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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: April ::
Re: Speech Prefixes in "Lear"; Teaching with the New
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0431.  Tuesday, 8 April 1997.

[1]     From:   Gregory McSweeney <
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        Date:   Monday, 7 Apr 1997 15:32:08 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Speech Prefixes in "Lear"

[2]     From:   Fran Teague <
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        Date:   Monday, 07 Apr 97 16:36:12 EDT
        Subj:   Teaching with the New Folger


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gregory McSweeney <
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Date:           Monday, 7 Apr 1997 15:32:08 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Speech Prefixes in "Lear"

I enjoyed Robert Marks's discussion of the discrepancies in speech
attributions in "Lear" Q and F, especially since it's always bothered me
that the Fool drops out the way he does: sans glory, sans thanks, sans
any acknowledgment of the crucial palliation he's provided the king's
downward spiral.

I think the Fool is a better "child" to Lear than Cordelia can bring
herself to be; her reticence in the early play to declare her love
completely - if not as fulsomely as her sisters do, strikes me as a sort
of standing on principle at the expense of the filial relationship. It's
a conscious decision on Cordelia's part to showcase her own superior
morality over that of her siblings. Her father's emotional needs at this
point are excessive and exasperating, to be sure, but Cordelia is
unwilling here to humour the old guy, for fear that she might be
perceived as sycophantic or greedy. In other words, her opinion of
herself must be preserved and published, that her innate nobility may be
known to all and sundry - and domestic and political stability be
damned.

So I've never been very satisfied with the notion that she and the Fool
were doubled; that may very well have been the case, but the Fool's
support of Lear is manifestly based on ego-less love, where Cordelia's
is contingent on her father's learning some mysterious moral lesson of
which she is long since the smug graduate. I still think she benefits
greatly from not being an only child; if Regan and Goneril weren't such
absolute murderous bitches she'd come across as rather
self-congratulatory and grandiose in her modesty.

Something I've found interesting in the difference in attribution in Q
and F, however, is in 1:4, where the king asks, "Does anyone here know
me?  Does Lear walk thus," etc. The Quarto has Lear asking, "Who is it
that can tell me who I am? Lear's shadow?" The Folio indicates that
after the king asks who can tell him who he is, the retort "Lear's
shadow" is given to the Fool.

The implications are hardly earth-shattering; Q would indicate a nascent
realization on the king's part of his own deterioration; F is utterly
true to the character and honesty of the Fool, in his lack of reluctance
to report unflattering truths to his master - and yet in the latter
utterance Cordelia's judgmentalism can be clearly heard. It's as though
the things she implies through her pretentious silence are
ventriloquized through the Fool's less invested voice.

Whatever the original attributions, I find it fascinating that some
degree of the authenticity of what we codify as definitive text comes to
us from transcriptions of performances. It would obviously have been
more important to jot down the content than the attributions; some
inaccuracy would have been inevitable. But in "Lear" the blurring of the
identities of Lear and the Fool, and the Fool and Cordelia seem
liberating to me. All three are on an approximate axis in terms of
victimization, audience identification, and morality - that others like
Edgar and Kent simply aren't - though these latter two are more
unproblematically 'good,' nor can their psychologies be considered less
developed than those of the first-tier characters. Go figure.

 Greg McSweeney

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Fran Teague <
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Date:           Monday, 07 Apr 97 16:36:12 EDT
Subject:        Teaching with the New Folger

This past winter term I taught using the Folger editions, which my
students and I generally liked. Specifically, the students valued the
features of facing page notes, frequent illustrations, and top of scene
summaries.

I did find that my usual class on the text of _Hamlet_ had to be
re-thought because the edition gave no indication of the Q1 text for "To
be or not to be-ay, there's the point" or of the scene between Horatio
and Gertrude before Hamlet's return. Whether these passages are good,
bad, or indifferent, they serve as an excellent device to make students
think about the way we treat Shakespeare as a secular saint or how the
character of Gertrude is developed. I'd like to have those texts
available with some explanation so that I may teach with them.

I was also baffled to see that the "How all occasions" soliloquy was not
marked with the sort of brackets that might indicate it occurs in Q2
alone. I'm sure that there's a good reason for that, but I couldn't
figure it out.

Speaking of "How all occasions," I'm surprised more of the folks on this
list have not complained bitterly about its handling in the recent
Branagh _Hamlet_. Though I liked very much the treatment of Fortinbras
(and not everyone did, I gather), I was grumpy at the overblown shouting
and the clunky background that went with "How all occasions."
 

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