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Date(s) - 8 Sep 2017
7:00 PM - 7:00 PM

Columbia University Faculty House

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For our first meeting of the year, Friday September 8, Thomas G. Olsen (SUNY New Paltz) will give a paper titled “How Many Knights Had King Lear?”
Abstract: Shakespeare’s hundred knights has no precedent in any previous King Leir story, from Geoffrey of Monmouth (1136) to the late sixteenth century. The initial number is 140, sixty, forty, or undefined—but never one hundred.

Do numbers matter? I argue that they do: the diminution of Lear’s retinue reveals something central to the internal logic of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Knighthood was a personally significant ideal to the playwright who obtained a coat of arms for his family, non sans droict, and who pondered honor and chivalry across his entire career. It also provoked controversy in the period: Elizabeth was notoriously parsimonious, but the Earl of Essex and especially King James gave or sold knighthoods freely. Lear’s “men of rare and choicest parts” must have resonated in very specific and ironic ways when King Lear was first performed, including at court. I examine this key signifier of Lear’s humiliation within a complex of prior meanings and contemporary significations. 

The event will be held in Faculty House, 64 Morningside Drive. As always social hour will be from 5-6, dinner 6-7, and the talk 7-8:30. Please request a copy of the evite from Alexander Lash. The cost for dinner, payable by check only, is $30. When you RSVP please indicate whether or not you plan to come to dinner (by Tuesday August 29).