Thomas Merriam on the Religious endings of King Lear and The Winter's Tale
God's Spy in King Lear
Father Paul Murray, O.P. writes in "God's Spy and the Mystery of Things" [God Spy, Sept. 17, 2003] - "But if 'religion' means for us, instead, a personal devotion to God, and a hunger to see God, and even a mystical thirst for intimate communion with God in Christ, then Shakespeare's work, although comprehensive to a degree probably unsurpassed in world literature, cannot be described or circumscribed by the word 'religious.'
The crucial passage in King Lear is:
We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage:When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel downAnd ask of thee forgiveness: so we'll live,And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laughAt gilded butterflies, and hear poor roguesTalk of court news; and we'll talk with them too,Who loses and who wins; who's in, who's out;And take upon's the mystery of things,As if we were God's spies. (Act V, Scene 1)
The words "blessing", "kneel", "pray", old tales" occur within 20 words of each other. The same four words occur within 28 words of each other in the remarkably Catholic (and Marian) restoration to life of Hermione in the final scene of The Winter's Tale. The four words occur within 50 words of each other in no other play according to Literature On Line and Early English Books Online.
"Old tales" at first sight has a primary and secular meaning of "old wive's tales", but in Shakespeare the words have a secondary and ironic meaning which refers back to the "tale" of the Prodigal Son, and, by extension, to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I submit that the ending of King Lear is intimately linked with the ending of The Winter's Tale and that forgiveness is the overriding theme of both plays, connected with the restoration of life from death. That can be , in my view, "circumscribed by the word 'religious'".