King Lear ‘After’ Auschwitz

Shakespeare, Appropriation and Theatres of Catastrophe in Post-War British Drama

Richard Ashby

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Analyses appropriations of King Lear in post-war British drama
  • Watch: Richard Ashby interviewed by Julia Lupton
  • Provides the first dedicated study on appropriations of King Lear in British playwriting of the post-war, developing valuable new perspectives on the legacy of Shakespeare in post-war drama and culture
  • Situates appropriations of King Lear in a wider literary, theatrical and philosophical discourse around the play and the Holocaust
  • Brings Shakespeare and post-war British drama into conversation with Continental philosophy and theory

Since the events of the Holocaust, playwrights have variously appropriated King Lear to respond to the catastrophes of modern times. With case studies on the works of Edward Bond, David Rudkin, Howard Barker, Sarah Kane, Forced Entertainment and Dennis Kelly, this book explores a range of theatres of catastrophe in post-war British drama and the role that King Lear has played in new forms of post-Holocaust tragedy and tragic freedom. Plays are situated in a wider critical and cultural discourse around Shakespeare and the Holocaust and the post-Auschwitz philosophical aesthetics of Theodor Adorno, whose influence on post-war playwriting remains profound.


1. ‘After’ Auschwitz2. Why King Lear? 3. ‘Strange Mutations’: The History of King Lear ‘After’ Auschwitz4. ‘The Man Without Pity is Mad’: Edward Bond’s King Lears and the Dialectic of Engagement5. ‘Rudkin I Nothing Am’: Edgar, Exile and Self Re-Authorship in David Rudkin’s Will’s Way6. ‘WHAT IS THIS GOOD?’: The Ethics and Aesthetics of the ‘Good Life’ in Howard Barker’s Seven Lears7. ‘Thought you were dead’: Dover Cliff, Death and ‘Ephemeral Life’ in Sarah Kane’s Blasted7.1 Postscript, Writing and Performing from the Rubble: Forced Entertainment, Five Day Lear and Table Top Shakespeare: The Complete Works8. ‘And I was struck still…’: Nature, The Sublime and Subjectivity in Dennis Kelly’s The Gods Weep

Conclusion, ‘Storm Still’Bibliography Index

Ashby’s brilliant book shares with its foundational text a radical desire to extend the scale of what can be achieved. Vast in scope, powerful in execution, deeply scholarly [and] thoroughly theorized […] "King Lear" ‘After’ Auschwitz is an exceptional achievement, permanently changing and revitalizing our assumptions about the landscape of responses to Shakespeare’s inexhaustible play […] [a] breathtaking accomplishment
Peter Holland, Comparative Drama
An intellectually and politically compelling testament to the power of King Lear to fire the imagination of the boldest post-war British dramatists, and a richly rewarding study of the extraordinary plays they forged in the light of Shakespeare's tragic masterpiece.
Kiernan Ryan, University of Cambridge and the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon
Ashby’s debut monograph is a highly impressive manifestation of a deeply informed and considered analytical voice. This book makes important contact points between the most fundamental and searching questions about power, mortality and responsibility in the work of Shakespeare and in the work of major modern British dramatists, and in the world at large. It is properly urgent reading'
David Ian Rabey, Aberystwyth University
Out of the entire Shakespearian canon King Lear emerges as both a provoking guide and goad within contemporary British drama as a vehicle for productive appropriation by dramatists. Like a current day Edgar, Richard Ashby takes his readers from the 'chalky bourn' of Dover Cliff to the gates of Auschwitz and beyond in an authoritative study of the ways in which figures as diverse as Howard Barker, Edward Bond, Tim Etchells, Sarah Kane and Dennis Kelly have reconstituted this puzzling and provoking classical tragedy. King Lear 'After' Auschwitz will rightly take up a prominent place within the growing body of work in Shakespeare studies devoted to the practice of adaptation and appropriation.
Graham Saunders, University of Birmingham
Dr Richard Ashby obtained his PhD from Royal Holloway, University of London and is now a Visiting Research Fellow at Senate House Library and an Honorary Research Associate at Royal Holloway, University of London. His research concentrates on the afterlives of Shakespeare and other early modern writers and dramatists, particularly in periods of crisis and catastrophe. He has published articles in Shakespeare, Textual Practice, Adaptation, Contemporary Theatre Review, Cahiers Élisabéthains and Comparative Drama and has spoken at various national and international conferences. He is currently working on the presence and meanings of Shakespeare in Holocaust testimony.

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