Title: Curse and consequence: King Lear’s destructive narcissism
Author: Roy Shafer
Abstract: Shock, pain and antipathy are common audience responses to King Lear’s violent abuse of Cordelia in Scene 1 of King Lear; however, the play then shifts so rapidly to other dramatic relationships and events that it tends to push these feelings out of mind. This shift is here regarded as a seduction to repress the fear and antipathy aroused by Lear. This effect opens the way to sympathetic identification with him in his subsequent humiliation, suffering and madness. These contrasting responses help build a tragic structure in which a more complex Lear becomes the victim of his curse on Cordelia. The seductive design resembles efforts by analytic patients to induce the analyst into repressively neglecting significant aspects of transference that require analytic attention. And Lear’s bearing the consequences of his curse is likened to aspects of the decompensations of severely narcissistic patients. Additionally, to the extent that the audience has unconsciously identified with Lear’s violence and participated emotionally in other painful scenes, as is likely to be the case, it has been unconsciously reacting as well with guilt and depressive anxiety. These reactions increase readiness to be diverted from destructive narcissism and responses to it.