'This sad time': The Augustinian Temporality of 'King Lear'

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Drawing on ancient concepts of the senescence of the world, King Lear depicts an old world overshadowed by an apparently imminent apocalypse. Waiting in agonized suspense for a day of judgment that never arrives, however, audiences as well as the characters on stage experience the “weight of this sad time”—not the end of time but the time that stubbornly refuses to come to an end. King Lear therefore stages the experience of living in the old age of the world as conceptualized by Augustine, a time in which history, marked by suffering, is plunged into darkness. While the senescence of the world is a commonplace idea from ancient times onward, it is Augustine’s version of the concept, in which the old age of the world signifies not simply decline but a temporality characterized by the anguished tension between a suffering present and a hoped-for future, that informs the world of King Lear. One of the places Shakespeare encountered this model of temporal experience was in Calvin’s Sermons on Job (1574). Demonstrating Shakespeare’s extensive engagement with this work, I argue that King Lear is informed by the Augustinian models of time and history expounded by Calvin in these sermons.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-355
JournalModern Philology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jan 2023


  • Augustine
  • Shakespeare
  • King Lear
  • Tragedy
  • Time
  • Temporality
  • Calvin, John
  • The Book of Job
  • Sermons on Job


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