The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0849 Wednesday, 20 March 2002
From: Brandon Toropov <
Date: Tuesday, 19 Mar 2002 12:30:01 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0832 Pessimism in Lear
Comment: Re: SHK 13.0832 Pessimism in Lear
David Wilson-Okamura wrote:
> To my mind,
> there's a difference between
> wanting to *say* something and wanting to make
> an audience *feel*
> something. Let me take another example from the
> final scene. When Kent
> says "All's cheerless, dark, and deadly" I'm
> assuming that he means it
> _when he says it_. Ditto for Edgar when he
> wonders whether this present
> scene might be an image of the final horror.
> Both of these are dramatic
> statements about what it feels like when you're
> standing on a stage that
> is littered with bodies.
This is true as far as it goes .. but surely they're also *more* than
statements about how something feels, aren't they?
A comedy that ends in a marriage, for instance, is telling us something
very specific about the theatrical world of the play: "You and I,
audience member, live in a place where even the most dire obstacles and
betrayals can be overcome by a new social order; that new social
arrangement is exemplified by the formal union of these two lovers.
Look. Everyone's *happy* that these two are getting married, even the
people who were giving them a hard time/trying to kill them/spreading
lies about them/etc.! The whole world has been transformed. Aren't
fertility and married sex remarkable? When you think about it, death and
conflict may not be such big deals after all."
You see what I'm getting at? The questions raised and posed during such
a comedy are certainly about how we FEEL (or would feel) in certain
situations, but that's only a means to an end. Ultimately, the play is
about the kind of WORLD the playwright has created as the performance
concludes. How we feel is important, but it's not AS important as that
world the playwright has built for us.
The world is what all the feelings ADD UP to.
It's what we take home with us after the show.
Now in LEAR, we've got a tragic world in which WS has repeatedly posed
some variation on the question, "What, if anything, is the divine
influence on human life? Are the gods watching over us, or what?"
Different characters have provided a variety of different answers to
that question. And then, at the end of the play, the two characters with
whom we have the STRONGEST emotional connection are used to pose that
very question once again. They don't pose it themselves; they are USED
BY THE DRAMATIST as an (obvious) theatrical device to pose that
And what kind of answer do we get?
<sound cue: Atom bomb going off.>
Fill-in-the-blank time. We are justified in assuming that THAT'S the
kind of world he's built for us in this play.
To me, this all has much more to do with a (traceable) increasing
darkness and bitterness in WS's dramatic work from about _Much Ado_
onwards than it does with the narrow question, "How would you feel if
you were an old man and someone murdered your innocent daughter?"
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