Shakespeare’s King Lear is preoccupied with concepts of surplus, specifically as the term relates to social and economic inequalities. Lear’s argument in front of his daughters for essentialism alone - “Allow not nature more than nature needs” – and his own disrobing of the excessive paraphernalia of kingship before the storm is a stark moment of realization by the privileged classes, specifically by Gloucester and Lear, that they have neglected the poor, that they have in fact been responsible for glaring economic disparities between the haves and the have nots. Gloucester’s comments to Edgar – “so distribution should undo excess / And each man have enough” and Lear’s desire to correct these economic wrongs of his reign, specifically the number of the unhoused in the kingdom– “ I have ta’en too little care of this” – speak to the idea of surplus wealth and the need for the redistribution of wealth.
The significance of this session in relation to the conference theme is its focus on the multivalent meanings of surplus in Shakespeare plays and those of his contemporaries. There are many examples in plays by authors such as Marlowe and Brome of the issue of accumulative excess. I am seeking to find common ground among the panelists of this fundamental issue, resonating in our own times of stark inequality, of when is enough enough? The subtopics under consideration include:
- Financial and material surplus
- Economic inequalities
- Characters engaged in theft with the intent of equitable redistribution
- Social responsibilities of leaders for the welfare of the subject
- The unhoused
- Social consciousness about property differentials