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King Lear Under COVID-19 Lockdown

Educational Objective
To understand how the lessons about compassion and solidarity found in King Lear can help us manage COVID-19 lockdown
1 Credit CME

Recently a tweet from singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash went viral declaring that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while quarantined for plague.1 Although the words were meant to quicken our pens, they moved me instead to spend some solitary hours outside the hospital rereading this monumental play. Widely considered to be Shakespeare’s most psychologically nuanced tragedy, King Lear tells the story of an elderly king who unfairly divides his kingdom, is betrayed by his heirs, and descends into madness. The play has given me chills many times over, but I never appreciated Lear raving in the storm as I do now in the storm of novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Although Lear spends much of the play wandering on a desolate heath, his confrontation with an unspeakable chaos that dismantles the old order mirrors the existential dread of our moment. As a pediatrics intern training in New York City, I had turned to the play in search of the comfort of a well-worn story. What emerged were new lessons that reflect the different world and perspective we now inhabit.

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Article Information

Corresponding Author: Anoushka Sinha, MD, MS, Pediatric Residency Training Program, Columbia University Irving Medical Center, 630 W 168th St, CHN-517, New York, NY 10032 (as4531@cumc.columbia.edu).

Published Online: April 10, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.6186

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

References
1.
@rosannecash. Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he wrote King Lear. Published March 14, 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020. https://twitter.com/rosannecash/status/1238700345548627969
2.
Shakespeare  W .  The Tragedy of King Lear. The Norton Shakespeare. Greenblatt  S , Cohen  W , Howard  JE , Maus  KE , Gurr  A , eds. 2nd ed. WW Norton; 2008.
3.
Greenblatt  S .  Tyrant—Shakespeare on Politics. WW Norton; 2018:144-146.
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