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Grinstein, A. (1973). King Lear's Impending Death. Am. Imago, 30(2):121-141.

(1973). American Imago, 30(2):121-141

King Lear's Impending Death

Alexander Grinstein, M.D.

No one who has had the opportunity to see a performance of King Lear can doubt that it is one of the greatest dramas of all time. Literary criticism on this play has been extensive. In addition there have been a number of psychoanalytic papers on King Lear. I do not propose to review or to summarize this literature, nor do I plan to present a detailed psychoanalytic study of the entire play. I should like to deal with the specific problem in the play of Lear's reaction to his impending death and to touch on the reactions to it of various members of his family.

Lear is in his eighties (“Fourscore and upward, not an hour more or less” [IV, vii, 61] ). He realizes at the very outset of the drama that his death is near:

… and' tis our fast intent

To shake all cares and business from our age,

Conferring them on younger strengths, while we

Unburthen'd crawl toward death. [I, i, 38-41]

From the evidence that Shakespeare presents, there can be little question that the awareness of his physical change is a determinant of paramount significance in Lear's decision to give up the throne. Lear is not in the best of health. There are a number of indications in the play that he has some cardiac difficulty. When Lear arrives at Gloucester's castle to see Regan and is not admitted promptly, he cries:

O! how this mother swells up toward my heart;

Hysterica passio! down, thou climbing sorrow!

Thy element's below. [II, iv, 56-8]

According to a footnote in the Arden edition (1901, p.

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