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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Pessimism in Lear
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0901  Saturday, 1 April 2002

[1]     From:   David Wilson-Okamura <
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        Date:   Friday, 29 Mar 2002 11:26:58 -0600
        Subj:   Re: Pessimism in Lear

[2]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Sunday, 31 Mar 2002 09:30:33 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 13.0876 Re: Pessimism in Lear


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Wilson-Okamura <
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Date:           Friday, 29 Mar 2002 11:26:58 -0600
Subject:        Re: Pessimism in Lear

A few addenda to my earlier remarks on tragedy, in the form of
quotations:

1. C. S. Lewis, _An Experiment in Criticism_, pp. 77-79

No one denies that miseries with such a cause and such a close can occur
in real life. But if tragedy is taken as a comment on life in the sense
that we are meant to conclude from it 'This is the typical or usually or
ultimate form of human misery' then tragedy becomes wishful moonshine.
Flaws in character do cause suffering but bombs and bayonets, cancer and
polio, dictators and roadhogs, fluctuations in the value of money or in
employment, and mere meaningless coincidences cause a great deal more.
Tribulation falls on the integrated and well adjusted and prudent as
readily as on anyone else. Nor do real miseries end with a curtain and a
roll of drums 'in calm of mind, all passion spent'. The dying seldom
make magnificent last speeches. And we who watch them die do not, I
think, behave very like the minor characters in a tragic death-scene.
For us the play is not over. We have no _exeunt omnes_. The real story
does not end: it proceeds to ringing up under-takers, paying bills,
getting death certificates, finding and proving a will, answering
letters of condolence.  There is no grandeur and no finality. Real
sorrow ends neither with a bang nor a whimper....The tragedian dare not
present the totality of suffering as it usually is in its uncouth
mixture of agony with littleness, all the indignities and (save for
pity) the uninterestingness of grief. It would ruin his play. It would
be merely dull and depressing. He selects from the reality just what his
art needs; and what it needs is the exceptional.

2. Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Experience"

People grieve and bemoan themselves, but it is not half so bad with them
as they say. There are moods in which we court suffering, in the hope
that here, at least, we shall find reality, sharp peaks and edges of
truth. But it turns out to be scene-painting and counterfeit. The only
thing grief has taught me, is to know how shallow it is. That, like all
the rest, plays about the surface, and never introduces me into the
reality, for contact with which, we would even pay the costly price of
sons and lovers.

3. Dostoevsky, _Brothers Karamazov_, bk. 7, ch. 4

[A ruined woman threatens to kill her seducer with a knife. In the end,
though, she leaves the knife at home. Alyosha comments afterwards,] She
has gone to the feast....No, she has not taken the knife...That was only
a tragic phrase....Well...tragic phrases should be forgiven, they must
be.  Tragic phrases comfort the heart...

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Sunday, 31 Mar 2002 09:30:33 -0500
Subject: Re: Pessimism in Lear
Comment:        SHK 13.0876 Re: Pessimism in Lear

Martin Steward shares with us the news that, after reading King Lear, '
I always feel the need to run off to Cymbeline as quickly as possible.'
Some colleagues may be unfamiliar with this use of the play's title as a
verb.  It is of course theatrical slang for a process of cathartic
evacuation.

Terence Hawkes

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