Contending with the Storm: Lear’s Performatives

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Literature and its Language: Philosophical Aspects


Is the storm already happening when Lear says these famous words: “Blow, wind, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow”? Even though these lines call for a storm to happen, the vast majority of productions understandably cast doubt on Lear’s power to do so by having the storm already raging before he begins speaking: he merely calls for what already exists. What, then, is the status and function of speech acts which very palpably do nothing, and which do not perform what grammatically and syntactically they claim? In this article, I attempt to determine the specific nature of the infelicity of Lear’s performatives in the storm, and relate it more broadly to the play. In so doing, I argue that the application of a concept like the performative to a literary text is far from being a self-explanatory procedure, and can—indeed, ought—to lead us into a degree of perplexity over the precise relationship between the concept and the phenomena it seeks to elucidate.

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