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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: March ::
Qs: Lear's Fool and Dante; Cowardice as a Facade
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0372.  Wednesday, 19 March 1997.

[1]     From:   Roger Schmeeckle" <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 Mar 1997 12:27:47 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Lear's fool as a symbol of reason, a la Dante

[2]     From:   Jason Booth <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 Mar 1997 12:56:00 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Cowardice as a Facade


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Roger Schmeeckle" <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 Mar 1997 12:27:47 -0800 (PST)
Subject:        Lear's fool as a symbol of reason, a la Dante

Dante's Commedia is an artistic vision of all of reality, temporal and
eternal, organized as Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.  It contains a
multitude of characters, usually making brief appearances and not
reappearing.  It is easy to see them, however vividly realized, as
serving a symbolic function in Dante's overall vision.  Even those who
have major roles, such as Virgil, serve a symbolic function.  Virgil
represents reason, taking Dante as far as he can, but unable to go
beyond the natural order.

Shakespeare, compared with Dante, usually has one or more very highly
developed individual characters at the center of his many dramas, so
that the tendency to concentrate on character analysis blurs the
possible symbolic function of these characters in a larger artistic
scheme.  Macbeth, for instance, is so much at the center of the play,
that it is easy to miss the fact that the play is about kingship, and
that Macbeth represents a usurper, contrasted with other representatives
of good kings.

My hypothetical suggestion is that Lear's fool functions as a symbol of
reason.  He is more or less taken for granted and ignored, but
occasionally Lear hears him, as he describes the true condition to which
Lear has been reduced.  And the audience hears the fool as the voice of
reason commenting on folly.

Like Virgil in Dante's Commedia, the fool's dropping out of the play
symbolizes the limits of human reason.  If, as I believe, the play has a
similar structure to Dante's Commedia, while differing greatly from it,
Lear's purification cannot be realized by reason alone, but requires the
experience of suffering to accomplish a stage beyond reason.  And,
eventually, it is accomplished through the ministrations of Cordelia.
Lear's contrast between his wheel of fire and Cordelia's being a soul in
bliss, then symbolizes the transition from a purgatorial phase to the
paradisal phase, only briefly and obscurely glimpsed in Lear.

Feedback would be appreciated.  I am especially interested in whether or
not Shakespeare was familiar with Dante, and any scholarship or
interpretation that might have developed a view similar to mine.

     Roger Schmeeckle

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jason Booth <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 18 Mar 1997 12:56:00 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Cowardice as a Facade

I am currently taking a introductory course on Shakespeare and am
working toward research on Richard III.  I am not sure as of what theme
I am going with yet, but I would greatly appreciate any assistance or
discussion on the topic.  I am leaning toward villainy and/or Richard's
evil as a sign of his true deep dark cowardice.
 

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