Olson was apparently the first to recognize there were two books, the pre-Shakespeare and the post-Shakespeare Moby-Dick. In the first telling Ahab had a mostly incidental role, but upon reading King Lear Melville recast his Ahab as a latter-day Lear, obsessed with vengeance at the cost of everything else around him. Other scholars have since bolstered this idea, noting the profound influence Shakepseare had on Melville.
The essay had first appeared as Lear and Moby-Dick in 1938, but Olson worked on it continuously over a 10 year span, incorporating his ideas on "Empire," which he felt Melville strongly alluded to in his novel. This allowed Olson to parallel Moby-Dick with the Cold War, which had begun shortly after WWII.
|Charles Olson at work|