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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: October ::
Re: Kent
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1729  Tuesday, 12 October 1999.

From:           Carl Fortunato <
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Date:           Monday, 11 Oct 1999 13:42:31 EDT
Subject: 10.1722 Re: Kent
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1722 Re: Kent

>PS, for what it's worth, on Kent. Years ago, I remember setting an Essay
>Question on "love and service" in KING LEAR, and being struck by the way
>in which not one student thought of mentioning Oswald (who serves the
>wrong master-mistress of his passion, but is given verse, and dies
>trying to "serve"). Though self-consciously contrived, the Peter
>Brook-Brechtian staging of the scene where Kent assaults Oswald seemed
>to me to have one great merit, in presenting Kent as a familiar kind of
>moral thug. (Almost a Leavisite? Shakespeare never makes things easy,
>eh?)

This is strange, as (to me) Kent is one of the most consistently
"heroic" figures you will ever see in any Shakespeare play, and Oswald
one of the most thoroughly despicable.  Yes, they are both utterly
servile, but Oswald seems intrinsically dishonest and sycophantic,
whereas Kent comes across as honest and faithful.  Is the difference
between sycophantic and faithful merely a semantic one?  I don't think
so.  Oswald is servile because he believes in serving himself, and
that's the best way to do it.  Kent is servile because he believes in
serving Lear, even if it isn't in his own best interests.  I doubt that
Oswald realizes that he is likely to be killed.  He is "a servicable
villain, as duteous to the vices of [his] mistress as badness would
desire."    I think Oswald's foppishness and dandyism is intended to
cause instinctive repulsion in the audience, just as much as it cause
the same reaction in Kent.

Kent is a specific character type that Shakespeare liked to use as a
moral center - and honest, loyal, British (even when he ISN'T British!)
yeoman whose opinion is utterly reliable.  He tells the audience what to
think.  Shakespeare uses the same basic character with Enobarbus in A &
C.  And (I think) he gives him a lead role with Philip Falconbridge, the
Bastard, in King John.
Tuesday, 12 October 1999.

From:           Carl Fortunato <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 11 Oct 1999 13:42:31 EDT
Subject: 10.1722 Re: Kent
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1722 Re: Kent

>PS, for what it's worth, on Kent. Years ago, I remember setting an Essay
>Question on "love and service" in KING LEAR, and being struck by the way
>in which not one student thought of mentioning Oswald (who serves the
>wrong master-mistress of his passion, but is given verse, and dies
>trying to "serve"). Though self-consciously contrived, the Peter
>Brook-Brechtian staging of the scene where Kent assaults Oswald seemed
>to me to have one great merit, in presenting Kent as a familiar kind of
>moral thug. (Almost a Leavisite? Shakespeare never makes things easy,
>eh?)

This is strange, as (to me) Kent is one of the most consistently
"heroic" figures you will ever see in any Shakespeare play, and Oswald
one of the most thoroughly despicable.  Yes, they are both utterly
servile, but Oswald seems intrinsically dishonest and sycophantic,
whereas Kent comes across as honest and faithful.  Is the difference
between sycophantic and faithful merely a semantic one?  I don't think
so.  Oswald is servile because he believes in serving himself, and
that's the best way to do it.  Kent is servile because he believes in
serving Lear, even if it isn't in his own best interests.  I doubt that
Oswald realizes that he is likely to be killed.  He is "a servicable
villain, as duteous to the vices of [his] mistress as badness would
desire."    I think Oswald's foppishness and dandyism is intended to
cause instinctive repulsion in the audience, just as much as it cause
the same reaction in Kent.

Kent is a specific character type that Shakespeare liked to use as a
moral center - and honest, loyal, British (even when he ISN'T British!)
yeoman whose opinion is utterly reliable.  He tells the audience what to
think.  Shakespeare uses the same basic character with Enobarbus in A &
C.  And (I think) he gives him a lead role with Philip Falconbridge, the
Bastard, in King John.
 

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