King Lear "After" Auschwitz: Shakespeare, Appropriation and Subjectivity in the Catastrophist Playwriting of David Rudkin, Howard Barker and Sarah Kane

Richard Ashby

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This study analyses appropriations of King Lear in post-war British playwriting, from Edward Bond’s 1971 play Lear to Dennis Kelly’s 2010 play The Gods Weep. It shows that post-war playwrights have variously appropriated King Lear in response to the disaster of the Holocaust and its near-total destruction of human subjectivity. I concentrate particularly on the playwrights David Rudkin, Howard Barker and Sarah Kane, all of whom appropriate King Lear in the service of a type of playwriting and drama called ‘Catastrophism’ – a form deeply influenced by Frankfurt School theorist Theodor Adorno and his conceptualization of aesthetics and subjectivity ‘after’ Auschwitz. Catastrophism names a form of tragic drama that eschews resolution and retains the autonomy of the tragic subject, who cannot be finally constrained by any form of aesthetic or ideological closure. Over and against repressive systems of thought and society, the Catastrophist subject retains his/her freedom. I show that appropriations of King Lear have played a vital role in Catastrophism and its response to the degradation of human subjectivity and freedom in the Holocaust.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Megson, Chris, Supervisor
  • Rankin, Deana, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Sept 2018
Publication statusUnpublished - 18 Jul 2018


  • King Lear
  • Shakespeare
  • Appropriation
  • Tragedy
  • Subjectivity
  • Edward Bond
  • David Rudkin
  • Howard Barker
  • Sarah Kane
  • Holocaust
  • After Auschwitz
  • Theodor W. Adorno
  • Frankfurt School

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