Nobody, Somebody, and King Lear

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The approximately contemporary Jacobean plays, King Lear and Nobody and Somebody, share an ancient British setting, a preoccupation with instability in the state, and an unsettling interest in negation. Peter Womack here suggests that by reading them together we can retrieve some of the theatrical strangeness which the more famous of the two has lost through familiarity and naturalization. The dramatic mode of existence of the character called ‘Nobody’ is paradoxical, denaturing – an early modern visual and verbal Verfremdungseffekt, at once philosophical and clownish. His negativity, which is articulated in dialogue with the companion figure of ‘Somebody’, is matched in King Lear, above all in the role of Edgar, but also by a more diffused state of being (withdrawal, effacement, folly) which the play generates in reaction to its positive events. Ultimately the negation in both plays is social in character: ‘Nobody’ is the dramatic face of the poor and oppressed. Peter Womack teaches literature at the University of East Anglia. His most recent book is English Renaissance Drama (2006), in the Blackwell Guides to Literature series.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-207
Number of pages13
JournalNew Theatre Quarterly
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2007

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