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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: May ::
Re: Themes in King Lear; Smiley's 1000 Acres
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0613.  Friday, 30 May 1997.

[1]     From:   Chris Clark <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 May 1997 21:08:23 GMT
        Subj:   Re: Themes in King Lear

[2]     From:   Jocelyn Emerson <
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        Date:    Thursday, 29 May 1997 17:08:36 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0608  Re: Themes in King Lear


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Clark <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 May 1997 21:08:23 GMT
Subject:        Re: Themes in King Lear

One theme I managed to totally miss is the religious connotation or
debate that is encapsulated within the play:

Cordelia is a bit of a Jesus figure really - mistreated but returning to
provide redemption (hints of prodigal son too)

Albany - turning the other cheek

Edmund - Judas

The pagan/other religion sides to the argument are presented by Edgar,
Albany and Gloucester with their occult-type views (Albany believing in
Justicers, Gloucester in Gods and that the planets can be used to
determine our fate, and Edgar also believing in the astrology stuff).

Gloucester at one point says 'And that's true too,' illustrating the
manner in which this play shows different sides to the same arguments,
leaving us to make the final decision.
Thanks for all the helpful replies I've received to my previous
submission...

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jocelyn Emerson <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 May 1997 17:08:36 -0600
Subject: 8.0608  Re: Themes in King Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0608  Re: Themes in King Lear

>One theme of Lear is that of old age, and the horror of Lear's
>self-discovery:  His shallow vanity has poisoned his family
>relationships and left him destitute in his old age, with no time left
>to make things right.  Life is perhaps a race between self-knowledge and
>death, and death always wins; but it matters, sometimes a lot, how soon
>we learn what we DO manage to learn...by the way, an interesting take on
>the Lear story, re-set in the American heartland, is Jane Smiley's A
>Thousand Acres.  Imagine the story told from Goneril's point of view,
>with Cordelia as a bitch lawyer and Edmond as a Vietnam deserter and
>organic farmer, and the old man...well, he's evil in ways that Lear
>never was.

In response to Alan Pierpoint's discussion of Smiley's A Thousand Acres
and her novel's recontextualization of the Lear stories/myths
(Shakespeare's foremost among them), there are several points to
consider which Pierpoint misses.  Smiley's novel brings to the fore the
issues of Lear's "love contest" in the play's opening as a
socially/politically sanctioned rhetoric of incest, full of all the
abuses of power which characterize incest.  Although we don't encounter
physical incest/rape as such, as we currently define it in our social
discourses, it's implications are everywhere, especially in that early
scene.  In fact the love contest does discoursively represent/embody the
evil of incest, and subsequently Lear's position in that discourse of
power.  This is not to conflate rhetoric with the actuality of sexual
abuse and assault, but  Smiley's novel enables us to see the political
and familial dynamics/roots of patriarchy in which incest is prevalent
as a *structured* form of power, and to see those characteristics as
socially as well as individually situated-and indeed, that the social
and the "personal" are not, in fact, separate as embodied in the body of
the king.  Larry acts on that power in A Thousand Acres in physical
ways, but Lear's discoursive incest tropes remind us that such abusive
power is always an option for Lear, as a man and as a king, and is
embedded in social/political structures and that both the physical and
the verbal are deeply related aspects of that abuse of power.

I also wonder what is so "bitchy" about Caroline and how that clearly
the use of that gendered term reminds us, again, of both the play's
overwhelming anxiety about women in positions of power-i.e.,. they're
unrelentingly evil or like Cordelia, unrelentingly silent and virtuous
beyond compare-and our own culture's parallel fears.  In the play, it's
clearly a polemic portrait stemming from larger cultural assumptions
about women as having an essential and irrefutable nature that's evil or
virginal.  Smiley's novel clearly complicates that polemic by showing it
as constructed rather than "natural".  In Caroline we have a character
who is strong-willed, independent, devoted to her father because her
experience (based on female-centered nurturing) is radically different
from that of Rose or Ginny.  That she doesn't live with the trauma of
incest and that her self-determination was protected and nurtured by her
older sisters makes her, in great measure., what she is-not an "evil"
nature.  How then, does that make her a "bitch"?
 

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