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Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 1172001 Lectures$
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F.M.L. Thompson

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780197262795

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197262795.001.0001

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A World Elsewhere: Shakespeare’s Sense of an Exit

A World Elsewhere: Shakespeare’s Sense of an Exit


(p.165) A World Elsewhere: Shakespeare’s Sense of an Exit
Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 117


British Academy

Shakespeare, it has been claimed, was the first to translate into English words the laws of vanishing-point perspective. So, according to art historians, Edgar's projection in King Lear of the view of the Channel from ‘the extreme verge’ of Dover Cliff was unprecedented in its analysis of how the planes of space diminish in proportion to distance. Decades before other writers conceptualised space as a continuum, Shakespeare had internalised the scale which determines how from a distance ‘fishermen, that walk upon the beach, / Appear like mice’, enough to define such a reductive way of seeing as ‘deficient sight’. By staging ‘the question of its own limits’ with this paradox of vision as a form of blindness, his play seems to sense something terrifying in the great unseen space which would soon surround the theatre of the baroque, and into which an exit would be the equivalent of a sentence of death.

Keywords:   vanishing-point perspective, space, distance, King Lear, Edgar, Shakespeare, exit

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