King Lear: Everything Comes of Nothing and the Great Stage of Fools


  • Elena Pellone



The tragedy of King Lear has a unique relationship to ‘nothing’. The word is used more frequently in this play than any other in the canon. ‘Nothing’ as a condition of humanity and the universe itself is the driving concern of King Lear, and indeed has a presence in almost all of Shakespeare’s ontological discourses into the nature of the human. But Shakespeare’s ‘nothing’ in Lear is never powerless: it is never nihilistic or negative space. In fact, nothing gives birth to everything. Lear must painfully learn through the stripping of self and the re-evaluation of language, that his maxim “nothing will come of nothing” (1.1.99) reveals that the “nothing” that transpires are the subsequent actions and thoughts in the play. Coming to terms with our nothingness is entangled for Shakespeare in our comprehension of human connection and of alleviating human suffering by sharing it. This paper examines the value of ‘nothing’ in Lear and in Shakespeare’s concept of the world being a great stage, where humans navigate between being sublime, but also fumbling, fools.