I am going to make the case in this essay that the extremity of unredeemed suff ering in King Lear represents Shakespeare’s skeptical response to the postreformation softening of the genre of the ars moriendi, the literature that off ers advice on the preparation for a good death. Where the medieval Catholic tradition had off ered graphic accounts of the pains of death and ritualized procedures for confronting its terrors, postreformation guides to dying discouraged the fear of death and attempted to curb excessive lamentation for the moriens on the grounds that there was no reason to mourn the progress of a person of faith to a higher spiritual plane. Thomas Becon’s 1558 critique of prereformation funerary practices advises “Christians” to avoid the excesses of “infi dels,” where the “infi dels” in question are Catholics: “Let the infi dels mourn for their dead: the Christians ought to rejoice, when any of the faithful be called from this vale of misery unto the glorious kingdom of God.”1 The immoderation of older mourning practices was condemned even more forcefully by Hugh Latimer in 1562 when he complained that “In the time of popery, before the gospel came amongst us, we went to buriales, with wepyng and wailing, as thoughe there were no god.”2 Latimer’s complaint refl ects the Calvinist perception that Catholic funerary practices were excessive not only in the amount of ritual that was performed but in the licensing of intemperate expressions of grief. Against this revisionary cultural backdrop, the relentless suff ering that pervades King Lear represents a refusal to accept the melioristic advice of the new guides to death and mourning. As Shakespeare rewrites a familiar story of an aging king and his three daughters, one who loves him and two who are at least willing to say that they do, he gives the tale a more agonized middle and a more apocalyptic conclusion. Shakespeare’s primary sources, Holinshed and King Leir, grant Lear a happy ending, but Shakespeare’s bleaker version of the story tests the premise of whether any combination of power, preparation, and circumstance can actually lead to a fortuitous end. Lear asks: Is there any such thing as a good death?