Keats and King Lear

Keats_King_LearFor the poet, Sundays were not for church, but for Shakespeare.

BY ADAM PLUNKETT

Early in the winter of 1818, in December, John Keats wrote to his brother George about their younger brother, who had died two weeks before. “The last days of poor Tom were of the most distressing nature”—Tom, the boy whom Keats had nursed the boy through his tuberculosis in Hampstead after George had left with his wife for Kentucky. John and Tom had kept to the house that fall while John worked on his second epic poem and read Shakespeare, writing “Sunday evening, Oct. 4, 1818” next to the phrase “poor Tom” in his folio edition of King Lear. He himself would live just two more years .

I have scarce a doubt of immortality of some nature o[r] other,” wrote Keats in his letter to George. “[N]either had Tom.” Keats imagined an afterlife with “direct communication of spirit” like that which he felt as he wrote to George and felt he could begin to approach by their reading “a passage of Shakespeare every Sunday at ten o’clock” on either side of the Atlantic. “And we shall be as near each other as blind bodies can be in the same room.” Sundays, not for church, were for Shakespeare.

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