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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: April ::
Re: The Ending of *King Lear*
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0324.  Thursday, 20 April 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Charles Boyle <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Apr 1995 14:32:06 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: Lear
 
(2)     From:   Steve Urkowitz <SURCC@CUNYVM>
        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Apr 95 23:37:19 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0309  Re: *Lr.* Ending
 
(3)     From:   David M Richman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Apr 1995 10:21:23 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0271 Re: Ending of *King Lear*
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Boyle <
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Date:           Wednesday, 19 Apr 1995 14:32:06 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Re: Lear
 
I found the discussion of the unsettled succession issue at the end of Lear
very interesting. Add to this that Shakespeare gives us an oddly ambiguous
reading of Cordelia's death. Lear dies believing she still has the breathe of
life in her ("Look on her! look! her lips! Look there, look there!"). Alive she
would be first in line. Edgar then confirms that Lear is "gone indeed." No
comment is made on Cordelia's condition. It might be said, however, that Edgar
does speak with her "lips" when he advises us, "The weight of this sad time we
must obey, Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say." This is the advice
Cordelia followed when she precipitated the whole tragedy, she spoke truth to
power.
 
In Shakespeare's time the succession was the overriding domestic issue. In the
last years of Queen Elizabeth's life concern became truly obsessive. The
Essex/Southampton rebellion against the Cecil government was essentially over
control of the succession. The care and subtly with which Shakespeare treats
the subject here suggests he was writing for a very sophisticated and
politically significant audience. The outcome, as has been noted, is for some
reason left unresolved in the text.
 
Charles Boyle
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Urkowitz <SURCC@CUNYVM>
Date:           Wednesday, 19 Apr 95 23:37:19 EDT
Subject: 6.0309  Re: *Lr.* Ending
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0309  Re: *Lr.* Ending
 
Ending of King Lear:
 
Whoa!  Hold on there, horses.  The "happy ending" of Lear isn't a sneerable
perversion of the "natural" or inevitable version.  As the notes in the
medium-priced editions tell us, all of the 300-or-so versions of the
old-king-lotsa-daughters-all-bad-but-one chestnut have the king reconciled with
the dear but too honest daughter. (always the youngest? hey, I dunno, I had
enough trouble just reading through the two versions that got me into such hot
water.)  The earliest printed title of the play is something like "The
Chronicle History of King lear and his three daughters" ('tis late, and I like
making up factoids).
 
Just imagine seeing a playbill posted near St. Pauls :  Tonight!  The Chronicle
History of King Lear and his Daughters . . .  "Hey, joey.  I remember that one.
 It's great.  C'mon.  Old guy, great ending.  Happy.  This will get you over
your depression about the black death having swallowed all your kids."  They go
to the Globe, hang out through the whole afternoon, and the old guy dies!  That
Shakespeare!  Can't trust him. He's got no respeck.
 
So after this disrespectful player/playwright messes around with people's heads
for a while, he's "corrected" to fit the taste of the age by those who are too
disturbed by considering the ways life generates painful rather than always
cheerful varieties of art.
 
My buddies in the bibliography and editing racket get all bothered by nasty
stories I've been telling that Shakespeare actually liked to disrupt our
expectations.  And You all can watch him trying out different ways of slipping
us banana peels under our feet just by looking at the alternative texts of his
plays.
 
Hey, the man (or the assemblage of players, scribes, jugglers, and whores in
the playhouses) seems to have relished surprise.  He changes old plays; and
he'd likely jump with joy watching us change his.  Let's not snarl at the
adapters tonight, deearies.  They had no tenure.
 
                                   G'night.
                                   Steve Urkowitz  
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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David M Richman <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Apr 1995 10:21:23 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0271 Re: Ending of *King Lear*
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0271 Re: Ending of *King Lear*
 
This is a belated (though I hope not too late) addition to the Lear endings
discussions.
 
I too have been confined to a Departmental Chair this semester, and one
financial disaster after another increases my sympathy for the troubles of a
divided kingdom.
 
Substantial differences exist between the final scene of Quarto *Lear* and the
final scene of Folio *Lear*.  Much discussion, here and elsewhere, has been
given to who (Albany or Edgar) speaks the final lines.  In Q, Lear does *not*
say Do you see this? look on her! Look, her lips, Look there, look there!
(Typing from memory--spelling and punctuation mine. Apologies). Instead, he
says: O, O, O, O,. I take these to be the groans of a breaking heart.  "Sighs
and groans that cost the fresh blood dear."  There is no hint, as there is in
F, that Lear, at the last, thinks that Cordelia lives.
 
Several years ago, I attempted a production based on Q *Lear*, described in
detail in my article in the Autumn '86, *Shakespeare Quarterly*.  We
discovered, when it came to the point, that we could not play Q's last lines
for Lear.  The power and familiarity of the F final lines made it impossible
for the actor, a superb performer named John Franklyn-Robbins, to utter those
groans with conviction.  Students of *Lear*'s multiple endings may want to
contemplate yet one more difficult variant. If there is interest, I can post my
SQ article to the fileserver as an electronic offprint.
 
Variably Yours,
David Richman
University of New Hampshire
 

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