Friday, April 29, 2011
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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!”
Sunday, April 24, 2011
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.
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
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.
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
Thursday, April 21, 2011
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:
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
I am really enjoying Lear and the richness of all the characters in this play, but there are three who I find particularly interesting:
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:
EARL OF KENT
Marry, here’s grace and a codpiece—that’s a wise man and a fool.
EARL OF KENT
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.
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
| REGAN: |
Ingrateful fox, ’tis he.
| CORNWALL: |
Bind fast his corky arms.
| GLOUCESTER: |
What mean your graces? Good my friends, consider
You are my guests. Do me no foul play, friends.
| CORNWALL: |
Bind him, I say.
Hard, hard.—O filthy traitor!
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
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.