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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: June ::
Re: MM "Glass"; Q?U/E/R/T/Y; Lear
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0670.  Tuesday, 17 June 1997.

[1]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 16 Jun 1997 10:46:01 -0700
        Subj:   MM "glass"

[2]     From:   Rebecca C Totaro <
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        Date:   Monday, 16 Jun 1997 15:39:05 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0663 CFP: Q/W/E/R/T/Y and As You Like It

[3]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 17 Jun 1997 00:24:56 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0667  Re: Lear; Cordelia


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Monday, 16 Jun 1997 10:46:01 -0700
Subject:        MM "glass"

Hi, folks.

One possibility that I'm surprised no one has mentioned in explication
"His glassy essence" is that it's a Biblical reference.  My copy of
Cruden's lists three uses of 'glass' excluding the Apocalypse:  1
Corinthians 13.12, 2 Corinthians 3.18, and James 1. 23.  Given that
Isabella is a nun, a biblical reference might very well be intended.

The first of these is probably the most interesting:  "For now we see
through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:  now I know in part; but
then shall I know even as also I am known."  It's not just that this is
the most famous usage: it also links the properties of glass (i.e.,
"glassiness") with the weakness of our merely human knowledge.  The
chapter as a whole, interestingly enough, discounts human knowledge,
even prophecy, in favour of "charity".  It's the perfect reference,
then, for a nun who is urging charity to a man prideful enough to think
his judgement sufficient to kill a man, and urging him to recognize
himself fragile and human rather than omniscient and god-like (hence the
metaphor about the ape, which follows the phrase in question).

The other two references, I think, support a reading of "glassy" as
indicating both human ignorance and weakness generally.  2 Corinthians
3.18 implies that people are glasses wherein the image of God is seen,
and which merely (passively?) reflect the glory revealed to us.  It is
preceded by a description of how the glory of God is 'veiled' in the Old
Testament.

Finally, James 1.23 argues that anyone who hears the law should act
according to it.  To those who do not truly appropriate the law, it
appears as little more than one's personal reflection, transitory and
ephemeral.  "For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is
like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass."

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Rebecca C Totaro <
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Date:           Monday, 16 Jun 1997 15:39:05 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 8.0663 CFP: Q/W/E/R/T/Y and As You Like It
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0663 CFP: Q/W/E/R/T/Y and As You Like It

I'm unable to contact Professor Bertrand Pau at the e-mail address given
in his call for papers.  Can anyone help?

Thank you,
Rebecca Totaro

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[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 Jun 1997 00:24:56 +0100
Subject: 8.0667  Re: Lear; Cordelia
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0667  Re: Lear; Cordelia

>> "Do we pity Lear?  Possibly, yes.  We see him, at the end of the play,
>> as 'more sinned against than sinning', as Caroline Spurgeon puts it
>> [Shakespeare's Iterative Imagery], 'a human body in anguished
>> movement-tugged, wrenched, beaten, pierced, stung, scourged, dislocated,
>> flayed, gashed, scalded, tortured, and finally broken on the rack.'
>
>I tried unsuccessfully to locate the Spurgeon citation.  Is it a book,
>an article, or a selection in a book by another title?
>
>Whatever the case, to apply this to Lear without qualification is to
>fail to relate it to Lear's development in the play.  It represents the
>stage of Lear's selfishness and lack of self-knowledge, as commented on
>by his wicked daughters.  In the play Lear proceeds from pre-occupation
>with self towards concern for others, as evidenced by his recognition
>that to continue to harbor resentment leads to madness, to his
>realization that he had far too little concern for his subjects, and,
>most important of all, his asking Cordelia to forgive him.
>
>Cordelia would have a much better claim to being more sinned against
>than sinning, but she doesn't waste emotion on self-pity.
>
>> "Once Lear's wits turn, he finally begins to lay his insides out, to
>> inspect more honestly than ever before the world he helped make.  But
>> it's not that Lear changes or grows wise;  rather, he becomes more
>> aware.  Barbara Everett ("The New King Lear") captures this nicely:
>> 'Lear commands attention continually by the degree to which the simplest
>> discoveries become, through him, a matter of immediate physical
>> experience, felt both intensely and comprehensively.'
>
>I do not understand the distinction you are making between becoming wise
>and becoming more aware.  They would seem to be positively correlated.
>
>     Roger Schmeeckle

I have been very slow in catching up with this debate- UK often is many
ours behind, I fear. What I simply cannot get to grips with is the
enormity of Lear's crimes - dismemberment of a kingdom (prime
Shakespearian crime, surely?), the dismemberment of a family - nay TWO
families indirectly - being the catalyst of horrors beyond belief (Glos'
eyes), and then having the temerity to presume upon our sympathy, our
compassion. And IS he ever mad? In what sense? Lear makes me both very
angry and very chilly, and very inhumane: perhaps that is the subtle
savour of the play's power? That it invites the kind of cold-heartedness
in its critics and students that creates the kind of crimes perpetrated
by Lear and Cornwall? I simply cannot go along with the notion that he
is a poor old great old man brought low by maltreatment,
misunderstanding by two heartless daughters, and then suffering a series
of punishments out of all proportion to his crimes. I have indeed seen
some wonderful Lears on stage, I have sat in audiences sponsored by
Kleenex tissues, but in 30 years of theatre going and many fine shows, I
have never been moved by it. I have taught it at least a dozen times to
a variety of students, and never been able to explian my reticence to
them. The postings I am replying to encapsulate a real problem with the
play that I think much of the critical consensus seems to avoid: they
all seem to assume (at least the ones I read!) that we collectively
share compassion and awe as we watch the grand old man tottering towards
death with the daughter in his arms he has effectively persecuted and
sent to her death. This century is littered with examples of corrosive,
destructive masculine dictatorship, the terrifying exercise of power for
incredible and discreditable ends, and yet we are still bidden to
sympathise with the archetypal careless dictator? Sorry. I can't.

Stuart Manger
 

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