CrossRef citations to date

The Danger in Metaphor: “Dismembering Resemblances” in Dunbar and King Lear

Pages 145-159
Published online: 31 Oct 2019


Dunbar, Edward St. Aubyn’s novelistic adaptation of King Lear, re-presents the role of metaphor in Lear’s madness as an experience of disorientation. Abused by his two older daughters, Dunbar finds visual and conceptual distinctions dissolving into ubiquitous similarity. This essay takes St. Aubyn’s visual metaphor for metaphor itself as an incitement to view the role of this figure as an agential force upon the linguistic topography and structure of the tragedy. The breakdown of Lear’s world, I argue, begins with the love test as a staged metaphor that seeks, unsuccessfully, to associate land with his definition of love. Thereafter, metaphor operates with an element of agency and dramatic irony: Lear’s comparison of unfaithful daughters to sexually monstrous women, and his self-parody, are metaphors whose resonances transcend his epistemology and intent. While traditional semiotics do not account for language’s agency, I offer a reading which extends Alfred Gell’s theory of art as index to texts as a model for this agency. Via Gell, I explore the process whereby Shakespeare’s language unshackles itself from semantic meanings in moments of sonic repetition and, concomitant with this freedom, creates new associations between concepts within Lear’s language and across the action of the play.


Many thanks go to Stephen Greenblatt for reading and responding to multiple versions of this piece as it evolved. I also owe a large debt of gratitude to Marjorie Garber for her feedback on the semiotic and theoretical interests of the work, and to John Kerrigan for a stimulating discussion on dramatic irony which helped me to develop my argument, and for his unflagging support as usual.

Disclosure Statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

Log in via your institution

Log in to Taylor & Francis Online

PDF download + Online access

  • 48 hours access to article PDF & online version
  • Article PDF can be downloaded
  • Article PDF can be printed
USD 47.00 Add to cart

Issue Purchase

  • 30 days online access to complete issue
  • Article PDFs can be downloaded
  • Article PDFs can be printed
USD 239.00 Add to cart

Purchase access via tokens

  • Choose from packages of 10, 20, and 30 tokens
  • Can use on articles across multiple libraries & subject collections
  • Article PDFs can be downloaded & printed
From USD 450.00
per package
Learn more
* Local tax will be added as applicable

Related research

People also read lists articles that other readers of this article have read.

Recommended articles lists articles that we recommend and is powered by our AI driven recommendation engine.

Cited by lists all citing articles based on Crossref citations.
Articles with the Crossref icon will open in a new tab.