Lear has been infamously described by A. C. Bradley as Sakespeare's "greatest achievement" but not his greatest play. Much of this controversy owes to the difficulties in the dramatic closure of King Lear. Where most tragedies resolve with the restitution of social order following the death or banishment of the hero, King Lear resists such easy resolution. Thus some apologists and scholars have tried to impose a form of dramatic closure upon King Lear, whether bleak or optimistic. Generally these readings rely on various interpretations of the final scene of the play and the ambiguity of to whom the final lines should belong to; Edgar or Albany. Because in our present age the final diminuendo of a play or piece of literature is a critical point of interpretation such readings ignore the rhetoric of the play in order to explain away the obstacle of the dramatic structure. This paper, however, takes a close new historical account of the rhetorical culture, commonplace traditions and theatrical conventions of the early seventeenth century to explain why the play deliberately manipulates these conventions to end in an unresolved manner. This paper is divided into three independent but interconnected discussions of the issues at play, particularly the forms of closure available to Jacobean audiences, the importance of the rhetorical and commonplace tradition, and the political game of flattery that Shakespeare is playing with James I while ironically presenting a play on the evils of flattery.