This essay frames the Gloucester subplot in King Lear with the rich history of one of literary criticism’s most powerful explanatory figures for human subjectivity—Oedipus. Such a framing, of course, is by no means original. But whereas early modern criticism has previously interpreted King Lear in terms of incest and Freudian repression, this essay instead explores the relation between disability studies and critical plant studies in the figure of Oedipus infans. Cast into a state of exposure, the newborn Oedipus was to be devoured by beasts; according to one pan-European tradition of the story, “plants” were employed to pierce and then affix his bored feet to a tree’s branch as if he were rotting fruit. This is what I call the “Oedipal family tree”: it is not a genealogical emblem of incest so much as a brutal attempt to forestall it. And it has a terrible, disabling effect on Oedipus’s feet. This Oedipal figure, this essay contends, informs the torture that Shakespeare’s Gloucester suffers in King Lear.
"Budding Oedipus: The Oedipal Family Tree and King Lear,"
Criticism: Vol. 62:
3, Article 3.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/criticism/vol62/iss3/3