Abstract

This essay considers the relation between lyric utterance, dramatic irony, and intellectual disability in King Lear, particularly in Lear’s famous address to Cordelia—which begins with “Come, let’s away”—just before Edmund sends both to prison. Reading “Come, let’s away” alongside early modern prison literature, the essay argues that the speech’s work as lyric within tragic drama erodes dramatic irony, removing the audience from the superior knowledge position that such irony affords and that enables ableist perspectives to begin with. In shifting attention from tragic action to lyric power, Lear’s speech renders the ability and willingness to understand one’s situation, and to act efficaciously in that situation, irrelevant to accessing what is beautiful and true. Shakespeare thus separates the question of mental capacity from that of felicitous choice. The irony of capacity in “Come, let’s away,” then, is this: that when readers focus on the value of mental capacity and on the power over action that Lear lacks, they miss what his speech does, the lyric capacity that it has.

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