Charles Lamb, with the crotchety elitism only nineteenth-century England could engender, famously declared Lear "essentially impossible to be represented on a stage" (para. 19). He bases his proclamation on a false but revealing dichotomy: while a written text can command "absolute mastery over the heart and soul of man," a performance offers no more than "low tricks upon the eye and ear" (para. 2). For Lamb, theater's attempt to "embody and realize conceptions which had hitherto assumed no distinct shape" reduces the Platonic splendor of the written word to "the standard of flesh and blood" (para. 3). Even further, he objects to the promiscuity of the theater, where words are "sullied and turned from their very nature by being exposed to a large assembly" (para. 7). Mired by the disgrace of embodied displayed to an embodied audience, written texts are, Lamb argues, "made another thing by being acted" (para. 9). In short, bodies make a difference.

While many critical fields interrogate how bodies make a difference, Lamb's repulsion at seeing Lear embodied—"an old man tottering about the stage with a walking-stick" (para.18)— hinges specifically on a disabled body. Early modern disability studies attends to embodiedness through analysis of disability's physical components, such as illness and impairment, as well as analysis of its constructedness, through the social and cultural conditions that shape impaired bodies' experiences of disability. 2 These aspects of embodiment—physical and cultural—are precisely what the theater negotiates as well. 3 Bodies in the theater—both those of the actors and of the audience—are also physically and socially constructed, by the cultural work that inscribes them as much as the material aspects that comprise them. Yet, beyond these dimensions, actors' bodies on stage are also narratively constructed specifically to display those very dimensions, and audiences' bodies participate in that meaning-making. Intersections between disability studies and drama, then, offer fruitful sites to theorize how disabled bodies make a difference on stage. The cross-pollinations between performance studies and disability studies, as well as the emergence of disability theater, have begun this crucial work. 4 However, within literary studies, much like in Lamb's criticism, scholars still rely on critical approaches that privilege textual over embodied presences to interpret disability in drama. How do analyses change when we pay attention to the embodied staging of disability? How do the material aspects of the theater— especially the theatrical bodies of actors and audience members—contribute to how disability is physically, culturally, and narratively constructed?

These questions frame the critical approaches I theorize below. I propose that drama requires its own theoretical concepts for analyzing disability beyond what literary disability studies currently offers. Reading dramatic depictions of disability as literary texts, rather than embodied performances, flattens the semiotic work that they do; however, attending to the embodiment staging disability demands illuminates avenues for shared embodied knowledge within the audience. I read Lear as a particularly apt case study. Disability forms a central theme of Lear and, as Christine M. Gottlieb points out, appears in every plot line. Going even further, Lindsey Row-Heyveld states, "Lear centres disability, making its disabled characters and their experience its primary dramatic preoccupation" ("'Known and Feeling Sorrows'" 157). But in many ways, scholars have under-theorized these depictions of disability in the play.

The critical history of Lear varies as much as the bodies it attempts to interpret, but while disability studies has been a relative latecomer to Shakespearen criticism, its subject matters, particularly Gloucester's blindness and Lear's madness, have long been crucial sites of interpretation. The earliest criticism on Lear focuses on it as a tragedy, whereby Gloucester's and Lear's impairments are seen as tragic examples of "uncompensated suffering" (Kastan 9) and are "infinitely piteous" (Bradley 284). In these readings, the "suffering" is due to Gloucester's and Lear's respective hamartias, casting blindness and madness not only as undesirable but also as a result of (avoidable) human error. Other early formalists analyze the disabilities as metaphors, with blindness serving as "a symbolic rendering of the father's failure to believe in the filial devotion of his son" (Carroll 134) and madness "exemplify[ing] the break-up of society and the threat to the universe itself" (Muir 35). 5

Beyond these generic and metaphorical readings, the field has a long interest in applying critical theory to Shakespeare's depictions of madness. 6 Psychoanalytical readings diagnose Lear's madness as stemming from "a hidden, unacknowledged shame at himself" (Zak 11) or from "his repressed identification with the mother" (Kahn 243), 7 while New Historicist and feminist lenses contextualize madness in relation to melancholy and humoral theory more broadly. 8 The most extensive treatment of madness in the period, Carol Thomas Neely's Distracted Subjects, argues that concepts of madness were secularized and reconstructed through medical, legal, philosophical, and literary discourses, whereby plays like Lear "represent[ed] both madness and the process of reading madness" (49). More recent criticism emphasizes the topic of aging, with scholars reading "Lear's senescence as a descent into senility, debility, and loss" (Deats 89). While such readings attend to the socio-political aspects of generational conflict and interpret those dynamics variously, all begin with the premise that Lear's "inability" (real or, as Matthew Harkins compellingly argues, rhetorically projected) is rooted in his age. Even Angela Heetderks, a literary disability studies scholar, calls Lear an "age-assailed monarch" (67).

While all of these approaches may contribute to our understanding of Lear, they lack the critical and ethical insights of disability studies, which reads Lear as relentlessly exploiting disability for narrative gain. Gottlieb calls Lear's "treatment of disability … embarrassing" because "[d]isability is used as a narrative prosthesis in every one of [its] multiple plots" (para. 1). Others find the blind Gloucester "pathetic and absurd" (Pierce 155) and argue that the play's ultimate thesis regarding disability is "faulty, fleeting, fractured" (Row-Heyveld, "'Known and Feeling Sorrows'" 166). Yet, for all of the insights such disability readings bring, they still rely on critical approaches that focus on the narrative text without capturing the embodied significations of disability on a stage or the embodied reception of those significations by the audience. I argue that attending to how disability is embodied, performed, and received in stagings of Lear offers more multivalent interpretations of disability, beyond pathetic, embarrassing exploitation and fractured conclusions. My analyses illustrate how theoretical frameworks for a dramatic disability studies can generate innovative, original readings, even of a text with such a deep critical history as Lear.

Dramatic Prosthesis and Playing with Metaphor 9

Of current scholarship in literary disability studies, none has transformed the field more than David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder's groundbreaking concepts of "narrative prosthesis" and the "materiality of metaphor." Their theory argues that "disability pervades literary narrative, first, as a stock feature of [plot and] characterization, and second, as an opportunistic metaphorical device" (Mitchell and Snyder 47). The first of these, narrative prosthesis, describes how literature depends on the discourses of disability in order to drive the narrative forward or to "explain everything or nothing with respect to [characters'] portraits as embodied beings" (Mitchell and Snyder 50); while the second, the materiality of metaphor, delineates how "[p]hysical and cognitive anomalies … lend a 'tangible' body to textual abstractions" (47-8) and "allow authors the metaphorical 'play' between macro and micro registers of meaning-making" (62). Thus, for them, "disability has been used throughout history as a crutch upon which literary narratives lean for their representational power, disruptive potentiality, and analytical insight" (Mitchell and Snyder 49), as seen in the early formalist readings of Lear and as critiqued by Gottlieb. Simultaneously, Mitchell and Snyder contend that narrative prosthesis and the materiality of metaphor ignore the lived experiences of those with disabilities—fictional or not— in exchange for these reductive, stereotypical, and convenient modes of signification: "while stories rely upon the potency of disability as a symbolic figure, they rarely take up disability as an experience of social or political dimensions" (48). Moreover, since disability metaphors such as blindness, deafness, and lameness are most often coded negatively, Mitchell and Snyder emphasize how these exploited depictions and material metaphors do harmful cultural work against individuals with disabilities.

Narrative prosthesis and the materiality of metaphor have rightly proven influential in contemporary literary disability studies. 10 However, they are not equipped to capture the representations of disability in performed drama, when disability is no longer purely textual but rather becomes embodied. 11 To quote Katherine Schaap Williams, "[i]f our readings attend only to the written product of the poet's making, we risk smuggling a platonic ideal of abstraction into our concept of form" (18). If staged drama materializes and embodies the text, much to Lamb's chagrin, it cannot offer an exclusively textual prosthesis nor a solely material metaphor. To turn Mitchell and Snyder's own phrase, the theater must "lend a 'tangible' body to textual abstractions" (49). This materiality extends to disabled bodies. Disability that might be marginally represented or exploited on the page becomes centered on the stage every time a disabled character appears. To use Mitchell and Snyder's own observation, "If the body is the Other of text, then textual representation [of the body] seeks access to that which it is least able to grasp" (64, italics in original). But the medium of drama merges textual and embodied representations, in what Erika T. Lin theorizes as a "materiality of performance" (6), equipping it to grasp the bodily Other in ways that texts alone cannot.

All that drama needs to do so is bodies—both of actors and of audience members. As Susan L. Anderson notes, "Although all literary practice engages with bodily identity and its limits in some way, drama foregrounds the body—or rather, a range of bodies—as the very medium through which it makes its claims" (147). And as Genevieve Love observes, the "ontological challenge of the prosthetic theatrical body" exposes "theater's need of supplementation" (2). I read theatrical bodies as not only the medium but the very supplement staging disability requires. If textual narratives rely on disability for plot and metaphor—a narrative prosthesis—then drama relies on material bodies for representing and interpreting disability—a dramatic prosthesis. Dramatic prosthesis, then, is not just a "difference [that] demands display" (Mitchell and Snyder 55) but a difference that demands embodied display. 12

I also contend that embodied display demands an embodied reception. Early modern studies' sensory and affective turns pay attention to how audiences' "sympathetic bodies" sense and feel (Marshall 54). 13 In Lear, Edgar says that he "by the art of known and feeling sorrows, / Am pregnant to good pity" (4.6.247-8), a model of affectively-induced-empathy that Row-Heyveld connects to the play's treatment of disability knowledge. Borrowing Merri Lisa Johnson and Robert McRuer's definition of "being with and near disability, thinking through disabled sensations and situations," she argues that Lear's characters, and by extension the audience, gain disability knowledge through their proximities to disability ("'Known and Feeling Sorrows'" 164, italics original). However, I argue that the play goes so far as to replicate experiences of disability—"disabled sensations and situations"—within the audience to engender bodily knowledge. Both the embodied display and the embodied reception of disability, then, powerfully change the way disability is constructed and received within Lear.

Performed drama, with its "strait-lacing actuality" (Lamb para. 4), challenges Mitchell and Snyder's concept of the materiality of metaphor as well, for the theater can only stage a material metaphor. All dramatic metaphors, including those invoking disability, must be signalled to audiences materially; they must become theatrical objects. In his influential book The Stage Life of Props, Andrew Sofer asserts, "Simply by virtue of being placed on stage before an audience, objects acquire a set of semiotic quotation marks" (31). In other words, all theatrical objects, including dis/abled bodies, inherently represent something other than themselves; they are inherently metaphorical. A (sighted or blind) actor becomes "a blind character" on stage, even before she acquires any additional metaphoric coding. Therefore, as audiences willingly suspend their disbelief, they view all theatrical objects as operating on multiple registers of meaning. Theatrical audiences always "'play' between macro and micro registers of meaning making," to return to Mitchell and Snyder's phrase, because they must toggle between registers of abstract metaphor and material presence. As Love notes, "Physically disabled prosthetic characters … capture the simultaneous presence of the represented, imaginative world of the fiction and the material, embodied world of the theater, putting before us the metaphor— presentation is representation—on which theatrical pleasure is based" (4). Williams examines this simultaneity within the signifying body of the actor, where "the capacity to represent is also always a making, and disability is not a static attribute of a body but a dynamic interaction that happens in space and time" (3). Therefore, while Lamb contends that spectators lose "that vantage-ground of abstraction which reading possesses over seeing" (para. 17), theatrical audiences in fact gain interpretive ground. Theater's embodied metaphors differ from literary ones in that their abstractions cannot be easily relegated to the textual margins; while a character's blindness may be assigned a metaphoric coding within a written text, her character nonetheless still embodies and displays the physical, material experiences of her impairment every moment she is on stage. Since all theatrical metaphors must be embodied and all embodied theatrical objects are metaphors, the theater requires more playful modes of viewing that simultaneously read staged presences as representative metaphors and as the presented things themselves. 14 These more playful modes of viewing resist the binary of metaphor and lived experience that Mitchell and Snyder's materiality of metaphor implies.

Moreover, Mitchell and Snyder rightly argue that narrative prosthesis does harmful cultural work against individuals with disabilities. In some ways, dramatic prosthesis pays attention, through its reliance on embodiment, to crucial aspects of disability that narrative prosthesis ignores. Dramatic prosthesis' foregrounding of the material experiences of disability shifts attention away from plot device or pat metaphor and towards lived experiences of disabled individuals. However, in other ways, dramatic prosthesis enacts a similar dependency as textual narratives by rendering disability hypermaterial. If the prosthetic of the actor's body is, in Mitchell and Snyder's definition, the "crutch upon which [dramatic] narratives lean for their representational power, disruptive potentiality, and analytical insight" (49), then the bodies and materials of the stage enable disability to be performed; but the physical nature of the bodily prosthetic, as well as the bodily presence of an audience, means that all disability must be made legible on stage in order to be represented in drama. Some disabilities are easier to signify materially than others, however. Legible, sometimes called "visible," ones may transfer more easily from page to stage, while illegible, "invisible" ones, such as some mental, emotional, and intellectual disabilities, must be reified to an audience in order to be signified. 15 This reification will inherently introduce a semiotic gap between the external and internal lived experiences of disability and the purely external performance of it. In similar ways to narrative prosthesis, then, dramatic prosthesis can privilege the audience-centric displaying and receiving of disability, particularly with disabilities that are not readily legible, over more authentic or ethical representations. 16

The theater's materiality is precisely what Lamb objects to, that the theater privileges "not what the character is, but how he looks; not what he says, but how he speaks it" (para. 9). For him, turning textual presences into "objects to the senses" makes them "[suffer] a change and a diminution" (para. 20). But the theater's materiality is in itself morally neutral. The open-ended spectrum of interpretative possibilities drama affords when a narrative moves from text to performance creates a similarly open-ended spectrum of cultural work, including ways disability is treated. 17 Some productions may cast actors with disabilities and rely on lived experiences for production choices; some (many) may cast able-bodied actors, who lack firsthand experience to draw from, to play characters with disabilities; some may stage disability in explicitly stereotypical, harmful ways; and some may so minimize the experience of disability in staging and acting choices that its metaphorical significations far outweigh its embodiedness or its embodiedness is ignored entirely. 18 This spectrum of possibilities demonstrates how productions can be coupled with activism and be vehicles for social justice, as disability theater calls for, but they can also replicate narrative prosthesis on stage by ignoring or representing in a harmful way the material, social, or political dimensions of disability. Therefore, while Mitchell and Snyder code narrative prosthesis as always problematic, I suggest that dramatic prosthesis is morally ambivalent in its treatment of disability and that the ethics of any production lie in the cumulative choices made not only in the text but also in the staging (and receiving) of it. While theatrical bodies always make a difference, there are all kinds of difference they can make.

Blindness in Lear

Staging Legible Disabilities

If a dramatic text requires the prosthesis of the actor's body to embody and thereby stage disability, how does the representation of disability change when thus embodied? How does the embodied stage presence of an actor alter an audience's interpretation and experience of disability within the text?

Lear's cast of non-normate bodies provides ample room to explore how dramatic prosthesis impacts drama's depiction of and engagement with disability. As Row-Heyveld observes, "Lear fills the stage with disabled bodies: mutilated bodies, marginalized bodies, unstable bodies, unwieldy bodies, bodies in pain, bodies at the edge of death" ("'Known and Feeling Sorrows'" 157). Gloucester's blindness serves as an example of staging a (sometimes) legible disability, and its role within the play has been a focal point for productions and scholarship alike. While much of the critical history on blindness in Lear depends on traditional theoretical models, interpretations of Gloucester's blindness shift considerably when its embodiment on stage as well as its perception by an embodied audience are taken into account.

In some ways, Gloucester's blindness initially appears a textbook case of narrative prosthesis and the materiality of metaphor, as scholars like Robert B. Pierce have argued. From Kent's opening admonition that Lear "[s]ee better" (1.1.180) to Lear's final confession that his "eyes are not o' th' best" (5.3.336), the play relies on, as Wood notes, "conventional uses of eyesight and blindness" ("Shakespeare and Disability Studies" 282) to map characters' accurate or inaccurate perceptions of the world around them. 19 Gloucester feels he is physically blinded because he failed to "see" Edmund's deception, admitting "I stumbled when I saw" (4.1.20); his reading of his own condition relies on the traditional "paradox of internal sight in the blind" (Pierce 158). Blind director David Richman applies a similar metaphorical reading: "I would not have Gloucester physically stumble in [4.1]. Were he to do so, the important contrast implied in 'I stumbled when I saw' might be lost" (157). Even Edgar believes that his father's adultery "cost him his eyes" (5.3.207).

But what happens when we consider Gloucester's blindness embodied on stage? 20 While blindness is not always a visible disability, Gloucester's blinding and blindness are hypervisible in the play, with attention dramatically called to the bodies that perform it. As Lin observes regarding early modern productions of Lear, "the figurative meanings of sight take a backseat to the gory physicality of eyeballs dripping with blood" (4). Cornwall graphically cries, "Upon these eyes of thine I'll set my foot" (3.7.82) and, "Out, vile jelly!" (3.7.101) as he removes Gloucester's eyes one at a time. Afterwards, Gloucester is described as being "eyeless" (3.7.117; 4.6.254), having a "bleeding face" (3.7.127), that his "sweet eyes, they bleed" (4.1.62), and having "bleeding rings" (5.3.225). These descriptions draw attention over and over again to the palimpsest of his eyes and the embodied representation of blindness. When Lear recognizes Gloucester, he focuses on his eyes: "I remember thine eyes well enough. Dost thou squinny at me? No, do thy worst, blind Cupid" (4.6.151-2) and then remarks that he has "[n]o eyes in your head" (4.6.160). 21 These textual markers indicate that Gloucester's blindness is signaled on stage through absent eyes, a bleeding face, and a squint, suggesting an actor may play the part with wrapped eyes, stage blood, and/or closed or squinting eyes.

These material details of Gloucester's blindness are not only hypervisual, calling on an audience to look, but they are hyperphysical, calling on an actor to be. Reading blindness through the lens of dramatic prosthesis directs attention to the ways embodiment impacts how blindness is performed, received, and interpreted. The performed external markers of blindness, such as covered or squinting eyes, may restrict the (likely sighted) actor's ability to see, and they most certainly impact his pace, blocking, and movements as he navigates the stage. To whatever extent Gloucester's blindness is read as a metaphor—by the characters or the audience—its embodied presence on the stage still foregrounds its material experiences. 22

But the considerations of the staged disability are not the actor's alone. Lear also demonstrates the network of bodies needed to display disability, for "Lear reveals that disability knowledge is built in relationship" (Row-Heyveld, "'Known and Feeling Sorrows'" 163). Blindness is embodied by Gloucester but also constructed by the interactions and reactions of the other characters. This network tethers the bodies of disabled characters to the bodies of their fellow actors. Inevitably, the performance concerns of embodying blindness, such as pacing and blocking, ripple through every other body connected to them. For instance, Edgar first recognizes his father's blindness because he enters "poorly led" (4.1.10) by a guide. 23 Although the adverb 'poorly' can certainly describe the Old Man's economic status, as he is a long-term tenant of Gloucester's, Richman interprets it as describing the quality of the leading: "I know from considerable experience that a well-intentioned but inexperienced person such as Gloucester's kindly tenant will instinctively grasp the blind person by the upper arm and thrust the blind person ahead of him. Such a position will be awkward, disorienting, and potentially frightening—especially for the newly damaged Gloucester," resulting in "slow, deliberate, shuffling steps" (157). In contrast, Richman imagines that Edgar could "prove a more efficacious guide" (158) and lead properly by the elbow. While such choices demonstrate the spectrum of approaches available to a director's discretion, they also demonstrate how drama requires the realities of (performed) disabled bodies to be considered and accounted for in ways that textual representations do not.

Crucially, the network of bodies that participates in staging disability extends to the audience itself. As the newly blinded Gloucester "climbs" the cliff, he relies on Edgar to physically guide him and to audibly narrate the visual aspects of the scene. His impairment necessitates these accommodations. But if the disabled Gloucester finds himself disoriented in this scenario, as Richman imagines, the audience is likely disoriented about what they are "seeing" as well. In original staging practices, Edgar and Gloucester would be navigating a flat, mostly bare stage, leaving audiences to rely on spoken clues, such as Edgar's descriptions, to establish the setting in their mind's eye. For first-time experiencers of the play, it is unclear whether Edgar is delivering "real" or "feigned" descriptions of the scene, and thus "playgoers, who also do not hear the sea but wonder whether they are meant to imagine that they do, share in the blind man's disorientation" (Richman 159). By making "spectators partake of the blind man's fundamental uncertainty" (Richman 158), the cliff scene disrupts the audience's suspended disbelief and aligns their visual uncertainty with Gloucester's. Are they to "believe" Edgar's description is "real" and thus imagine the cliffs in their mind's eye? Are they to suspect that Edgar is feigning the description at the expense of his blind father? Are they to, or do they, toggle between both options with uncertainty?

By creating a parallel between Gloucester's blindness and the invisible aspects of the theater, the cliff scene replicates, vicariously, an embodied experience of disability for the audience. Building on Row-Heyveld's claim that disability in Lear is "defined not by bodily authenticity but by bodily knowledge" ("'Known and Feeling Sorrows'" 166), I argue that staging Gloucester's blindness positions the audience to gain embodied knowledge not because they themselves are blind but because they are, to return to the phrase, "with and near disability, thinking through disabled sensations and situations" (Row-Heyveld, "'Known and Feeling Sorrows'" 164). Such aligning of actor and audience extends even further when considering the ways in which the bodies of both relate. In the early modern period, actors were often called "shadows," a term that suggests not only their insubstantial proximity to reality but also the modern definition of an "[i]mage cast by a body intercepting light" ("shadow, II"). 24 These early modern meanings illuminate how, in the theater, actors could be seen as shadows of the audience, their bodies in some ways tethered to the network of bodies that performance requires. Reading Gloucester's disability in light of its embodied depiction tethered to an embodied audience significantly shifts its role within the play. Under Mitchell and Snyder's paradigm, it serves as a trite metaphor for Gloucester's misjudgments; under dramatic prosthesis, it serves as a powerful avenue for empathy through the audience's embodied knowledge.

Theatrical Staring

Richman astutely calls Lear's audience members "spectators" and highlights the play's spectatorship, or "the way the audience is invited to take up this [spectator] position and in the way the performers address the audience with their performance, in the way they offer themselves to be seen and understood" (Bleeker 33). Spectatorship is particularly crucial when considering audience members' relationships to disability on stage. Attending to dramatic prosthesis elucidates how, as in the case of Gloucester's blindness, embodiedness shifts not only the roles disability plays on stage but also the ways audiences participate in receiving and interpreting those roles.

Kirsty Johnston, quoting Tobin Siebers, argues that "theatre has long contributed to 'the way that some bodies make other bodies feel'" (2). Though readers of printed texts have feeling bodies too, a central difference between narrative and dramatic texts, and thus between narrative and dramatic prosthesis, lies in how the embodied co-presence of actors and audience work together for meaning-making. Textual narratives, largely mediated through language, require a reader to receive them through one primary sense, and then, to some degree, "imagine"—and thus interpret—the narrative for themselves in ways that are largely immaterial, internal, and abstract. Drama does ask its audience to do some similar work, where imagination must amend whatever semiotic gaps might occur between presentation and representation; however, audiences rely on their senses to receive the narrative more immediately, and the locus of interpretation shifts from written words to physical bodies, vocal utterances, and other material aspects on the stage. Drama relies on a more expansive range of bodily and sensory forms to craft its narrative and exchanges close reading for close looking (and close listening, as I will discuss below). So how do audience members rely on their senses to make sense of a play? If drama needs bodies to stage disability, and embodying disability changes the way disability functions in a play, what of how audiences receive and interpret those bodies?

In the theater, one prominent avenue of reception is sight, often taking the form of staring. While Mitchell and Snyder find unethical "the protected theater darkness [where] audiences are given permission to stare at the socially 'inappropriate fact' of disability" (96), Rosemarie Garland-Thomson expands the critical understanding of staring in her catalogue and analysis of the practice. 25 Among the modes of staring that Garland-Thomson explores, two very relevant to theater include (a) staring as a form of domination, particularly "[t]he kind of staring that 'fixes' a person in gender, race, disability, class, or sexuality systems [a]s an attempt to control the other" (Staring 43) 26 and (b) staring as a form of "knowledge gathering" that can "beget mutual recognition" (Staring 185). 27 She also distinguishes between "virtual staring"— encounters of portraiture and images where starers stare at starees remotely— and live, often spontaneous, face-to-face encounters ("Staring at the Other"; Staring 86). In these critical models, the dynamic motivations and responses of starer and staree form the basis for analyzing the ethics of the encounter. In dominating stares, there "is inadequate identification between starer and staree" (Staring 186), but in knowledge-gathering stares, "identification" and "mutual recognition" transpire because starees productively stare back (Staring 185).

Dramatic prosthesis suggests that the theater negotiates a third model of staring, wherein the power differentials between starer and staree are complicated by drama's dynamic of live but scripted actors and live but interpellated spectators. While a production can invite and suggest particular types of looking through focalization, much like virtual staring at portraiture and images, it cannot completely control where and how audience members stare. Similarly, while a character is, to a large extent, constrained within the narrative it enacts, a live, embodied character certainly has more opportunity to "stare back" on the stage than on the page.

Moreover, the theater invites multiple and multivalent stares from its audiences. While certain patterns might arise in audience stares based on shared personal and cultural contexts, no two audience members will stare the same way. The stares a naked Edgar might receive may differ from those given to the young Cordelia (and differ still perhaps to ones given to the young man playing Cordelia). A starer who has experienced mental illness may stare at Edgar and Lear differently than one who has not. A visually-impaired audience member may not stare at all. Regardless, though, of the indeterminacy of particular stares, investigating the ways performances attempt to direct and utilize possible modes of staring can delineate ways in which theatrical staring affects interpretations of disability within a text.

The scene of Gloucester's blinding and the servant's dramatic intervention serve as a test case for the modes of staring Lear invites audiences to engage in. The visually graphic, even sadistic, blinding scene "consistently guides the spectator's gaze back to its horrifying specifics" (Lin 5). It invites, almost demands, the audience to stare. 28 As Gloucester's body transitions to being disabled, these stares morally align audience members with Regan and the servants as passive "spectators" to the violence. 29 Such uneven power dynamics between starers and an impaired staree suggest dominating stares that fix Gloucester as a disabled Other. But these dominating stares are exposed as problematic when Cornwall's own faithful servant, who acts as a moral barometer, sees the violence too but cannot stand idly by. He refuses to be a spectator. As Michael Schoenfeldt suggests, "The combination of pain and indignity imposed on a fellow human is in fact too much for the unnamed servant (or for us) to watch" (202). Amrita Dhar reads the Servant's intervention as a moment of "seeing feelingly" that "start[s] a process of irreversible sympathy for us" (79). I argue that the servant's actions, described as "thrilled with revenge" (4.2.89), also function to contrast with the audience's passive enjoyment, in turn making the audience all the more complicit in the scene's violence against a disabled body. 30 Dhar explicates the ethics of the Servant's seeing, where "[t]he responsibility of the eye is inseparable from the responsibility of the I" (87), but the ethical obligations are the audience's as well. If one who had "served [Cornwall] ever since [he] was a child" (3.7.90) was moved by the sight to betray his duty, how much more should the audience be moved to reject rather than enjoy the scene? To, perhaps, do anything other than stare. 31

The moment, like all theatrical moments of sadistic violence, is vexed by the audience toggling between their willing suspension of disbelief, which inserts and implicates them in the moral world of the play, and their simultaneous awareness that the violence is not "real," allowing them to remain passive in the face of that which otherwise would likely incite a more active response. Of course, unlike the servant, the audience has no recourse—and knows it has no recourse—within the world of the play to avenge, and this is the crux of theatrical staring. Staring may make the audience complicit in dominating or Othering disabled characters, but audiences have (almost) no choice otherwise.

The emotional and ethical tension engendered by the audience's stares serves as a catalyst for the audience's identification with Gloucester and his blindness. In the cliff scene, they, like Gloucester, are invited to "see [the world] feelingly" (4.6.164). In the scene, both character and audience are directed, four times in seventy lines, to "look," and each imperative directs attention to a scene that is not there. The scene opens with Edgar's statement, "Look how we labor" (4.6.2), which for the blind Gloucester, in the context of the feigned climb up the cliff, actually means "feel how we labor." But for a sighted audience, the line demands the audience look at the actors' doubly performed labor of pretending to pretend to climb a cliff. The remaining three usages juxtapose sight with sound, a recurring theme throughout the play, but they do so through disorienting negation, describing what cannot be seen or heard. Edgar ends his first narration of the cliff by describing a "murmuring surge / That on th' unnumbered idle pebble chafes / Cannot be heard so high. I'll look no more" (4.6.25-7). His dizzying descriptions continue: "Look up a-height. The shrill-gorged lark so far / Cannot be seen or heard. Do but look up" (4.6.72-3). Edgar directs Gloucester and the audience to look, to look thrice in fact, at what cannot (and should not) be seen or heard. While the blind Gloucester may not be able to stare back, the audience directs their eyes alongside his, their theatrical stares tethered to his own, like an object and its shadow, in a moment of identification.

Audience starers, then, are invited to move from dominance at Gloucester's graphic blinding to mutual identification as they experience a form of blindness alongside him on the cliff. By positioning the audience initially as both culpable and powerless, Lear creates a tension within theatrical starers that drives them from "staring at" a blind man to "staring with" him. Thus, while Gloucester's blindness may or may not be an exploitative material metaphor for his poor discernment, it does not, to return to Mitchell and Snyder, ignore the impairment's "social and political dimensions" (48). Rather, through dramatic prosthesis, the cliff scene serves as a fulcrum in the play's exploration of empathy through the embodied knowledge characters and audiences receive. Both Gottlieb and Row-Heyveld observe that Lear, Gloucester, and Edgar all gain empathy towards poor, marginalized populations after their own experiences of and with disability, and both read the play as ultimately yielding characters (and reservedly a thesis) that advocate for social justice. This trajectory of empathy, I argue, unfolds not only in the characters but in the audience as well, as the audience is called upon to do more than simply look at what they create in the mind's eye. They are called upon to look at but also with blind Gloucester—the disabled, the displaced, and the marginalized. Unlike its textual depictions, the embodied staging of Gloucester's blindness engenders shared embodied knowledge and empathy in the audience. Analyzing its dramatic prosthesis shifts the significance of disability from the margins of narrative prosthesis and the materiality of metaphor to the center of his and the audience's embodied experiences.

Lear's Madness

Staging Illegible Disabilities

Though Gloucester's blindness can be readily and graphically made legible to audiences, such stagings of disability are easier done for some impairments than others. Unlike the privilege a written text has to communicate characters' interiority through narration, the stage (often) has no such device. Even soliloquies, the hallmark of Shakespeare's touted depictions of interiority, still rely on the medium and supplement of an actor's body. Rather than relying on narration, drama must signal interiority through characters' external actions and words. Imagination must be bodied forth. Such externalization extends to all disabilities as well; the bodies of the actors and the materiality of the stage must make every depicted disability legible—including "illegible" ones, such as mental illness or intellectual impairment. As Anderson notes regarding cognitive impairment, "While questions of performance and interpretation might seem to apply more readily to physical impairment, the representation of [illegible disabilities] is still also linked to the presence of the body on stage" (147). She uses the term "bodymind" to holistically categorize and conceptualize performing disability; 32 however, although the term helpfully critiques both the mind-body divide and the visible-invisible categories of disability, the "bodymind" must still be materialized on stage via external markers even while some disabilities do not display such markers in real life. This dramatic prosthesis of illegible disabilities— reifying them on stage in ways not always congruent with lived experiences—further foregrounds how embodiment impacts dramatic constructions of disability.

In the case of Lear, the illegible disability of mental illness must be materialized: "for madness to be legible, it must … be a collection of symptoms or physical actions that can be enacted on stage" (Anderson 147). Duncan Salkeld notes that "the site of this semiotic code [is] the body" (3). These embodied symptoms and physical actions are part of the play's dramatic prosthesis, and the play's multivalent exploration of madness—through Edgar's "feigned" and Lear's "real" madness 33—renders the illegible disability legible. This reification occurs most notably through the sights and sounds of madness. In Lear, how do we know madness when we see and hear it?

Edgar's feigning madness contributes to the play's emphasis on the external signification of disability, an emphasis that reinforces an audience-centric framework and situates audience members in the network of bodies needed to stage disability. Edgar's subplot is original to the text, not found in Shakespeare's main sources (King Leir and Sidney's Arcadia), and the 1608 Quarto advertises it as on par with Lear's main plot line: the "True Chronicle Historie of the life and death of King LEAR and his three daughters / With the unfortunate life of Edgar, sonne and heire to the Earle Gloster, and his sullen and assumed humor of TOM of Bedlam." More than just parallel to each other on the title page, the two plots are intricately bound in the play's exploration of how madness is reified for and received by others. 34 Although Edgar's and Lear's presentations of madness differ in many regards, they share certain characteristics in order to render them legible to on-stage and off-stage audiences.

The primary way Lear signals madness is through animality. Gottlieb compellingly argues that "human beings' relationship to animals is central to Lear's shifting definitions of what it means to be human" (para. 4), including a dis/abled one. 35 When Edgar plots his own performance of mental illness, he draws on specist assumptions, acknowledging that "human" markers such as kempt hair and clothes need to be dismissed in order to convincingly feign madness:

To take the basest and most poorest shape
That ever penury in contempt of man,
Brought near to beast. My face I'll grime with filth,
Blanket my loins, elf all my hair in knots,
And with presented nakedness outface
The winds and persecutions of the sky. (2.3.7-12)

Later, recounting his disguise, he similarly describes how he donned "madman's rags, t' assume a semblance / That very dogs disdained" (5.3.223-4). His language here explicitly ranks those with disabilities as "near to beast," naked, and disdained by dogs, all of which align madness with animality in the play. We may assume that his appearance on stage takes some similar form: a grimed face, knotted or unkempt hair, and nakedness. In the hovel, Lear comments on Edgar's "uncovered body" (3.4.109) and the Fool observes, "he reserved a blanket, else we had been all shamed" (3.4.71-2). In the next act, Edgar's nakedness is emphasised, with Gloucester referencing it three times: he asks, "Is that the naked fellow?" (4.1.46), calls for "some covering for this naked soul" (4.1.51), and then directly addresses Edgar as "Sirrah, naked fellow" (4.1.59).

When the Gentleman describes Lear's madness to Gloucester, he too compares his behavior and attire to animals: "This night, wherein the cub-drawn bear would couch, / The lion and the belly-pinched wolf / Keep their fur dry, unbonneted he runs" (3.1.14-6). Kent then remarks on his "bareheaded" (3.2.65) presence upon the heath, an aspect emphasized later by Gloucester too (3.7.72). After Lear discerns Edgar as an "unaccommodated man" and "forked animal" (3.4.113-4, 115), he appears to join him fully in nakedness, crying "Off, off, you lendings! Come, unbutton here" (3.4.115-6). 36 Collectively, these descriptions repeatedly point to physical markers—particularly a lack of clothing—as evidence of mental illness.

But in Lear, we also hear madness, for it is more often the sound than the sight of the mad that materializes disability and renders it legible. 37 Scholars note that the early modern stage "develops a new form of speech, peculiar to the mad, and cues for how to read it" (Neely 49). Neely hears Edgar's mad register as a "pastiche of quoted fragments" (60), while Simon Palfrey calls it "radically indifferent to customary dialogical rules" (4). Heetderks finds Twelfth Night's Feste's disabled speech a "stubbornly non-rational performance" marked by "non-signifying" words that "resist logical parsing" and "repetitive, non-rational interjections" (73, 74), descriptions that apply to Edgar and Lear as well. This attention to the soundscape of madness in Lear harkens to how the "'invisible,' 'illegible' disability [is rendered] both visible and sonic" (Heetderks 65).

In the case of Edgar's madness, while characters repeatedly reference his nakedness, they refer to his vocality even more. When Edgar first enters disguised as "Poor Tom," Kent remarks not on his nakedness but on his voice, "What art thou that dost grumble there i' th' straw?" (3.4.48-9). According to the OED, the verb 'grumble' means "Of persons and animals: To utter dull inarticulate sounds; to mutter, mumble, murmur; to growl faintly." The word's association with animals, and in particular the sense to "growl faintly," further situates Edgar within the specist and ableist construct of madness as animality. Though no stage directions indicate what noises he makes at his entrance, or what he ad libs throughout, Edgar is marked audibly—and audibly as bestial—before he physically appears. Gloucester's later observation that "Methinks thy voice is altered and thou speak'st / In better phrase and matter than thou didst" (4.6.10-11) draws on similar specist assumptions about language. At this point in the scene, Edgar has only delivered three or four lines, but they are enough for Gloucester to recognize that he does not "hear" his madness anymore.

"Stage Bedlamites" like Edgar's "Poor Tom" persona were highly theatrical figures crafted for a theatrical audience, and they were characterized primarily in aural terms: when Edmund mock-performs madness at the play's beginning, he remarks, "My cue is villainous melancholy, with a sigh like Tom o' Bedlam—O, these eclipses do portend these divisions. Fa, sol, la, mi." (1.2.142-4). 38 Edgar, too, characterizes "Bedlam beggars … with roaring voices" (2.3.14). These sketches echo contemporaneous theatrical depictions, such as Thomas Dekker's description that, "Some make an horrid noyse, hollowly sounding: some whoope, some hollow" (qtd. Carroll 432). Lear emphasizes the irrationality (a mark of animality) of this hallmark aurality. In his opening speech to Lear and Kent, Edgar punctuates his lines with the vocalizations, "O, do dee, do dee, do dee" (3.4.63), "Alow, alow, loo, loo" (3.4.83-4), and "suum, mun, nonny…boy, boy, sessa!" (3.4.106), and he later returns to the refrain with "Do de, de, de. Sessa!" (4.6.77). His deployment of vocables draws on the play's depiction of madness as animality and contributes to early modern constructs of humanity as those who are thus supposed to speak rationally. Edgar's apparent irrationality continues when he interjects the utterance "Tom's a-cold" five times in his dialogue on the heath, always as a non-sequitur (3.4.62-3, 89, 155, 184; 4.1.60). While the other characters also articulate that they and the heath are cold, the timing and repetitive nature of Edgar's phrase indicate that he intends it to signal his madness, as a vocal tic or involuntary utterance rather than rational speech. Dekker cites this specific expression as a marker of fraudulent "Bedlamites" who "comming neere any body cries out Poore Tom is a colde" (qtd. Carroll 433). Edgar himself characterizes the irrational phrase as that which holds his disguise of madness together, drawing on the metaphor of plaster: when he greets Gloucester with "Poor Tom's a-cold," he ends the line with an aside, "I cannot daub it further" (4.1.60). 39

Lear's madness enacts some mad stereotypes as well. Although there is extensive scholarly debate regarding the etiology of Lear's madness, by the end of act 4, his utterances mirror Edgar's, as his "speech is circular, confused, stuttering, and often language-less" (Row-Heyveld, "'Known and Feeling Sorrows'" 160): 40

Look, look, a mouse! Peace, peace! This piece of toasted cheese will do 't.
There's my gauntlet; I'll prove it on a giant. Bring up the brown bills. O, well
flown, bird! I' th' clout, i' th' clout! Hewgh! Give the word. (4.6.107-111)

He too peppers his lines with repetitive phrases, like "Never, never, never, never, never" (3.7.371), "Fie, fie, fie, pah, pah!" (4.6.144-5), "Now, now, / now, now" (4.6.189-90), "kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!" (4.6.205), "Sa, sa, sa, sa" (4.6.223), and "No, no, no, no" (5.3.9). These clear parallels to Edgar's mad speech cast Lear's utterances as irrational, nonsensical, repetitive—and animalistic—responses.

By 5.3, Lear's madness is well established, and Albany articulates the most immediate sign of it: "He knows not what he says" (5.3.355). Reading madness as characterized by utterances beyond "known" or "human" rationality invites a compelling new interpretation of Lear's most famous line. When Lear enters carrying the presumably dead Cordelia at the end of the play, his cry of "Howl howl howl!" (5.3.308) becomes the climax of his "mad" utterances as he employs, like Edgar's "grumbling," bestial sounds to express himself. This moment of sheer grief—a crucial part of the human experience within the play—can only be expressed through an irrational, animalistic howl. Lear's signifier stands naked without a conventional signified and becomes the utterance of unaccommodated humanity in the face of irrational death. In this way, the animalistic sights and sounds of Lear's mad characters are the dramatic prosthesis the play relies on for representing "legibly" the "illegible" disability of mental illness. However, considering the play's dramatic prosthesis also complicates the audience's experience of disability, as they both identify animalistic madness and (unwittingly) participate in its maddening display. When Lear releases his howl out into the audience, what Bruce R. Smith calls the "primal cry" of the [o:] reverberates throughout the wooden O of the Globe into a surround sound of grief (13). 41 The audience's physically-present bodies must participate in its echo, absorbing some of the sound and reflecting some back to fellow audience members and even to Lear himself. The mad howl, then, becomes not just the sound of the disabled Lear, set apart on the stage for audiences to hear, but the resonance of the audience too.

Theatrical Learing

Lear's climactic howling contributes to Lear's soundscape of disability in much the same way as the vivid staging of Gloucester's blindness contributes to its visual landscape, both demonstrating how the play enacts a dramatic prosthesis not only to stage disability but also to craft spectators and auditors to receive it. Audiences perceive both sight and sound in the theater—what Lamb calls the "tricks of the eye and ear" (para. 2, emphasis added)—and it is a tired but true line that early modern scholars tout about audiences going to hear as much as see a Shakespeare play. Although Garland-Thomson notes that the modern Western world is overwhelmingly "ocularcentric" (Staring 25), this orientation is and was not universal. The early modern period in particular co-privileged sight and sound, as seen in the staging of disability in Lear. 42

Modern critical approaches have reinscribed this ocularcentricism, as evidenced even in the very terms used—lenses, perspectives, frameworks, viewpoints, scope. When sound is discussed at all, criticism has long relied on a dichotomy of seeing as objectifying versus hearing as a source of empathy and respect. This can be seen in the numerous terms we have for objectifying sight—"gazing / the gaze," "staring," "leering," "peering," "gawking," "ogling," "glaring"—and conversely the phrases we have for empowering or acknowledging agency through sound—"coming to voice / giving voice to," "amplifying," "resonating with," "listening to," "hearing." 43 Jonathan Sterne poetically describes such cultural codings as the "audiovisual litany" that juxtaposes hearing as "tend[ing] toward subjectivity" against seeing as "tend[ing] toward objectivity" (15). 44 In fact, English has no aural equivalent for "gazing," "staring," or "leering," a lexical fact that suggests that modern English speakers have ample categories for dominant staring but none for dominant hearing. Garland-Thomson, in her own treatment of staring, gives a particularly illustrative example of this ocularcentricism when she describes how "a madman in his fantasy rant arrests our eye" (Staring 15). In fact, the fantasy rant arrests our ear even more. 45 Like the madman in his rant, individuals with disabilities can be Othered not just by how they are seen but by how they are heard. A number of impairments and disabilities manifest audibly, such as a stutter or vocal tics, and more broadly, as Lear and Edgar demonstrate, those with mental illness or intellectual impairment may not always speak rationally or within conventional social scripts. These utterances often display difference audibly in the same way appearance may display difference visually. When a hearer hears these differences and dominatingly "'fixes a person in gender, race, disability, class, or sexuality systems [a]s an attempt to control the other" (Garland-Thomson Staring 43), they objectify and marginalize the hearees. 46 It is in these moments that hearers do audible leering, or what I call "learing." 47

To understand what learing may entail, I apply Garland-Thomson's mode of dominant staring to acts of hearing. 48 As much as people categorize Others based on appearances, the constructed, oppressive categories of gender, race, disability, class, and sexuality all have aural markers, or stereotypes, as well. When a hearer hears a higher-pitched voice and "fixes" that speaker to a specific gender, or hears Black vernacular English and "fixes" that person to a specific race, or hears "a madman in his fantasy rant" and "fixes" that person to mental illness, the hearer objectifies through hearing. The hearer lears.

But what does learing sound like in the theater? It is crucial to emphasize that the object of all forms of hearing—sound—is just as material as objects that are seen. 49 Sound, too, then is inevitably rooted in the speaker's and listener's embodiment, and as Smith notes, the theater demands this "embodied understanding … grounded in the speaker's body and in mine" (21, emphasis original). While readers of a written text supply their own voice (silent or aloud) to a characters' words, performed dramatic speech requires an encounter with another body. To theatrically hear necessarily relies on the exchange of material sound between two bodies, and these bodies co-participate in meaning-making. For Smith, "It is not only the performer's body that distinguishes 'work' [or interpretations of texts] from 'text' but the listeners' bodies" (21, emphasis original). Listeners' bodies can create "works" through a variety of modes of listening, but one such mode is learing.

Early modern audiences were particularly good learers, well attuned to sounds on the stage. As the plays of the period indicate, audiences were able to recognize by ear the distinctions between verse and prose (which were used to indicate class distinctions between characters) and even changes of meter. Lear draws on these audience skills as the play invites ample learing. Lear's admonition to "Look with thine ears" (4.6.166) serves as a hermeneutic for the entire play. When we look with our ears, what do we hear?

Gloucester is quite adept at looking with his ears and models learing for the audience. He not only tunes into Edgar's changes in speech, remarking "Methinks thy voice is altered and thou speak'st / In better phrase and matter than thou didst" (4.6.10-11) and "methinks you're better spoken" (4.6.14), 50 but his use of the word "better" demonstrates how he situates (or fixes) Edgar amid certain disability and class categories based on the "quality" of his speech. Similarly, Gloucester identifies Lear after hearing his nonsensical, repetitive speech: "I know that voice" and "The trick of that voice I do well remember. / Is 't not the King?" (4.6.114, 125-6). The OED definitions of trick include "deceit or artifice" (I) and "relating to a particular habit or practice" (II), both of which speak to the word's associations with theatricality and performativity, much like Edgar's own trick of feigning madness. While the precise "trick" in reference is unclear, Lear's identity, as perhaps madman and/or king, is directly connected to his utterances. These moments of recognition demonstrate how learing, like dominant staring, can function to identify and relegate characters to particular constructed categories.

As with theatrical staring, the ethics of theatrical learing are complicated because audiences are expected to do it, and Lear interrogates both modes of sensory reception by defamiliarizing them for audiences. If the cliff scene replicates an experience of blindness in the audience by positioning them as not "seeing" what is "there," the scene equally replicates an experience of deafness, as the audience also cannot hear the cliff scene. Each of Edgar's descriptions pair visual and aural components: the murmuring surge and the shrill-gorged lark "[c]annot be seen or heard" (4.6.73, emphasis added). The scene calls into question the audience's sensory perceptions—what is and is not seen or heard—in ways that foreground the embodied knowledge of disability. Further, just as the play invites audiences to stare at Gloucester's blindness and then recognize that stare as problematic, it mediates the hearing of Lear's madness similarly. And just as the play invites audiences to resolve the emotional and ethical tension of in/voluntary staring through eventually identifying with the disabled Gloucester, it mediates their learing at the disabled Lear similarly.

If madness is most frequently marked sonically within the play, then audiences are called upon to "fix" characters in the category of disabled and "mad" by looking with their ears. In the same way audiences might gaze at Edgar's nakedness, they likewise lear at Lear's howling. Moreover, Edgar's feigned mad utterances to on-stage audiences confirm that off-stage audiences too are expected to lear. As audiences "make sense" of his irrational expressions, find "reason in madness" (4.6.193), the play shifts the burden of meaning-making heavily to them, where "auditors construct their own notions of intellectual normativity in opposition to carefully parsed deficiencies" (Heetderks 71). Although Heetderks is referencing depictions of intellectual disability in Twelfth Night, Lear positions audiences similarly, asking them to construct sonic categories of 'mad' and 'sane' and relegate characters within them.

Yet the play's howls also move audiences from learing—"fixing" Lear firmly as bestial and thus (within the specist and ableist paradigm of the play) a disabled Other—to a shared, embodied experience of disability. As with the avenging servant at Gloucester's blinding, the final scene supplies audiences with an interpretive barometer to mediate and guide its hearing. Lear's first words immediately after he howls rebuke the on-stage bystanders' silence: "O, you are men of stones! / Had I your tongue and eyes, I'd use them so / That the heaven's vault should crack" (5.3.308-10). In these lines, Lear inverts the expected animalistic coding of his howling by comparing the men to stones. Stony silence—not his bestial utterance—is the irrational, inhuman(e) response to death. Crucially, the audience passively shares in the stony silence that Lear hears and rebukes, and his casting of them as inhuman—"men of stones"—demonstrates that he can lear back. Although audience members must lend their bodies to participate in Lear's echoing, boomeranging grief, they choose not to lend their voices. They lear at instead of howl with. As with their vexed theatrical staring, however, audiences are not supposed to do otherwise. The conventions of theater dictate that audiences maintain a stony silence. 51 Once again, audiences are found culpable for being passive while simultaneously discouraged from doing otherwise.

This now-familiar tension between audience's culpability and the roles prescribed for them shuttles them forward to Lear's climactic ending. The play's final moments, like the cliff scene prior, replicates an experience of disability for them by aligning them with a disabled character. In this case, the audience's intentionally vexed suspended disbelief invites an embodied knowledge reflective of madness.

In the final scene, after his howling and rebuke, Lear attempts to assert his own rationality by declaring that he knows the difference between the living and the dead. Yet he undoes these categories as quickly as he advances them, spiraling into confusion over Cordelia's mortal state:

I know when one is dead and when one lives.
She's dead as earth—Lend me the looking glass.
If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,
Why, then she lives. (5.3.311-4)

In the span of three short lines, he pivots from her being "dead as earth" to "she lives." His confusion grows when he announces, "This feather stirs. She lives" (5.3.319) even though she does not (or perhaps will not much longer). Lear's maddening uncertainty over Cordelia's vital state is also the audience's. During original performances, most audience members would have been familiar with Shakespeare's source text King Leir, wherein both Cordelia and Lear live, so their expectations in this scene would be primed for both characters to ultimately survive. Kent even ventriloquizes the audiences' anticipations with his metacommentary, "Is this the promised end" (5.3.316). The confusion only mounts further if, as the text calls for, a glass actually mists and a feather actually stirs (for, whether or not Cordelia the character breathes, the actor playing her surely does). As in Edgar's dizzying narration in the cliff scene, the audience becomes disoriented as it attempts to discern what is "real" within the world of the play and what is a consequence of theatrical presentation that they must disbelieve. The audience sees these material signs of life—a misted glass and a stirred feather—but does not know how to interpret them: is the breath that of the not-dead and soon-to-be-revived Cordelia, as in the source text? Or is it the breath of the living actor playing the dead Cordelia and thus meant to be disregarded under the audience's willing suspension of disbelief? The scene relies on what Love calls the "ontological challenge" of theater's "vexed likenesses" (4, 2) to approximate an experience of madness in the audience. Lear's final lines, in an echo of Edgar's imperatives to "look" in the cliff scene, draw attention to these confounding signs: "Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips, / Look there, look there!" (5.3.374-5). Tellingly, the play text never fully resolves when Cordelia actually dies (and the actor never stops breathing), leaving her moment of death in the interpretive hands of Lear and audience members alike. The play turns us all into fools and madmen.

If the ethical and emotional tension audiences experienced regarding Gloucester's blindness returns with Lear's madness, then audiences are invited once again to move from their culpable yet theatrically scripted silence at his howling to embodied knowledge of his confused madness. Between Lear's rebuke of their silence and Cordelia's maddening death, the audience must negotiate the dynamic between their implied complicity and their powerlessness by sliding from learing at a mad Lear to feeling madness with him. The ultimate sign of this empathic positioning comes at the play's proper end when the audience finally howls back. With the help of their good hands and gentle breath, audiences will make their own vocables, in the form of shouts and applause. No longer men of stones, these nonsensical utterances, like Lear's howling, will reverberate through the Globe and make "the heaven's vault … crack." Tellingly, too, the last sounds audiences hear are themselves, sounds that once again tether theatrical bodies together. A contemporaneous play casts applause as an "eccho" of the actors, which Matthew Steggle finds "a metaphor for the interdependent relationship between audience and performer" (128). This moment in Lear is the final interpretive act of the audience, trading sound as much as sight, across a stage. If actors are shadows of the audience, audiences are an echo of actors.

Lamb contends that "[t]he greatness of Lear is not in corporal dimension, but in intellectual" for "[t]his case of flesh and blood seems too insignificant to be thought on" (para. 18). Only in reading, he argues, "we see not Lear, but we are Lear" (para. 18). He pointedly asks, "What has voice or eye to do with such things?" It turns out, they have everything to do with them. Receiving a performance of the play, in all our flesh and blood, emphatically positions the audience as Lear, sharing experientially in his intellect and his madness. We not only see him but we are him. It is not too insignificant to be thought on.

Reading Gloucester's blindness and Edgar's and Lear's madness through dramatic prosthesis dramatically shifts the play's portrayal and audience's experiences of disability. By paying attention to the embodiedness that staging disability requires, interpretations of Lear can move beyond explicating the ableist metaphor of Gloucester's blindness or the specist metaphor of madness to privileging disability as the vehicle for the play's exploration of embodied knowledge and empathy—and the audience's embodied participation in it. Through the metamorphosis of their stares and lears, audiences and actors emerge in a final moment of mutual identification, each in turn seen and heard.

Significantly, the fruits of such an analysis are not limited to Lear. Rather, I contend that attending to the embodiedness that dramatic prosthesis requires can produce innovative, rich interpretations of disability in any dramatic text. Critical approaches such as the ones I theorize here make important inroads into defining a dramatic disability studies, one in which bodies make all kinds of difference.

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  1. I am deeply indebted to the scholarly community that helped shape this article. My numerous thanks to Andrew Albin, Paul T. Corrigan, Lindsey Row-Heyveld, and Matthew Sergi not only for their feedback on various drafts but more importantly for their friendship and support. Additionally, I thank the two anonymous peer reviewers for their insight and guidance during revisions. I am very grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies for their financial support of this project. My sincerest gratitude also to John P. Sexton and Kisha G. Tracy for their editorial support of my work, including my chapter in their Ashgate Research Companion to Medieval Disability Studies that inspired this piece. Lastly, my deepest thanks to Joshua R. Eyler, who has championed these ideas, and me, from the beginning.
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  2. For excellent overviews of past and current disability studies frameworks, see Joshua R. Eyler's Introduction in Disability in the Middle Ages: Reconsiderations and Reverberations; Sujata Iyengar's Introduction in Disability, Health, and Happiness in the Shakespearean Body; and David Houston Wood and Allison P. Hobgood's Introduction in Recovering Disability in Early Modern England.
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  3. See Colette Conroy's Theatre and the Body for an excellent survey of the various dynamics between the theater and bodies. Additionally, Genevieve Love's and Katherine Schaap Williams' recent works examine how the early modern theater physically, culturally, and narratively deployed disability via actors' bodies.
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  4. For examples of performance studies and disability studies, see Carrie Sandahl and Philip Auslander's Bodies in Commotion, Petra Kuppers' Disability and Contemporary Performance and Disability Culture and Community Performance, and Bruce Henderson and Noam Ostrander's Understanding Disability Studies and Performance Studies; for disability theater, see Kristy Johnston's Disability Theatre and Modern Drama.
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  5. See Robert Bechtold Heilman's "I Stumbled When I Saw: The Sight Pattern" as well.
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  6. See, for example, treatments by Kenneth Muir, Alexander Leggatt's "Madness in Hamlet, Lear, and Early Modern England," Jerome Mazzaro, and Duncan Salkeld's Madness and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare, which contains a review of the literature up until its publication in 1993.
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  7. For additional psychoanalytical readings of the play, see Kay Stockholder and Janet Adelman.
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  8. See Gail Kerns Paster's highly influential Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage, though she does not address Lear directly.
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  9. Some of the seeds of these theoretical approaches appear, in a narrower context, in my chapter "Dramatic Prosthesis: Staging Disability in Medieval Drama," forthcoming in the Ashgate Research Companion to Medieval Disability Studies.
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  10. For two recent examples, see Wood's Time, Narrative, and Emotion in Early Modern England and Love's Early Modern Theatre and the Figure of Disability.
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  11. Mitchell and Snyder include no examples of live performance in Narrative Prosthesis. They do analyze film adaptations of Richard III, focusing in particular on the "new physiognomy," whereby visual markers of difference become shorthands for motivations, recapitulating narrative prosthesis on screen. For them, "film markets narrative prosthesis as no medium before it" (100) because it lacks the "internal and textual abstractions" (96) of written text. However, film differs from live performance in significant ways: as with written texts, it can flatten embodied depictions of disability and limit audience responses through its controlled, mediated point of view. As my analyses will show, it is not merely the presence but the interactions of live bodies that shape meaning-making in theatrical performance.
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  12. While Holly Dugan's "The Smell of a King: Olfaction in King Lear" does not address disability directly, it does demonstrate how attending to embodiment, materialism, and original stage practices can produce generative and innovative readings.
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  13. For recent collections, see Lowell Gallagher and Shankar Raman's Knowing Shakespeare: Senses, Embodiment and Cognition, Katherine A. Craik and Tanya Pollard's Shakespearean Sensations, and Simon Smith's Shakespeare / Sense.
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  14. Erika T. Lin's broader definition of materiality as encompassing both objects, as in thing theory and material culture studies, as well as performative matter constructed by cultural discourse gestures towards the kind of playful mode of perception I argue for here.
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  15. Note how our modern disability terms "visible" and "invisible" privilege an audience's perspective, for all disabilities are "visible" to the individuals experiencing them. Moreover, these categories are ocularcentric, emphasizing how disabilities are seen rather than heard. I challenge this ocularcentricism later in the essay.
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  16. Tobin Siebers' concept of "disability as masquerade" captures how disabled individuals must be attuned to real world audiences and perform their disabilities in particular, legible (and often harmful) ways.
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  17. Lear is a particularly apt example of this spectrum, as its performance history, including Nahum Tate's tragicomedy version, demonstrates the range it and its adaptations can span.
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  18. For two Shakespearean examples of the latter, see Rachel E. Hile's "Disability and the Characterization of Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew" and Nicola Imbracsio's "Stage Hands: Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and the Agency of the Disabled Body in Text and Performance."
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  19. Lear uses the word "eye(s)" fifty-two times, the most of any Shakespeare play.
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  20. Some early modern scholars have considered the material staging practices regarding blindness in the period, and their work hints at the type of analysis dramatic prosthesis engenders. Lin opens her book Shakespeare and the Materiality of Performance examining possible original practices for staging the blinding scene and draws on contemporaneous sources on blinding on the early modern stage. Simone Chess' "Performing Blindness: Representing Disability in Early Modern Popular Performance and Print" extends analysis beyond the metaphorical codings of blindness and explores some textual and material aspects of staging the impairment within the period.
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  21. It is unclear how Lear could recognize Gloucester by his missing eyes, so it is possible this line functions as a sign of Lear's madness. Regardless, though, Lear's remark draws attention to material aspects of Gloucester's disability.
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  22. In the early modern context of Shakespeare's company, and given the requirements of Gloucester's character on stage, the character has been most often (likely always?) performed by a sighted actor.
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  23. This phrase is a textual crux. Q1 has "poorlie, leed" corrected to "parti, eyd." Q2 and F1 have "poorely led." Gary Taylor and Stanley Wells' Oxford edition has "parti-eyed," glossing it as "eyesockets of varied colours"; R. A. Foakes' Arden edition maintains "poorly led." R. J. C. Watt argues that all three versions are corruptions of the copy text and he posits "gory-eyed" as the original phrase. While this hypothesis is certainly possible, and it would reiterate the graphic attention given to Gloucester's blindness, Foakes defends "poorly led" as making the most sense in performance because, on stage, Edgar would first see his father from far off "in surprisingly mean company" and only later, as Gloucester fully enters the stage, would recognize that he was blind (304).
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  24. See, for instance, the Epilogue in A Midsummer Night's Dream: "If we shadows have offended" (5.1.440).
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  25. Wood and Hobgood, in their volume on early modern disability, extend Rosemarie Garland-Thomson's recuperation of staring to the way scholarship treats disability, striving for what they call "ethical beholding" (2).
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  26. Lear harkens to the power dynamics in dominant staring with his own line, "When I do stare, see how the subject quakes" (4.6.127).
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  27. Garland-Thomson analyzes specific theatrical stares given and received by three disabled performance artists in her chapter, "Dares to Stares: Disabled Women Performance Artists and the Dynamics of Staring" in Bodies in Commotion. Chess focuses on audience stares as well and argues that, in some contexts, "the experience of staring at disability, on the stage or in a woodcut, may be less about didactic messages and more about the invitation for identification and instruction" (119).
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  28. Cornwall considers his on-stage audience and, in turn, primes the off-stage audience for the horrific spectacle by telling Edmund, "The revenges we are bound to take … are not fit for your beholding" (3.7.8-10). Regan demonstrates a similar awareness when she regrets, "When [Gloucester] arrives he moves / All hearts against us" (4.5.12-3).
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  29. Row-Heyveld argues for a similar dynamic in the counterfeiting disability tradition on the early modern stage: "audiences themselves bear responsibility for counterfeit disability, since they call it into being through their desire to watch and to judge it" (Dissembling Disability 18).
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  30. The modern Western theater convention of the passive, silent audience is not universal, of course. Many forms of medieval European drama, in particular, encouraged audience participation; however beginning loosely in the early modern period and even more strictly today, audiences have operated under a social script of passivity and silence in the theater. While not all audience members will or did act uniformly, it is fruitful to analyze what Lin calls "the shared habits of mind that circumscribed performance and the cultural logics that undergirded these collective understandings" (6) in order to pose interpretive possibilities.
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  31. For a brief, selective history of audience responses to the blinding scene, see Leggatt's "Problems and Choices in Producing King Lear" (189-90).
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  32. For further definition of the term and its insightful application to mental health, see Margaret Price's "The Bodymind Problem and the Possibilities of Pain." Price borrows this term from trauma studies with the explicit aim to resist the Cartesian dualism that has marked past disability scholarship and develop a more holistic approach to the field.
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  33. The play's treatment of mental health can be expanded to include Gloucester, who says that he is "almost mad myself" with grief (3.4.176), and the Fool, who belongs to a broader tradition of those with mental and intellectual disabilities. See Angela Heetderks' "Better a Witty Fool than a Foolish Wit: Song, Fooling, and Intellectual Disability in Shakespearean Drama" and Alice Equestri's "'This Cold Night Will Turn Us All to Fools and Madmen': Feste, Lear's Fool, and the Border Between 'Idiocy' and Mental Illness."
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  34. The scholarship on "stage Bedlamites," of which the Poor Tom character is a part, is extensive, but see overviews provided in Leggatt's "Madness in Hamlet, Lear, and Early Modern England," Carol Thomas Neely's chapter "Rethinking Confinement in Early Modern England," William C. Carroll's "'The Base Shall Top Th'Legitimate': The Bedlam Beggar and the Role of Edgar in King Lear," and Row-Heyveld's "'Known and Feeling Sorrows'" as well as Dissembling Disability.
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  35. Gottlieb compellingly reads the play as distinguishing between humans and animals not based on innate characteristics but rather on social accommodation.
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  36. The use of the word 'button' here draws a parallel to Lear's final lines regarding the dead Cordelia: "Pray you undo this button" (5.3.373). As I argue later, the threads of animality and madness converge once again in that scene.
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  37. Feste, in Twelfth Night, gestures to this vocality when he says, "I do but read madness … you must allow Vox" (5.1.308-10).
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  38. It is possible to read Lear also play-acting madness in 1.4. After Goneril chides him to "put away / These dispositions which of late transport you / From what you rightly are" (1.4.226-8), Lear responds by mock-acting some stereotypes, possibly connected to madness: "This is not Lear. / Does Lear walk thus, speak thus? Where are his eyes?" (1.4.231-2).
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  39. Q1 has "dance" instead of "daub," but the implications remain the same: Edgar cannot perform his role any more.
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  40. Many scholars situate Lear's madness as on-setting in the second half of the play and due to his external circumstances (see Neely as one example), but such a reading relies on a narrow (stereotypical?) view of what madness sounds like and forwards ableist assumptions about poverty and disability. Others, like Heetderks, argue that "the potential mutability of Lear's wit has ever been a present threat" (67). I agree that Lear's mental health has been in question for some time and that its etiology is not connected to his loss of "accommodations." In 1.1, despite having divided his kingdom equally, he still conducts the love test, which Kent calls "mad," "folly," and "hideous rashness" (1.1.163, 166, 169), for it makes no sense given his previous act of dividing the kingdom. Lear's words here, while conveying sense in their traditional significations, are irrational and nonsensical. France calls the situation "most strange" (1.1.245), and Goneril and Regan privately reveal that Lear's "poor judgment" is not just a result of "how full of changes his age is" but rather "the imperfections of long-engraffed condition" (1.1.343-4). According to them, "he hath ever but slenderly known himself" (1.1.339-40). Even when Kent proposes that his daughters' rejections led to "bemadding sorrow," he pivots to acknowledge that perhaps "something deeper" is at play (3.1.38, 42).
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  41. See Dugan for more information about the play's original staging conditions. See Smith for insightful analyses of the phoneme [o:] and its resonances in early modern England, including at the Globe.
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  42. Smith finds that "[l]istening, as opposed to looking, seems especially apt with respect to early modern England, as a collectivity of cultures that depended so extensively on face-to-face communication" (12).
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  43. Gina Bloom briefly discusses the "undertheorized system of analogies between voice, body, subjectivity, and agency" regarding histories of feminism (13).
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  44. Smith discusses these cultural codings in the early modern period and suggests "we should imagine a continuum between speech and vision" (19).
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  45. This anecdote captures the ocularcentric dynamics well: While "madness" is often illegible, it is made legible here by a "rant," an explicitly audible marker. Yet, Garland-Thomson interprets this aural material as visual. Ocularcentricism creates a tendency to collapse all sensory data as "seen."
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  46. I am adapting Garland-Thomson's terms "starer" and "staree" to my own aural framework.
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  47. While it is a convenient pun that I am using Lear as a case study for "learing," I derive the word not from the play but rather from combining "leering" and "hearing."
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  48. Her other forms of staring certainly apply to other modes of hearing as well, such as mutual information gathering, as seen in critical and cultural privileging of hearing as a method of empathy.
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  49. Smith defines sound as the "periodic displacement of molecules in the air" (7) and Bloom's Voices in Motion examines early modern constructions of sound and the voice as material.
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  50. Later in the scene, when Oswald arrives, Edgar assumes a country dialect, presumably to further his disguise. Oswald lears the dialect and calls him "bold peasant," "slave," and "dunghill" (4.6.260, 265 and 275, 272). Similarly, Edmund recognizes Edgar's claim to nobility through the sound of his speech: "thy tongue some say of breeding breathes" (5.3.172). Though these exchanges are beyond the scope of this essay's focus on learing disability, it does demonstrate how learing objectifies people based on constructed categories.
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  51. See endnote 30 above.
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