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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: November ::
Re: Burgundy and France
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2019  Tuesday, 16 November 1999.

From:           Stanley Wells <
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Date:           Wednesday, 17 Nov 1999 11:37:48 -0000
Subject: Re: Burgundy and France
Comment:        SHK 10.1954 Re: Burgundy and France

I am grateful for the helpful messages in response to mine about
Burgundy and France, which have made me think harder about the QF
reading. It seems courteous to ask the editor's indulgence for a fairly
thorough reply, and I apologise for the length of this message.

The idea that 'Gonoril's "further compliment of leave-taking" may be
ironic, in that she means that the two kings are offstage raging at each
other' (Bill Godshalk) seems to me to be tenable but unlikely. This is
of course a subjective response which can neither be proven nor refuted.

The view expressed by Brother Antony and others that 'Lear is not
'complimenting France', . . . he is performing the formal ceremony of
leave-taking which is due to one king visiting another' is also tenable
but difficult to reconcile with Gloucester's words 'France in choler
parted.' Brother Antony suggests that 'The modern sense of "paying some
one a compliment" is hardly attested so early', but my interpretation
does not require this sense, and is quite consonant with the definitions
given in OED which he quotes - 'Observance of ceremony in social
relations; ceremoniousness; formal civility; politeness or courtesy'. A
quotation kindly supplied by Alan Dessen is helpful: "The King and Queen
with Courtly Compliments salute and part" (Noble Spanish Soldier, 1.1.0)
Even if (as has been privately suggested), the alternative spelling
'complement', meaning 'That which completes or makes perfect', were to
be adopted, this would still be incompatible with France's 'choler.'

The idea that Lear would have been formally courteous to the King of
France but would not have felt the need to extend equal courtesies to
the Duke of Burgundy is interesting (even though Burgundy was a very
considerable power) but hard to reconcile with Lear's parting words:

Thou hast her, France. Let he be thine, for we
Have no such daughter, nor shall ever see
That face of hers again. Therefore be gone,
Without our grace, our love, our benison. -
Come, noble Burgundy.

'Therefore . . . benison' could, of course be addressed simply to
Cordelia; but equally could be addressed to the pair, which would help
to explain France's 'choler.' Lear's conspicuous courtesy to Burgundy on
their exit together surely indicates that he is (rudely) ignoring the
French King at this point: 'Come, noble Burgundy' seems to me to be
Shakespeare's ironical way of pointing Lear's inversion of true
judgement.

Brother Antony further remarks that 'the line is odd since it comes in
the middle of Goneril and Reagan's [sic] complaints about their father,
they having remained on stage after France and Cordelia have left; Lear
and Burgundy left together some time earlier and would have said goodbye
at once. In modern productions, Goneril has to look into the wings as if
she can see something happening offstage but Shakespeare's theatre had
no wings...?' This seems to me to be treating the play too
realistically; even in those terms, Burgundy would have needed time to
pack. Also realistically, Goneril's remark could be prompted by offstage
sounds. (The lines have been cut in most post-War RSC productions.)

Simon Morris's suggestion that Lear doesn't really mean what he says to
Cordelia (and possibly to France) seems to me to be a theatrically
unviable over-interpretation.

Tom Bishop remarks that 'A change to a reference to Burgundy diverts the
main current of the sisters' concern, which is with the dangers Lear's
instability continues to pose for their new- gained political clout'. I
see no irrelevance in Goneril's referring to Burgundy at this point.
Following on from Regan's mention of 'Kent's banishment' it reinforces
the emphasis on Lear's faulty judgement.

Overall, I am still not convinced that Shakespeare meant what he
probably wrote. This raises the difficult philosophical question of
whether editors should correct what their authors wrote. Mine often do,
and I am grateful (when they are right) - if I were editing Brother
Antony's note for publication, I should alter 'Reagan' to 'Regan.' But
of course Shakespeare is not in a position to tell me I am wrong. Tony
Burton's proposal that I should simply raise the matter in a note while
following the original text seems to me an evasion of editorial
responsibility.  It seems proper to me that editors should have the
courage of their convictions, refusing the soft option of evading the
obloquy of their colleagues by ducking into the trenches of the
commentary whenever danger looms. This is why the Oxford edition, of
which I (along with Gary Taylor) am General Editor) differs at many
points, for better or for worse, from other editions. Editions are
verbal constructs like any other, and are rapidly superseded. The early
texts contain many manifest errors, the quarto of 'King Lear' more than
most. They also contain false starts - anyone seriously interested in
the matter of Innogen in 'Much Ado About Nothing' would do well to read
the unedited first quarto rather than relying on edited texts before
expressing views about it. It is an editor's job to correct error to the
best of his ability. That is what I am trying to do.

Stanley Wells
 

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