‘Hereafter, in a Better World than This’: the End of Exile in As You Like It and King Lear
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In the plays we have considered so far, there has been little sense of the exile among exiles. Such encounters are usually confined to the fearful imaginings of the newly banished. However, in As You Like It and King Lear, the exile is almost never alone. The comedy features an outcast duke, a banished heiress, gentlemen outlaws in voluntary exile, a fugitive youth and his exiled brother, all of whom are brought together in Arden. In King Lear, the exile count is so excessive — with Kent and Cordelia banished, Lear and Gloucester cast out and Edgar in flight for his life — that Leo Salingar defines the play as ‘largely a fable about alienation’.3 Yet even this alienation is also shared: the exiles recognize each other’s suffering and huddle together on the heath. This emptying out of society only for it to reform in a natural landscape is one of the pastoral conventions which shape both As You Like It and King Lear. However, far from endorsing a simple, idyllic view of the outcast society, familiar from Robin Hood ballads, both plays express considerable anxiety as to what living with one’s fellow exiles might mean. This chapter will explore the anxiety of shared exile, before considering how classical consolations are invoked to assuage it. We will consider to what extent the exile society (always a potential oxymoron) represents a real alternative to the civility from which it is excluded. Finally, it will be argued that the movement from As You Like It to King Lear involves a broadening of Shakespeare’s conception of exile: in the comedy, no man is really banished while in King Lear exile is a fate no man escapes.
KeywordsNatural Landscape Catholic Priest Pastoral Convention German Tribe Savage Wilderness
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