Upon Such Sacrifices: King Lear and the Binding of Isaac

"Which of you shall we say doth love us most?” Is it ironic that the tragedy of King Lear, perhaps the most devastating in the English language, begins with a father’s plea for love? The question certainly surprises his court, which is anxious over the disposition of the kingdom.

Here is the situation. Lear, feeling his decline, looks to prevent future strife by settling his succession now. But he does not simply settle. He doesn’t incline to Albany, as his faithful vassal Kent tells us he thought he had and which would have been seen as only right and natural since Goneril, Albany’s wife, is Lear’s firstborn. Nor does he directly vest all in his youngest and dearest, Cordelia, which, had he done so, would have left her sisters gnashing their teeth while France and Burgundy overleaped each other in striving for her hand. Instead, he poses a test:


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About the Author

Noah Millman is a senior editor at the American Conservative, a columnist at the Week, and a filmmaker. His film We’ve Forgotten More Than We Ever Knew will be released this November, and he is currently working on a book about Shakespeare and the Hebrew Bible.


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