Friday, April 29, 2011

Everything is Edmund's fault.

Everything is Edmund's fault. That's what I noticed about King Lear. Edmund is the driving force that takes a kingdom that's already a mess and completely destroys it. He ruins his half-brother Edgar's reputation by convincing their father, the Earl of Gloucester, that Edgar want to kill him to get at his estate. Edgar now must take to wondering around in the wilderness disguised as a crazy beggar to interact with the principal characters. Next, since Edmund seems to like betraying his family members so much, he betrays his father. The Earl of Gloucester, upset that King Lear's daughters Goneril and Regan have been abusing their newly-gained power and have been treating their father horribly, sent a letter asking the King of France for help. Edmund shows this letter to Goneril and Regan, which leads to Regan's husband, the Duke of Cornwall, to gouge out the Earl of Gloucester's eyes. He, blind, is also forced to wander around in the wilderness. Eventually, both Goneril and Regan fall for Edmund, as they're all despicable people and I guess evil people like that have a sort of thing for one another. This causes Goneril to plot to kill her husband, the Duke of Albany, so she can have a dead husband like Regan's, as he was killed by a servant in retribution for gouging out the Earl of Gloucester's eyes. Eventually, the French and British armies fight, and King Lear and his third daughter Cordelia are taken prisoners, as Cordelia married the King of France, and King Lear fled to France. Edmund sends an order to have both executed. Finally, in a moment of retribution, Edmund tries to stop the order, but it's too late and Cordelia becomes hanged, with Lear dying shortly later of grief. Oh yeah, and Goneril, poisons her sister and then stabs herself because of Edmund. Fun stuff. Seriously, this guy Edmund is a bastard.

Why does he do all of this, though? Well, his feelings about his situation are summed up in his first soliloquy: “Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law / My services are bound. Wherefore should I / Stand in the plague of custom, and permit / The curiosity of nations to deprive me, / For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines / Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?” Basically, Edmund is saying that he rejects society's negative view of illegitimate children and says “nature” is his goddess. I think he's pandering to a more “survival of the fittest” approach, based on the actions he takes later in the play. Edmund's mind only changes after his brother finally reveals himself and gives him an ass-kicking that's eventually fatal. Edmund's reply to this beating is: “The wheel is come full circle!” Soon after, Edgar tells Edmund of how their father suffered and Edmund says “This speech of yours hath moved me, / And shall perchance do good...” I figure that what Edmund needed throughout the play was a good beating and a dose of reality to set him into place, as his merciless plotting only came down upon him in the end.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sympathy for a Bastard?

After spending the enitre play manipulating and desroying the lives of everyone around him Edmund spends his last few moments of the play repentant and looking to undo some of the damage he did. In the end, I feel bad for him. Maybe I'm just too soft but I did feel sympathy for the bastard (in both senses of the word). Maybe what saves him from being completely un-smpathtic is the fact that his evil is very machiavellian in nature. Yes it's selfish and bad, but bad in an opportunistic way. He feels he must act like this in oder to achive and station in life. Compare this to say, Iago from Othello who is just evil for the sake. Now that guy was a bastard.

One of my favorite moments in the play is when Edmond and Edgar exchange words of forgivness right before they fight. I felt it was very original and refreshing even when compared with modern stories. I can't think of another set of characters who, though rivals and enemies, come to terms with each other and agree to kill each other albiet in an atmosphere of undersanding and honor.

King Lear- An Internal Debate and Ramblings on Who Should Have Died and Who Deserved to Live

Is it necessary for more than half of the characters to die to prove that this play is a tragedy? I’m not fully convinced. At the end of the play, Edmund, Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, Lear, Oswald, Cornwall, and Gloucester are all dead. Albany, Kent, and Edgar are the only remaining (main) characters. I do not believe that all of the characters who were killed off really needed to die; I think that maybe if a few crucial characters had died, the dramatic effect would have been just as gripping. For instance, if I had to choose, I would say that Cordelia and Edmund would have sufficed to be the only characters killed off. In this case, Cordelia’s death would have impacted her sisters Goneril and Regan as well as her father Lear, leading them to reflect on their past actions and their treatment of Cordelia. Their sadness in the loss of Cordelia would be tragic without being overdramatic. Edmund’s death would impact Gloucester, his father, and Edgar, his half-brother, causing them to reflect on their past treatment of Edmund, having regarded him as a bastard child, not a fully-fledged brother or son. I think that there would be more power in the death of Edmund than in the death of Gloucester, however, I do see the value in having Gloucester die. The fact that Gloucester’s eyes were gauged out proved to be highly symbolic to me. In the past, Gloucester was blind to the way he treated his sons, the way he favored Edgar and regarded Edmund as illegitimate thus less important and less deserving. When Gloucester learns that “Edgar” wants to kill him, he quickly changes sides, if you will, deciding to believe Edmund in fear of his life. This change of heart seems curious to me: if Gloucester cared for Edgar and knew his normal behavior and intentions, why would he be so quick and unquestioning of the forged letter? Is this to prove the naiveté of Gloucester’s character?

Cornwall could have chosen to kill or injure Gloucester in any way, but he chooses to gauge out his eyes, thus blinding him. I think that the physical, literal sense of blinding parallels the mental nature of Gloucester—he was blind to the way he treated his sons and the way he was easily persuaded. It is only when he is blinded that Gloucester finally begins to realized his past wrongs and has a change of heart and action. Interestingly, in both the characters of Lear and Gloucester, physical and emotional weakness served to make better, more aware and caring men, (it only took utter insanity and gauged out eyes for them to realize their wrongs…). I think that if Gloucester had been left blinded and had not died, the play would have been equally effective. However, I suppose I understand why he was chosen to die—Gloucester learning from his mistakes and misfortunes and living happily ever after just would not cut it in a tragic Shakespearean play.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Lear Clan Carries a Crazy Gene

At the conclusion of this play, I cannot help but to think one thing. Thank God I am not a member of any family depicted in this play. Each family, in its own way, is bizarre and hypocritical. Let's consider Lear's family first which will lead us into the other familial situations within the play.

At the very beginning of this play, we see King Lear basically disowning his daughter, Cordelia. In most families, I assume, it would take a lot for a father to disown his daughter. Not Lear!! He has decided that it is completely practical to disown his daughter because she is unable to adequately express her feelings toward her father. In 1.1, Lear exclaims that he denounces all paternal responsibility to Cordelia;
By all the operation of the orbs
From whom we do exist and cease to be;
Here I disclaim all my paternal care,
Propinquity and property of blood... 111-114
This proclamation is a stark difference from his actions in 5.3. In 5.3, Cordelia and Lear are being carried off to prison together and Lear's words in this process draw this stark difference from 1.1 until now. He says to Cordelia;
No, no, no, no! Come, let's away to prison.
We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage.
When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness. So we'll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies... 5.3.8-13
In these lines, Lear explains that he will beg whomever he has to for forgiveness in order for he and Cordelia to be able to live happily ever after; to laugh, sing, and pray together. It is so bizarre to me that one person can go from one extreme to another. I understand that there may have been certain events which unfolded during the unfolding plots of the play, but for one person to go from hating to loving in such a short amount of time is crazy. Many say that by the end of this play, Lear is losing his sanity; I think that he was never sane to begin with. I think that he was a wacko at the beginning of the play and still is (perhaps even worse) a wacko at the end of the play. To add to this irony, Cordelia makes a proclamation in 5.3 that "We.../Who, with the best meaning, have incurred the worst" (3-4). Are you kidding me Cordelia? She is basically saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I believe it is the exact opposite; the road to heaven is paved with good intentions. At least, Pope Benedict XVI says so! For this reason, I would go so far as to say that Cordelia is a wacko just like her father.

And then we have Regan and Goneril, Lear's other daughters. It seems that he has passed his crazy gene onto the both of them as well. I can understand the concept of being jealous of and/or in constant competition with a sibling. However, Regan and Goneril take this concept to a whole new level. From the very beginning of the play, we see these two competing to win over a man. In the very first act, they are competing for their father's affections. However, for the rest of the play they are in competition over Edmund. Both Regan and Goneril want Edmund to themselves. Despite the fact that Goneril is married, she pursues Edmund like a teenage girl after her first crush. Crazy Goneril even goes so far as to attempt to have her husband, Albany, killed. She continues on her murderous rampage, induced by her crazy, and poisons her sister. I bet you weren't expecting your sister to be just as crazy as you, Goneril, when she stabbed your crazy ass.

I understand that every family has their issues, but what a hott mess this family is!! They are running around hating, loving, and killing without a thought to how wild their actions are. I hate to say it, but it might be a good thing that they are all dead at the end of the play so they can't pass that crazy gene on to anyone else!!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Death Attracting Death

In King Lear, I cannot help but notice the trend that death attracts death. It builds to the final scene, where the number of deaths is simply overwhelming. The attraction of death is increasing over the end of the play, beginning in 4.6. Lear states: “I will die bravely, like a smug bridegroom” (4.6 192). The mention of death is his intuitive feelings toward the matter—the first time he is not discussing the deaths of others or killings. Shortly after in the scene, Edgar kills Oswald, as Oswald accuses Gloucester of being a traitor for supporting the framed Edgar. The letter in Oswald’s pocket discusses Goneril’s plan to kill her husband, as one discovery of death leads to another: “A plot upon her virtuous husband’s life…Here in the sands, / Thee I’ll rake up, the post unsanctified / Of murderous lechers” (4.6 267-270). This is just the beginning of the tragic end and epidemic of death—it cannot stop the theme from bouncing from character to character—be it in actual death or in discussion.

Cordelia questions the purpose of her life in the beginning of 4.7: “O thou good Kent, how shall I live and work, / To match thy goodness? My life will be too short” (4.7 1-2). It is a foreshadowing of her perceived death at the end of the play—a type of attraction, although textual. Lear is sick and wishing to poison himself until Cordelia convinces him otherwise. Once death is depicted, it cannot help but to return in every scene, in every character. Edgar becomes concerned of his position of being involved with both sisters Goneril and Regan, as only one can live to be with him, and who will in the end, with Goneril’s husband is dead. He does not expect that death will be brought to both of them, however, and his falseness will be exposed. Regan is poisoned by Goneril, and later kills herself.

Edgar enters in 5.3 to solve matters with Edmund, and Edgar says: “O, that my heart would burst! / The bloody proclamation to escape, / That followed me so near” (5.3 181-182). He managed to hide away and resist death, but the more death is being discussed in the play (even the avoidance of death), the more death appears. It is like a pest that cannot be shaken. Edmund states: “I pant for life. Some good I mean to do, / Despite my own nature” (5.3 242-243). He is disturbed by the deaths of Goneril and Regan, and hopes he can be redeemed if Lear and Cordelia are alive. Brought in, the third sister Cordelia is thought to be dead, but in the end is not. Mad Lear describes: “She’s dead as earth. Lend me a looking-glass; / If that her breath will mist or stain the stone, / Why, then she lives” (5.3 260-262). She is alive in the end, but all of the characters remaining are either dead, murderers, or have narrowly escaped death—not to mention the possibility of madness. Death not only attracts death in the play, but is contagious as to touch every character. It is the tragic trend seen in King Lear.

Dead or Alive. Or Insane.

After reading King Lear in its entirety, I find that this play begs the question: what is more desirable – death, life, or insanity?

We either witness or hear about a LOT of death over the course of this tragedy. Some deaths are lamented, while others come as a relief to others. Some characters wish to die, while others avoid it at all costs. It seems, then, that the view of death, what Shakespeare once called that "undiscovered country," is in the eye of the beholder. In addition, some characters feign madness, some characters express the wish to be mad, and some are just plain mad.

To give some specific examples, let us consider the life and eventual death of Gloucester. Here is a man who, once his eyes have been plucked out, wishes for nothing but death. He tries, to no avail, to commit suicide, thinking that ending his life will end his sorrow. When he meets up with the mad Lear, however, he wishes himself to be crazy, too. “Better I were distract;/So should my thoughts be severed from my griefs” (4.6.276-77). Gloucester seems to think here that being insane would bring some relief; he would not be conscious of his sorrows. After finding his son Edgar to be alive, however, he is so overcome with feeling that his heart bursts, and he dies. The description of his death is ironic. Edmund says that his heart "burst smilingly" (5.3.198). Does this mean that the pain of life was too much for him to endure? Or was it the joy that overwhelmed him? Perhaps it was both, but either way, Gloucester is granted his wish to exit the living world. Most desirable: death.

Other characters seem to have a different perspective on life and the afterlife. Edgar, after witnessing the death of his father, and recounting the tale of putting on his disguise of madness, states: "O, our lives' sweetness! That we the pain of death would hourly die/Rather than die at once!" (5.3.183-85). In other words, Edgar is saying that life is precious enough to us that we would rather endure the pain of dying constantly (considering here that life's tragedies are a kind of death in themselves) than to simply die and be gone. He feigns insanity, viewing it as a means to escape from society, but not as a desirable state of mind. Most desirable: life.

Lear is another example of one who chooses to live in pain rather than die. He never expressly wishes to be dead. Instead, he deals with the tragedy of his life by existing in another state of mind - that of mental instability. As he tells Cordelia, after they have been sentenced to imprisonment, "So we'll live,/And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh.../and we'll wear out,/In a walled prison" (5.3.11-18). Thus, Lear would rather rot in prison with Cordelia and make the most out of his dismal life, than to end it all. He chooses insanity in order to deal with misery. Most desirable: insanity.

Whether they wish it or not, many of these characters die by the end of the play. Maybe they are finally at peace. Maybe they are now enduring a worse fate than life could ever bring them. Maybe insanity would have kept them in ignorant bliss, or maybe it would have been their ultimate downfall. Who knows what is the least agonizing state of existence? That secret rests with the dead.

Series of Death in Act 5

In the final act of this play there is a lot of death involved. Sisters dying over Edmund and his love, Edmund dying in the battle with his brother, the killing of Cordelia, the death of Lear, and finally the “death march” at the end of the play. I wonder why Shakespeare decides to kill everyone off at the end of the play. Why not spread some of them out? All of these deaths play in with the idea of a true tragedy. We all know that a tragedy will traditionally end in death and despair. The final act of the play brings to life this idea.
We know that the first death was the cause of poison.
Regan: Sick, O, sick!
Goneril: (aside) If not, I’ll ne’er trust medicine/poison (5.3. 97-98).
This is the same time that Albany is accusing Edmund of being a traitor. Regan shortly leaves to go to a tent, where we later find out she dies.
The next death being Edmund, after Edgar comes in he fights Edmund and later tells him who actually defeated him. Probably leaving him much more defeated. Before Edmund dies, he arranges for Cordelia to be hung in the prison.
I’m not quite sure why Goneril dies. Is it because she is upset that her husband finds out about the letter she sent to Edmund? Is she so distraught that her husband knows the truth of her obsession with Edmund. Maybe he also knows that the poisoning was her doing?
King Lear dies because of the depression of his daughter dying and his old age. I particularly like his one ending speech where he says, “A plague upon you, murderers, traitors all! / I might have saved her; now she’s gone for ever!/ Cordelia, Cordelia! Stay a little. Ha! / What is ‘t thou say’st? Her voice was ever soft, / Gentle, and low, an excellent thing in woman. / I killed the slave that was a-hanging thee” (5.3.268-273). This makes me feel like maybe he realizes everywhere that he went wrong in the beginning of the play. Lear was a very unlikable character for me in the beginning and this almost redeems him to some degree. He is finally seeing the traitors for who they are and seeing everyone’s true colors. He is also realizing that Cordelia was really the only one who was there for him and he tossed her out in the beginning only to not be able to save her in the end. I believe that he realizes he did wrong to her, but knows he will never be able to take that away.
Still the deaths of everyone are very strategically planned by Shakespeare and I find it very clever that he places the deaths using a type of cause and effect plot. It also reminds me of a “domino effect” type situation. Because one dies, the next must die, and the next, etc.

The noble fool

As the quote says: "Dying is esay, comedy is hard." I think people tend to overlook comedies in general because as we know, true art is angsty. Thats why I found the character of the fool to be so intersting and enduring. He is witty, intelligent, funny and noble. He is also quite funny and I found it a tad troubling when I watched clips of the play and the fool was played straight. It seems that some people just can not stand the idea of a character being simultaneously funny and serious or perhaps people choose to ignore Shakespeare's more comedic qualities in oder to focus on the drama. Either way I find it disservices both the character and the writer.

Another intersting aspect of the fool is his relationship with Lear. The fool is the one character in the play that Lear is consistently affectionate to and he is the only one who is spared from Lears fury when contridicting him. In fact the fool can get away with out right criticism without angering Lear. One may argue that fools are genuinely exempt from the standards of normal scociety, but in act 1 scene 4 the fool states "They'll have me whipped for speaking true, thou'llt have me whiped for lying, and sometimes I'm whipped for holding my peace." so that is not exactally the case.

The fool is an interesting character acting as the chorus, commentator, and comic relief, if you let him.

Now she’s gone forever

King Lear’s fall is an obvious one to point out. When we first meet Lear he is an aging yet still power-wielding monarch, and at the play’s conclusion we wave goodbye to an old man once king heading to kingdom come sans crown. And that’s just the tip of the peripatetic iceberg. Tied to every royal is the fate of a nation (which is why today’s Britons prefer their fate in the red-hot hands of William the Dashing and not in the pale hands of Charles the Bore). Despite his attempts at fostering otherwise, Lear’s nation has fallen into political madness due to the selfishness of the very people to whom Lear reasoned he should bequeath Britannia. Put together Fortune’s fun with man and country is relatively easy to pin point. But what concerns this blog post is not the question of Lear’s unfortunate fortune, but instead what I’m interested in is pin pointing Lear’s point of recognition and its implications. Now to this point, we point.

“A plague upon you, murderers, traitors all! I might have saved her!” If the object of Lear’s vitriol were indeed singular and directed only at the Captain then at least his words would half-truth be -- the other half being the half he himself would contribute to the current plagued state of events. But Lear directs his condemnation at the tragedy’s least guilty and inarguably its most redemptive and still living characters (tear drop, Cordelia. Tear drop, lowly classed brave heart): the honorable Kent, the redeeming Edgar, and the judicious Albany (an ironic and funny anachronism, don’t cha think). Lear’s condemnation is of course woefully, or more to our meta-theatrical play, pitifully ignorant. Murderers? Traitors? He might have saved her? Puh-lease. About the only thing he saved was defeat from the jaws of victory (Oh! Two snaps and a crown in yo' face!)

Here Shakespeare leaves little room for audiences to expect that in the tragedy’s final moments Lear will explicitly recognize his culpability in Cordelia’s death. So what do we get instead? In the opening scene, Lear doesn’t recognize Cordelia’s honesty and the true simplicity of her love for him. Telling his daughter to refit her words to fit his fancy, Lear says “Nothing, will come of nothing, speak again” and when she does not modify her speech he banishes her from his sight, court, and royal fortunes. So I’m interested in interpreting Lear’s recognition as an implicit one. Perhaps the moment when, after he brings in his daughter’s dead body, he mistakenly thinks Cordelia might still be alive. Here, Lear can’t recognize Cordelia in life or death. He doesn’t know her beating heart. Lear does finally recognize his daughter fully, but unfortunately for him it’s too late: “Now she’s gone forever!”

Poor guy.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Is there any justice in the world?

I must say, I was rather disappointed with the ending of the play. I thought for sure Cordelia would end up with what she so rightfully deserved; the inheritance. I mean after all Cordelia was the only one who was honest and true to herself from the very beginning. At the same time I was shocked and surprised I guess I kind of understand why Shakespeare would choose for Cordelia to die the way she did though; with her father, the man she was faithful too. Cordelia's death and imprisonment at the end with her father represented the fact she was the one true daughter that was there with him, by his side until the very end. Although King Lear and Cordelia died different ways and for different reasons, what matters is that she was the only daughter to go through being captured and imprisoned with her father; the other two sisters were too concerned as to who was going to win the man. When all is said and done I guess it's safe to say you get what you deserve. Goneril and Regan spent all their time arguing over their inheritance and Edmund rather then paying attention to what's important in life. Although they get what they deserve and die at the end, King Lear and Cordelia also die, where is the justice in that? Albany even says near the end, “All friends shall taste / The wages of their virtue, and all foes / The cup of their deserving” 5.3.301–303, so that leaves me with the questions why isn't he dead and how did he end up in charge of the inheritance. Didn't he play a role is this turmoil at some point or another? Do those words make him a hypocrite? Isn't the one's who go through life doing the right thing supposed to end up the bread winner? Before Lear passed he stood over Cordelia and said, “Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, / And thou no breath at all?” 5.3.305–306 meaning why was her life taken, what did she do so wrong; why are others still alive that have no meaning and don't do well by others? This play leaves us with a bad taste in our mouth, death seems to overcome all. It reminds us that no matter what we all must face death at one point or another, deserving or not.

Lear and Kent

Throughout the play the relationship between Kent and King Lear has proved to be very interesting. Even after being banished in the beginning for sticking to what her believes, Kent remains loyal to Lear. He stoops as low to adopting a new identity and following Lear around as no more than a random servant. Lucky for him Lear didn't seem to mind. In the last act of the plat there is so much going on, everyone is dying or on the verge of death and there is hatred and forgiveness going on around between all the characters. Rivalries are ended and some taken to the complete extreme, Goneril and Regan especially. But amidst all of this there is a very touching moment in which Kent the ever loyal companion, is by Lear's side as he comes to his last moments.

There are very few "aww" moments in this play, but I would consider this one of them. Kent tells Lear that he is not Caius, but actually the man banished in the beginning,

No, my good lord: I am the very man--
That, from your first of difference and decay;
Have followed your sad footsteps.

Notice the love, Kent put himself through a lot to follow the king and watch after his safety. He also put himself in potential danger from the wraths of Goneril and Regan, for helping someone on the hit list.

and as Lear is passing on we get another sweet moment when Kent says,

Vex not his ghost. O, let him pass! He hates him much
That would upon the rack of this tough world
Stretch him out longer.

Kent realizes the emotional toll that all of this has taken on Lear, and wants him to be at peace at last, advising that all be silent and let Lear pass on calmly and quietly.

The wonder is, he hath endured so long.
He but usurped his life.

While I do think that these moments lose some of their emotional potential, because of the references to torture and death having a claim on Lear's life. But what I really get from this scene is a sense that the characters who were wronged, like Kent and Edgar will have a chance to move on. It also creates some sadness towards Lear, for at least me who spent the entire play hating him. It's nice to know that there is someone who cared for him no matter the ridiculousness of him or his crazy mood swings. It also relives some of the tension you feel between the daughters and Edmund's love triangle and all of their deaths. I guess this just leaves me with more of an okay feeling, not the depressing feeling that some of Shakespeare's other plays leave you with, and definitely not a happy feeling, but something in between.

-Stephanie Wexler

Tragic Ending: Siblings At War

When I read the last act of King Lear I was shocked by all the lives taken. We first get the fight between Edgar and Edmund. The outcome is Edmund is hurt severly and on the verge of death. In act 5 scene 3 line 161, Edmund displays a speech where he forgives Edgar for hurting him.

"What you have charged me with, that have I done;/And more, much more; the time will bring it out./'Tis past, and so am I. But what art thou/ That hast this fortune on me? If thou 'rt noble,/ I do forgive thee."

Edmund has finally got what he deserves and is slowly coming to terms with his actions.

Next we get the infamous sisters, Goneril and Regan. A Gentleman interupts everyone and explains their deaths. 5.3.222-226 Gentleman: " ' Tis hot, it smokes,/ it came even from the heart-O, she's dead!" Albany:" Who dead? Speak, man." Gentleman:" Your lady, sir, your lady! and her sister/ By her is poisoned; she hath confessed it.

I thought this was crazy because Goneril poisoned Regan, but went and committed suicide. Then we find out Cordelia was hung because of Edmunds orders. All the siblings that were fighting for an inheritance died. The sad part is only one true son, Edgar was able to live unlike Cordelia who was true to her father since the begining. This was my least favorite part because I wanted to see her prevail and claim her rightful part in taking her inheritance. The most shocking part of the ending was Albany was left in charge of everyones inheritance. I am glad he shared with Edgar and Kent. Moral of this play is expect the worst and embrace whatever good comes out of it.

You sound like a fool

King Lear appears to be a play of deception, where multiple characters masquerading their true selves and intentions. It seems to me that part of this masquerading has lead to a play filled with fools or at least play filled with those who speak like fools. While there is only character labeled fool at least two other characters seem to speak the same language or fill a similar role to a Shakespearian fool in this play. I believe those characters to be Edgar and King Lear himself. For the sake of focus though, this blog post will mostly focus on the similarities between Edgar and the Fool.
A Shakespearean fool is a normally a character whose language is characterized by rhyme, song, and wit. Sometimes the language appears to be absolutely nonsensical, however upon closer examination there appears to be some sort of truth either about the world of the play or about the world at large. The true fool of Lear is amazingly astute to the on goings of both. Within the rhyming madness and songs Edgar and Lear also shows awareness to their own worlds.
Edgar’s fooling under the guise of “Tom” at first appears to be the maddened words of a wronged son. For example in Act 3 scene 6 Edgar stars going on about dogs.
“ Tom will throw his head back at them- Avaunt you
Be thy mouth or black or white,
Tooth that poisons if it bite;
Mastiff, grey-hound, mongrel grim,
Hound or spaniel, brach or lym,
Or bobtail tike or trundle-tail,
Tom will make them weep and wail:
For, with throwing thus my head,
Dogs leap the hatch, and all are fled.
Do de, de, de. Sessa! Come, march to wakes and
fairs and market-towns. Poor Tom, thy horn is dry…”
Edgar’s language is characterized by a mix of both prose and verse. This is not dissimilar to the fool’s mix of prose and poetry seen throughout the play. A really wonderful example of the fool’s ability to jump from poetry to prose is within Act 1 sc 4. Prose is typically thought to be the language of comedy and the lower classes whereas verse is typically thought to be the language of truth and love. It takes true mastery to be able to switch so seamlessly between the two as shown by the true as well as Edgar. More so than a simple structure switch though what really is the mark of the Fool is the ability point out something true.
Fool’s often give away these truths in the form of soliloquies as does Edgar at the end of Act 3 sc7. To me the line “ Who alone suffers, suffers most I’ the mind…” encapsulates all the lovely profound thoughts often found in fool’s speeches!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Intense Sibling Rivalry

In the final act of King Lear I can’t help but think about the destruction that comes from sibling rivalries. With both Regan and Goneril and Edmund and Edgar, the rivalry causes nothing but the down fall of all but one character.

Regan and Goneril have power and property but still are not satisfied. Not only do they abuse their father but after all that they turn their cruelty onto each other. They fight like teenage girls over the love/lust of Edmund. Goneril even goes as far to say that, “I had rather lose the battle than that sister should loosen him and me.” (V.I.23). To keep her pride and her younger man Goneril is willing to lose both the battle and her sister. Both sisters flaunt their relationships and infatuations with Edmund in front of each other until both become enraged with jealousy. Regan is the only one of the two who can actually legally do anything with the youth, considering that she is the only one without husband. Still, that does not stop the squabbling sisters and the jealousy leads to Regan’s murder and Goneril’s suicide. The constant need to have more than the other leads to the undoing of them both.

Edmund’s desire to be better and have more than his “legitimate” brother drives him to the point of madness and fills him with evil motives. We all know how Edmund goes about this, but in the final act it culminates to the long awaited brawl between brothers. After hiding and waiting to exact his vengeance Edgar challenges Edmund to fight and in the duel Edmund is mortally wounded. Again we see siblings killing and dying over the need to be better or have more than one another.

After witnessing such violence and tension between siblings one wonders what world provoked these acts. Is it be the natural world that spurs the competitive nature and fuels passions to the point of violence, or is it the world of tradition that has kept these siblings in societal constraints that they have learned to gain more power and title through any means necessary? Throughout the play these two worlds have collided and caused tension between characters but maybe it is the unchecked combination of the two worlds that cause the destruction between siblings. After all, it is the thirst for titles and power that originally starts the problems, but if the characters had the sense to adhere to the customs enough to be true and loyal to their families King Lear might have not been a tragedy.

An exitentialist ending to a play of despair

As I am writing about existentialist influences on modern literature for another class of mine, I think that it can be interesting to analyze the tragic ending of King Lear through a similar lens. While Kierkegard's original conception of existentialism concerning man's ability to create meaning in his life despite the relative absence of God has been utilized by other philosophers such as Sartre and Marcel to influence their own notions of existential thought, it seems that the underlying belief that an individual is responsible for his/her own fate unequivocally remains. As we see at the ending of King Lear that all of the central characters experience a demise, it seems that perhaps with the exception of Cordelia, everyone is eventually killed as a direct consequence of their own decision making. In this sense, the characters experience the harsh reality that in a world devoid of God's influence, there is little redemption to be gained in forgiveness or regret. While Gloucester eventually regrets his decision to disown his son Egdar, his realization comes too late as he has already lost his eyes due to the alliance that was able to be formed between Edmund and the Duke of Cornwall. While the reader may feel sorry for Gloucester, as I must admit I did during the reading, if one is to trace back to the origins of his decisions, it can be argued that Gloucester sealed his own fate by not only giving birth to a "bastard" son who was susceptible to greed, but because he was so easily persuaded to believe that his son Edmund was a traitor.
Further, while Lear may regret his decision to banish Cordelia, his remorse does nothing to save either him or his daughter from tragedy. Like Gloucester, his realization comes too late, as the emotional effects of such family division has already led Cordelia to reach the depths of her despair and end her own life. As Regan is poisoned by Goneril, and Goneril kills herself for a complex litany of reasons including her probable remorse over betraying her father and her sister and her despair from losing Edmund and her power over the kingdom, the consequences of Lear's original decision to prematurely divide his property reaches its most tragic of endings. It is in this world of despair, that Edgar remains, one of the last remaining survivors in a sort of post-apocalyptic landscape where he has survived due to his honest nature that never wavered throughout the play even during his moments of animalistic self-deprecation. Thus, Edgar survives, relatively alone except for the presence of his human "essence" that he has cultivated for himself against the play's godless world where man's fate is left in own his hands and not in that of a compassionate God willing to reward belated utterances of remorse.

Friday, April 22, 2011

First Folio Intrigue!

Here is a really fascinating documentary about a stolen copy of the First Folio, and how scholars were able to return it to its home.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Fool's Prophecy -- Huh?

Okay so I read the Fool's Merlin-esque prophecy in 3.2 at least three times and while I found it to be a really interesting topic of discussion for this blog post, I guess my point will be that I don't really understand it. I mean, I see how it serves as a parody for Chaucerian "Merlin's Prophecy," and I understand the irony that this is a prophecy happening in a play that was staged after said prophecy would take place, but what exactly is the Fool implying here? Given the length of the speech, and that he was addressing the audience alone on stage, I can't imagine this is just a typical cryptic riddle that fools tell.

As a whole, many prophecies seem to say "When X happens, then Y will happen." When I first approached this particular speech and read the first few lines, I thought I knew where he was going:

When priests are more in word than matter,
When brewers mar their malt with water,
When nobles are their tailors' tutors, [3.2.79-81]
Because these are three events that could possibly happen or already were happening in Shakespeare's time (priests sometimes don't practice what they preach and brewers DO distill their beer with water), I initially assumed that the prophecy was a "when pigs fly" kind of satirical social commentary; I thought he was saying that these things are so outlandish, which is ironic since they are not. He even ends the prophecy by saying, "Then comes the time, who lives to see ’t,/That going shall be used with feet" (3.2.91-92) He's saying that those who will live to walk with their feet, which people already do. However, the next lines: 

When every case in law is right,
No squire in debt nor no poor knight,
When slanders do not live in tongues,
Nor cutpurses come not to throngs,
When usurers tell their gold i' th' field,
And bawds and whores do churches build [3.2.83-88]
 are full of events that are actually highly unlikely - every law suit ends fairly, no man is poor, nobody slanders, nobody steals, etc. So which is it? Because the prophecy ends by saying "...then shall the realm of Albion/Come to great confusion," or in other words, Britain will be in a state of decay (3.2.89-90). So is the Fool making a comment about present-day (Shakespearean) England, suggesting that it is already in ruins? That was my initial thought, seeing as how so much of this speech references things that already happen. But then again, I could be reading this entire prophecy incorrectly.

Ring Bearer

For this post I want to talk about an underlying motif that I picked up on; namely, the Ring in all its forms and iterations. If you replace K with R and L with B (and add an “er” at the end), like Frodo, King Lear becomes a Ring Bearer. In the beginning, he cuts his ring (crown) in half and finds that like a split egg after the meat’s been eaten or a Zero (whose first letter “zed” is considered superfluous) or a “shealed peascod,” Lear is left with nOthing (1.4.174). This tragic sense of loss also resonates with the repetition of the exclamatory O, as in “O heavens!” or “World, World, O World,” which recalls the celestial and earthly spheres that spin the characters’ Wheel of Fortune. By the end of act IV Lear’s “wheel runs down a hill” and transmutes into a wheel of fire (2.4.67, 4.7.47). If you transmute his wheels into eyes and fire into blood you have the fate of Gloucester, who’s son Edgar shape-shifts into a fiend whose “eyes were two full moons” (4.6.70). It’s interesting that this fiend (who’s really Edgar himself) is associated with the moon, because in the magical tradition the moon is associated with the influences of our past, and as we know, Gloucester is now suffering, in a karmically fit way, for his earlier figurative blindness and the subsequent demonization of Edgar. Both Lear and Gloucester end up with a fiery wheel and bloody eyes (respectively) partly because, as the Fool say, “He’s mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf” (3.6.16). In other words, madness arises out of an inability to see the true nature of the world. That doesn’t mean we should automatically tend toward adverse criticism--then you might end up like Edmund--but rather we need attentiveness, patience, and thoughtful deliberation to see through the trappings of the world. Which brings me to another important piece of the Fool’s wisdom: “The cod-piece that will house/Before the head has any,/The head and he shall louse;/So beggars marry many./The man that makes his toe/What he his heart should make/Shall of a corn cry woe,/And turn his sleep to wake” (3.2.25). Here the Fool outlines the essential hierarchy of human nature. The material and sexual needs of a human being are aspects of his/her lower nature while the faculties of thought and love are of a higher nature. The Fool’s wisdom speaks to the Shakespearean theme of “seeming” versus “being”: the tragedy of the play arises out of mistaking seeming for being and this whirlpool of a theme turns around the Ring motif in all its manifestations.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Edmund, Gloucester’s illegitimate son, bothers me right from the beginning of the play. Shakespeare repeatedly calls him a “bastard” throughout the play. He’s one of the first characters introduced in King Lear, and we see that his father goes out of his way to let us know he’s his illegitimate son: “Though this knave came something saucily into the world before he was called for, yet was his mother fair; there was good sport at his making, and the whoreson must be acknowledged” (1.1 .17-20). This is what motivates Edmund to do what he does throughout the play. His father has insulted him, and this is why he plots to have his brother, Edgar, falsely accused of plotting to kill their father. Edmund states: “Wherefore should I stand in the plague of custom, and permit the curiosity of nations to deprive me, for that I am some twelve or fourteen moon-shines lag of a brother? Why bastard? Wherefore base? When my dimensions are as well compact, my mind as generous, and my shape as true, as honest madam's issue? Why brand they us with ‘base, base bastardly? (1.2.2-6). He knows he has been a joke his entire life, and this is why he acts like a “bastard”. For the entire play, Edmund is a villain and he is proud of the evil he does, but he is different from other Shakespearean villains. Even though I hate him, it’s hard not to feel bad for him after what he’s been through. I’m curious to see if he does any good in the end of the play.

Naturalism or Realism

The natural elements of this play bring about the ideas of what defines Naturalism. Naturalism is defined as a genre around the mid-19th century, but once again Shakespeare beat it to the punch. Beginning in 2.3 there tends to be a great deal of detail describing Lear’s age and how it affects his ability to rule. It is one of those basic parts of life that can often be ignored, especially while reading a text, but the truth is that it can always be argued as a factor that influences a character’s actions. During Regan and Lear’s exchange she takes a stab at his physical well-being as a means for his stupidity: “O, sir, you are old; / Nature in you stands on the very verge / Of her confine. You should be ruled and led / By some discretion, that discerns your state / Better than you yourself” (2.4.139-43). From my vantage point I do not see anything that Lear could possibly do in this situation to support his argument because of how blatantly Regan presents the facts of her case: Lear is old, therefore his mental and physical abilities are diminishing. Looking at the play from this perspective presents a very naturalistic perspective, but it can also lean toward the side of realism. These events are fueled by human emotions, such as greed and envy. Lear’s wishes to stay at Regan’s present his personal desires and those of the rest of the characters. This exchange between Goneril and Lear illustrates the confines of this realistic situation: Goneril: “Why not by the hand, sir? How have I offended? / All’s not offense that indiscretion finds / And dotage terms so.” Lear: “O sides, you are too tough!” (2.4.190-3). Goneril speaks from her desires to rid herself of her association with a man that she feels dwindles her chances of obtaining wealth and power. She wants to make sure she is around the right people at all times and by any means necessary, even if that means being ruthless in the treatment of her father. This is without a doubt a concept of realism due to the focus on individual needs and how they influence actions. So what category does this play fall into? There are aspects of naturalism, realism, and it is all encompassed in drama and history. There is no clear way to define this work, but it is definitely groundbreaking in context, much like all of Shakespeare’s works.

Lear, the Fool, and the Slyness of a Fox

I am really enjoying Lear and the richness of all the characters in this play, but there are three who I find particularly interesting:


The Fool


As I see and read each of these characters it seems to me that Shakespeare has turned the world on its head. Lear, it appears, is the real fool, The Fool seems extraordinarily wise, albeit somewhat insecure, and Edmund, I think, has the clearest view of the world around him and is willing to use what he knows to fulfill his desired end. While they are all completely different in nature and character, I find them each compelling.

Lear: I still can't quite figure Lear out. As I asked in a comment on one of the blog posts last week, is Lear evil? Senile? Spoiled? Childish? I'm not certain. He clearly embodies all of these characteristics, but I'm not certain that his intent is evil or that it is even intentional. In fact, I think that there is an inference of a loving and happy relationship with Cordelia prior to his disowning her in Act I. I think what's being revealed in Lear is his own uncertainty at the state of his own mental well-being and the strength of his own mind:


Thou think’st ’tis much that this contentious storm

Invades us to the skin; so ’tis to thee;

But where the greater malady is fix’d,

The lesser is scarce felt. Thou’dst shun a bear,

But if thy flight lay toward the roaring sea,

Thou’dst meet the bear i’ th’ mouth. When the mind’s free,

The body’s delicate; this tempest in my mind

Doth from my senses take all feeling else,

Save what beats there—filial ingratitude!

Is it not as this mouth should tear this hand

For lifting food to’t? But I will punish home.

No, I will weep no more. In such a night

To shut me out? Pour on, I will endure.

In such a night as this? O Regan, Goneril!

Your old kind father, whose frank heart gave all—

O, that way madness lies, let me shun that!

No more of that.

I think to some degree what we're seeing here in 3.4 is the dissolution of a man who can't quite understand where his mind is going or why. He senses that he is no longer in control of himself or his mind and that "tempest in [his] mind" makes it impossible for him to feel anything else.

The Fool, I feel, is not so much another character in the play as he is another player in Lear's mind: the matter to Lear's anti-matter. While he answers characters directly, I am not always certain that these answer are coming from another physical being—although this is clearly the way it's being played on the stage—as much as it is another person speaking through Lear himself. A kind of muse or a second part of Lear's personality.

One of the things that strikes me about The Fool is that he gets away with saying things that I believe no one in Lear's court would say. He speaks the truth, but when he does it's almost as a whisper. This makes me feel like I'm not watching or listening to an actual court jester, but another part of Lear's personality. The reasonable and intelligent part of Lear, but the part that Lear himself is no longer able to give his full attention to. The Fool is the voice in the back of Lear's head. The Fool is Lear's mind playing tricks on him and yet the fool is often the only voice of reason in Lear's head.

Note the following from 3.2:


Who’s there?


Marry, here’s grace and a codpiece—that’s a wise man and a fool.


Alas, sir, are you here? Things that love night

Love not such nights as these. The wrathful skies

Gallow the very wanderers of the dark,

And make them keep their caves. Since I was man,

Such sheets of fire, such bursts of horrid thunder,

Such groans of roaring wind and rain, I never

Remember to have heard. Man’s nature cannot carry

Th’ affliction nor the fear.


Let the great gods,

That keep this dreadful pudder o’er our heads,

Find out their enemies now. Tremble, thou wretch

That hast within thee undivulged crimes

Unwhipt of justice! Hide thee, thou bloody hand;

Thou perjur’d, and thou simular of virtue

That art incestuous! Caitiff, to pieces shake,

That under covert and convenient seeming

Has practic’d on man’s life! Close pent-up guilts,

Rive your concealing continents, and cry

These dreadful summoners grace. I am a man

More sinn’d against than sinning.

Note that the Earl of Kent doesn't say, "Where's the king" when he enters the room in response to The Fool, he responds directly to Lear, as if there is no one else there. I haven't looked closely enough at the entire text to see how The Fool interacts with the other characters in the play, but it seems that The Fool is only in the room at the same time as Lear and the lines he delivers often seem as if they could be delivered by Lear himself. At the very least, it seems that what he says could easily be the narrative that is playing in Lear's mind.

Edmund is of interest to me because of how clearly he sees the world and how well he is able to manipulate the world around him because of how he understands it. To me some of the best lines in the play are delivered early on after Edmund speaks with the Earl of Gloucester and the Earl reveals that he believes, "These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us." Edmund, after the Earl leaves, gives a kind of wink to the audience and then proceeds to use his knowledge of human nature to manipulate Edgar.


This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune—often the surfeits of our own behavior—we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars, as if we were villains on necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforc’d obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition on the charge of a star! My father compounded with my mother under the Dragon’s tail, and my nativity was under Ursa Major, so that it follows, I am rough and lecherous. Fut, I should have been that I am, had the maidenl’est star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing. Edgar—

Enter Edgar.

Pat! he comes like the catastrophe of the old comedy. My cue is villainous melancholy, with a sigh like Tom o’ Bedlam.—O, these eclipses do portend these divisions! fa, sol, la, mi.

In short, people will blame their poor estate on anything, the moon, the stars, the alignment of the planets, rather than take responsibility for their own actions and acknowledge what those actions have given birth to. Edmund knows this isn't so, and he knows how to use the predilections of those around him, leverage those predilections, and use them to create his own destiny. In this case he makes Edgar believe that he, Edmund, is a sworn servant of the stars and is driven hither and yon by whatever the planets dictate, which actually turns the whole idea of the stars controlling humans on its ear. Because it is in fact Edmund not the stars who is controlling Edgar.

This wisdom, this streetwise quality, I think, makes Edmund one of my favorite characters in the play.

Fortune, Fate, and Fools

There is much discussion in King Lear over the wheel of capricious Fortune, whom brings the high low and the low high on a whim. This certainly happens in the context in the play. Edmund rises from the fall of Edgar and Gloucester (3.3 22), Regan and Goneril benefit from the loss of their father’s authority, Oswald usurps Kent whom beat him mercilessly in the first act, and perhaps most fittingly the Fool becomes the wise man and the King becomes the fool. According to Kent (2.2 149) and Lear (3.2 58) their changes in fortune are the result of outside circumstances such as fate conspiring against them, as though Fortune is just spinning a wheel to victimize them. The fool knows better: “Fortune, that arrant whore/ Ne’er turns the key to the poor” (2.4 50-51) The rises and falls depicted in the play are the results of conscious efforts by actors such as Edmund and the mistakes of fools such as Lear (as the fool repeatedly points out). It seems that the play suggests that fortune and fate are but excuses for those “down on their luck” to absolve themselves of responsibility for being at the bottom of the wheel. Edmund, born a bastard, can be said to have a ‘legitimate’ excuse for his misfortune yet he seizes the day and usurps both his brother and father through his cunning alone. He is unwilling to just accept the cards that fate has dealt him and turns his draw into a winning hand. Regan and Goneril seize the “wheel” from Lear and orchestrate the falls of their father and his followers Kent and Gloucester. Even with Regan, Goneril, and Edmund firmly in control of fate, Edgar is able to rise up and seize it from them as well. Lear and Kent, complaining about Fortune’s fickle hand, sit on their asses pretending to put the “pelican daughters” (3.4 72) on trial. What the wisdom of the play (and of the fool) seems to suggest is that it is action (or the lack thereof) that makes real changes in fortune rather than passive obedience to fate. Edmund knows this; the fool knows this; Edgar comes to realize this later. Lear thinks himself “The natural fool of Fortune” (4.6 185) while raving mad. The question is whether Fortune is a supernatural force or the representation of the ‘players’ on the political stage who shape the lives of their subjects. Indeed one could say that every character in Shakespeare is subject to fate simply because they are scripted and must follow the lines they are given. Gloucester’s eyes will be clawed out because he is Gloucester, Lear will surrender his throne to his treacherous daughters because it sets the author’s plot in motion. The fortunes of these characters change only when the play is edited or adapted differently, so in a sense the whims of fortune are equivalent to the whims of the adaptor for a play. Are we merely players on a stage acting out the roles that fate has given us, or are we actors writing our own scripts?

Elizabethan Customs

In Act III it seems that almost all of the traditional Elizabethan customs of how a society or an individual in a society should act are disregarded and completely tossed to the wayside. The old or older characters are treated harshly if not cruelly by the younger characters from mere acts of rudeness to blatant forms and acts of violence against one another. Both Regan and Goneril treat their father King Lear as an invalid even before he loses his mind. They are crude and disrespectful towards him as soon as he hands over his throne to them. Their brutality is most surely a foreshadowing to what is to come not only in Act III but for the rest of the play. Both girls ignore the customary traditions of respect and to care of the older people in their society. They tell Lear that he must give up his servants and when he agrees to their conditions they slowly begin lower the amount of how many servants he can keep until they get down to zero, angering him so much that he would rather sleep outside during a storm then stay with either of his daughters. His daughters willingness and almost push of Lear to stay outside all night in a storm is only a furtherance of their lack of respect and dismay of the traditional customs or how someone should treat the older people of the community especially how a daughter should treat her father. The disregard for the social customs is again looked at when Regan and Cornwall brutalize and blind Gloucester. By traditional standards there should be a trial and a hearing to discuss the punishment for an alleged traitor.

Ingrateful fox, ’tis he.

   Bind fast his corky arms.

What mean your graces? Good my friends, consider
You are my guests. Do me no foul play, friends.

Bind him, I say.

   Hard, hard.—O filthy traitor!

Unmerciful lady as you are, I’m none.

In this case Cornwall and Regan take it upon themselves to punish Gloucester. Not only do they disregard the laws but they disregard the formal customs of respect, politeness and honor because during this time when they are punishing Gloucester they are in his house. The way in which they handle Gloucester by pulling on him and tying him up are disgraceful acts by themselves; a nobleman was never to be treated this way according to the proper traditions and customs. It has seemed however, that in all of the previous Shakespeare plays we have looked at most of the unruly and cruel characters seem to get what they deserve in the end so I'm interested to find out what will happen to Goneril, Regan and Cornwall.

Cinderella/Cordelia- Family betrayals and Character Endings

Cinderella/Cordelia- Family betrayals and Character Endings

There seems to be a small sense of a Cinderella story behind Cordelia. She seems to be the only honest and good daughter who is cast aside for her two wicked and deceitful sisters. We have seen the actions of Lear towards his daughters and that is furthered during the last 3 acts of the play. First, he compares his daughters to a storm saying “Rumble thy bellyful. Spit, fire. Spout, rain./ Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire are my daughters" (3.2.14-15). Cordelia was most noble and yet, she was neglected and the “two wicked sisters” get to have all the fun (or inheritance).

Leading to one of our themes, madness, Lear blames it on his daughters and their betrayal to him in Act 3 (3.4.59-61). He hints that it is not his fault he is going crazy, but instead, it is his daughters who have done him wrong and caused him to turn out this way. It is not until after he is transported to Dover that he starts to redeem and rebuild himself. Two other characters were considered madmen as Lear, and they include Edgar and Lear’s Fool. Edgar fakes a madness which shows a great difference from Lear's madness which makes the audience question what is real madness and how did the audience in Shakespeare’s time look at madness? Was it a good or bad thing?

The last thing I saw as a repetitive theme in the play was whether the characters were considered “good” or “evil” characters, and if one over the other, what were their parentages like? ¬¬For example, the characters of Regan, Edmund, and Goneril could be suggested as evil characters. Goneril and Regan can be seen as evil because they inevitably and mutually destruct one another because of their attraction to Edmund. Power drove them to their destiny. They wanted nothing but power. At the same time, they were bitter to their fathers and anyone else who had power. Edmund continues to be seen as evil. This negativity is shown when he orders for Cordelia to be hanged. Albany is another character. He was not necessarily evil but he seemed to expand and transform as the play goes on. Cordelia, of course, stays as the perfect character. She was honest, trustworthy, and she continues to hold a sense of integrity over all the other characters. She says “We are not the first/ Who with best meaning have incurred the worst./ For thee, oppressèd king, I am cast down;/ Myself could else outfrown false Fortune's frown" (5.3.3-6).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Animal References in Act III

There seem to be some very interesting animal references in King Lear. Some of the more prominent references are in Act III, especially in Edgar’s dialogue. It is apparent when Edgar is in disguise as Tom. In Act III, scene iv, the Fool claims that there is a spirit inside the hovel, which turns out to be Edgar. Edgar, as Tom, plays as madman and says that he is possessed. Lear and Edgar (Tom) begin speaking and Edgar begins to reflect upon different animals.

EDGAR: …hog in sloth, fox in stealth, wolf in greediness, dog in madness, lion in prey. (III.iv.91).

The footnote in The Arden Shakespeare notes that the Seven Deadly Sins take the form of animals, including the dog and the wolf.

Lear responds to Edgar with more references:

LEAR:… Thou ow’st the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume. (III.iv.101).

Their conversation continues, and Edgar further describes himself as “Poor Tom,” who:

EDGAR:…eats the swimming frog, the toad, the tadpole…swallows the old rat and the ditch-dog…(III.iv.125).

I’m interested to see if we discuss this further in class. What I found interesting was that Edgar is naked, which is his disguise, which provides a very animal-like quality to him. Animals are obviously naked and show everything they have (which is ironic in itself because Edgar's "disguise" is hardly a disguise at all). And, in the same scene, Lear tears off his clothes – the act of tearing is very animalistic. Being naked in general is more relevant to an animal – stripping down to the basis of just skin (or fur) and bones. This all seems to relate to the overall theme of Nature and the natural world present in King Lear that we have been discussing since the beginning acts. It also reflects on Lear stripping down his power and his wilting away. We discussed the other day how Lear is beginning to embrace Nature, and through Edgar, I believe his opportunity to embrace has begun.

There are also other animal references at the end of the act; Gloucester says “boarish fangs” (III.vii.57), and “if wolves had at thy gate howled that stern time…” (III.vii.63). During the fight scene with the servants, Regan says, “How now, you dog?” (III.vii.74).

I find myself picking up more and more on the animal references but specifically wanted to focus on this act (it is, however, all throughout the play, like how Kent is sent to the stocks and treated like a dog). Everything falls into place with the idea of Humans vs. Beasts and what makes us human.

Nature v. Custom

Passion v. Tradition. Freedom v. Limits. Edmund v. Edgar. Cordelia v. her sisters.

It seems to me that as of now the people who have chosen their own path being truthful to their own freedoms are getting off better than those who have chosen to follow exemplary customs. Edmund thus far has had his plan work out nicely to his advantage. As well as Cordelia's early decision to stand her ground has paid off in a positive light, she has the advantage over her other sisters of not having to witness the steeper descent into madness and pathetic behavior of their father. I think that this play does bring into question the sacrifices that people go through to stay true to what they may believe. It also calls into question whether staying true to set customs is worth the tribulations and stipulations that come with it.

Edmund who is staying true to his nature is living the life right now. He has everyone believing that he is a noble man, he has both Regan and Goneril basically throwing themselves at him and he is gaining power by the minute. Edmund is the master manipulator of this story. As we witness in Act II when he stages his brother Edgar wiping out his sword and starting a fight.
"Here stood he in the dark, his sharp sword out,
Mumbling of wicked charms, conjuring the moon
To stand's auspicious mistress,--" (II. I. 40-42)
He knows how to use a bit of his father's celestial language against his brother. He understands that if he relates intimately with the person he is manipulating more times than not the person will believe you. He also understands the visual evidence does help his case. Seeing is believing to most people and he was smart to realize a cut from his brother speaks volumes. Edmund knows his father very well and it is easy for him to place on a smiling supportive face so that his father keeps believing in his good son routine. All it takes is a simple supportive statement of Edmund supporting his father's shock of Goneril and Regan's treatment of their father to keep up his facade. Gloster then reveals an important letter pertaining to the invading French army and that although the women have forbade him to see and help Lear he will go. This is the precise thing that signs his own death warrant.
Edmund is also obviously handsome man and charming to people, because when Goneril bids him in IV.II. to go to her husband and conjure up the army she gives him a small token; a kiss. I think this kiss implies more than just a thank you for him traveling. With looks and confidence of things going his way, he is attracting more followers in his deceit. He gets both Regan and Goneril on his side, and both women desire him; he's set. They are the one with the power right now so anything he says and does truthful. They are the ones following him blindly. Which is ironic the moment Gloster stops following Edmund's word blindly he literally gets blinded. Edmund is living in his free, limitless world and yet is receiving all the benefits currently of customs.

Cordelia as well chose to stand her ground in the beginning and gives up all her inheritance. Unlike her sisters she does not need to bear the grief of watching her father being stripped down to nothingness. She is doing the best that she can while she is living in France. But unlike Edmund's freedom which involves the years of pain as a bastard child which he is now taking out on his father, Cordelia does truly love her father on her own terms and now that he is completely downtrodden all she wants to do is take care of him. When he wakes in her kingdom he believes that Cordelia will kill him. He says:
"If you have poison for me, I will drink it.
I know you do not love me; for your sisters
Have, as I do remember, done me wrong:
You have some cause, they have not." (IV.VII 75-78)
Cordelia simply answers "No cause, No cause" (IV.VII. 79). She never had the intention to hurt he father or give up all inheritance, she simply wanted her freedom. That she does have now and her fathers love again from her mercy.

Although things probably will not end well for Edmund, I do admire his passion and drive to get what he believes is rightful (which I agree) is his. I do not agree that the way that he goes about it but he in some aspect is following his heart, the same Cordelia. She will only do justice to what she knows is right for herself and best for others. These two characters have gotten a taste of what power can be when it comes to following your own beliefs and passions. I think we can all take a little of their strength and ferocity that they exhibit.