Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

English (M.A.)




This thesis is a feminist reading of Shakespeare‟s King Lear and Jane Smiley‟s Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Thousand Acres that applies psychological insights into human behavior to explain economic decision-making. Many of the traditional readings of King Lear, including the works of critics A. C. Bradley, Maynard Mack and Stephen Greenblatt, approach the play by accepting the patriarchal view of Lear as the rightful ruler, while Goneril and Regan are wicked for taking the kingdom from their father. Smiley‟s A Thousand Acres, however, approaches the text from what she imagines Goneril‟s perspective to be and includes the incestuous implications of a relationship in which daughters love their father all. While both approaches are valid, I examined economic decisions the daughters make when Lear offers his daughters his kingdom and Larry offers his daughters the farm. These economic decisions reflect the psychological theories into how people decide, and I apply these theories to show both Lear and his daughters basing their understanding of economic gain on heuristics of cognitive ease, availability, and the anchoring power of the patriarch rather than Platonic rationality. This, then, frees Lear from his monstrous position in Smiley‟s novel and Goneril and Regan‟s wicked roles in King Lear, and allows for a reading of the plot that is rooted in the psychological depth of all human life. Lear, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia all make effective and ineffective, positive and destructive, emotional and rational decisions throughout the play making it impossible to simplify each character as simply legitimate or wicked, sinned against or sinning.