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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: June ::
Re: *Lear*
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0721.  Saturday, 28 June 1997.

[1]     From:   Carl Fortunato <
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 >
        Date:   Friday, 27 Jun 97 09:19:00 -0400
        Subj:   Re: *Lear*

[2]     From:   Carl Fortunato <
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 >
        Date:   Friday, 27 Jun 97 09:19:00 -0400
        Subj:   Re: *Lear*

[3]     From:   Carl Fortunato <
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 >
        Date:   Friday, 27 Jun 97 09:19:00 -0400
        Subj:   Re: *Lear*

[4]     From:   Carl Fortunato <
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 >
        Date:   Friday, 27 Jun 97 09:19:00 -0400
        Subj:   Re: *Lear*


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carl Fortunato <
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Date:           Friday, 27 Jun 97 09:19:00 -0400
Subject:        Re: *Lear*

> "MUCH of the anonymous drama"?  Eric Sams doesn't believe in
> collaborations, so he can only believe that it is ALL by Shakespeare
> (which [I think] he in fact does believe {still?  I'm not sure} ), or
> NOT by Shakespeare.

Interesting.  Bill averaged two plays a year, and some folks think he
wasn't prolific enough?

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carl Fortunato <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 27 Jun 97 09:19:00 -0400
Subject:        Re: *Lear*

 > I agree that there's a strong sense of alienation from God (or, 'the
 > gods'), but don't think that makes the play anti-Christian.

"Anti-Christian" was me struggling for a word.  I don't think it is
*genuinely* anti-Christian, but I think it raises the possibility, maybe
to the great discomfort of the original audience.

 >Leaving aside the fact that 'the gods' aren't God, and it may only be
 >the pagan gods who are alien, there's a good possibility of
reconciling
 >alienation with salvation within Christianity.

I think in this play "the gods" function as God, and are being used to
set a fine Druid mood (only half-successfully).  Your point is a *very*
good one.  Sort of "weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in
the morning."  This idea seems very strong during the storm ("you
houseless poverty"), but it is certainly not made explicit, and one
would think that it would be.

In fact, the Storm scene and Lear's poverty speech is the one place
where a *very* religious message seems to break through the degradation.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carl Fortunato <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 27 Jun 97 09:19:00 -0400
Subject:        Re: *Lear*

> (1) Elton's KING LEAR AND THE GODS is still very good in showing why
> it is quesionable to characterize LEAR as doctrinally "Christian" in a
> sense that would be recognizable to its contemporaries.  Elton's view
> is consistent with Carl Fortunato's point on the question.
 > (2) On Fortunato's question of whether or not Lear thinks Cordelia
 > still lives as he himself dies, Rosenberg's THE MASKS OF KING LEAR
 > provides interesting history of the varieties acting choices that
have
 > been made in response to this open question (along with much else, of
 > course).
 > (3) If forced to pick one passage that would "summarize the
 > philosophy" of the play, I don't think I'd take the "wanton flies"
one.

Sometimes choosing a single phrase actually works ("Man is a giddy
thing, and this is my conclusion"), but usually not. I did not say that
*I* thought it summarized the philosophy of the play, but that "many"
did.  I don't necessarily agree (I halfway agree), but I can easily see
why some would feel that way.  Sorry if that caused some confusion, but
I was sort of speculating on the question out loud.

 > How about, instead, the concluding lines, variously attributed to
 > Albany or Edgar (I prefer Edgar for interpretative, not
 > textual-critical reasons):  "The weight of this sad time we must
obey,
 > / Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. / The oldest have
borne
 > most.  We that are young / Shall never see so much, nor live so
long."

I prefer Albany, because it would be his place to speak the last words,
as the new ruler.  I don't know.  I find this rather uninspiring,
myself, as though it was just the expected closing speech.  It seems as
though he's just saying, "Boy, our folks have been through a lot.  Hope
it doesn't happen to me."  Not exactly one of the more stirring closing
speeches.

> If the play affirms anything, it is honesty of vision ("see much"-and
> consider how often the audience and characters are called upon to see
> and witness to what is too unbearable to behold);

I see the idea that "you gotta crawl to be tall."  I know this isn't a
very original take on it, but Lear's reclamation comes by descending to
the lowest places, and Gloster sees only after he becomes blind.  That
is what I meant about there also being a great amount of Christianity in
the play ("He who humbles himself will be exalted").  But the tension in
the play comes from the fact that the opposite view *also* thrums like a
dissenting voice throughout.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carl Fortunato <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 27 Jun 97 09:19:00 -0400
Subject:        Re: *Lear*

>> While there is a great amount of "Christianity" in the play, in many
>> ways it seems to depict a world a chaos and randomness, that is almost
>> anti-Christian.  Many people see in Gloucester's famous line:
>>
>>         "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.  They kill
>>         us for their sport."
>>
>> a summation of the entire philosophy of the play.

> I'm completely unable to see how Mr. Fortunato arrives at such an
> opinion.

Oh, dear.  *Completely*?

 > Even if we didn't have Edmund's contemptuous dismissal of
 > this idea (I.2., "This is the excellent foppery..."), every bad thing
 > in the entire play happens as the result of the deliberate action of
a
 > particular person.

With all due respect, I think you may be making the mistake of confusing
a good speech with a philosophy.  Edmund is hardly a spokesman, however
stirring his speech is.  And any "religious" message from Edmund would
seem to be negated by what must have seemed near blasphemous at the
time:

        Thou Nature art my Goddesse, to thy Law
        My seruices are bound

Nonetheless, I believe you are correct that "randomness" is not what is
seen.  However, see below.

 >This is in stark contrast to events in other
 >plays, where often some completely supernatural, or even random,
 >aberration completely changes the direction of events. I think this
why
 >we are particularly apt to cringe in horror as this play unfolds.

 >Far from being a philosophy of "the gods kill us for their sport," the
 >play denies all external influences, plainly exposing people's
 >deliberate cruelty and disregard for one another, and the
 >susceptibility of those around them to powerful sinners' selfishness.

 >This is certainly an overwhelmingly Christian point of view!

But how is "den[ying] all external influences" a Christian point of
view?  I'm afraid that what you wrote above seems to reinforce my point
that "the gods don't care."  As you point out, this is not a romance,
where a supernatural force directly intervenes to bring about justice.
Rather what happens is the result of deliberate action.  Cornwall (as
evil a character as any Shakespeare ever made) intentionally purposes
pulling out Gloster eyes, and that is exactly what he does.  His fate?
The same as Cordelia's it seems.  And there is no hint of reward or
punishment, either here or in an afterlife.  And once again, the death
of Cordelia - a truly monstrous and horrible injustice - is
Shakespeare's very intentional addition to the plot, as it does not
appear in *Leir* or any other previous version of the story.
 

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