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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Pessimism in Lear
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0952  Friday, 5 April 2002

[1]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Thursday, 4 Apr 2002 09:07:06 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0947 Re: Pessimism in Lear

[2]     From:   Steve Roth <
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        Date:   Thursday, 4 Apr 2002 09:48:05 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0947 Re: Pessimism in Lear

[3]     From:   R. Schmeeckle <
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        Date:   Thursday, 4 Apr 2002 12:52:33 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0876 Re: Pessimism in Lear


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Thursday, 4 Apr 2002 09:07:06 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0947 Re: Pessimism in Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0947 Re: Pessimism in Lear

Martin Steward writes, good humoredly, "Prof. Hawkes made a good joke at
my expense.  But to pretend that 'Cymbeline' is an infinitive is
patently absurd.  It is clearly an adjective. As in "Though I speak with
the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am as sounding
brass, or cymbeline.  Don Bloom interestingly draws our attention to the
element, 'simba'.  For, as the Soothsayer tells Posthumus, 'Thou,
Leonatus, art the lion's whelp; / The fit and apt construction of thy
name, / Being Leo-natus, doth impart so much' (V.v.443-445) [see Gen
49:8-10]. The cymbalism turns out to be more wide-ranging than Judah've
thought."

Me thinks, th'gentl'm'n bespeak too much.  Cymbeline is a musical
cryptogram, according to Lewis Carroll, a portmanteau word derivative
from WS's line: "a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, /
Signifying nothing:"  Cymbal-imbecile."  [See the Marchioness of Mock
Turtles anagram-speech to the Red Lion, Chapter Nine, _Alice's Adventure
in Wonderland_, Verse Nine ]

Bill Arnold

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Roth <
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Date:           Thursday, 4 Apr 2002 09:48:05 -0800
Subject: 13.0947 Re: Pessimism in Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0947 Re: Pessimism in Lear

Martin Seward:

>Don Bloom interestingly draws our attention to the element, "simba".
>For, as the Soothsayer tells Posthumus, "Thou, Leonatus, art the lion's
>whelp; / The fit and apt construction of thy name, / Being Leo-natus,
>doth impart so much" (V.v.443-445) [see Gen 49:8-10]. The cymbalism
>turns out to be more wide-ranging than Judah've thought.

If, as someone noted, Disney's Lion King (lead character is Simba) is
"Hamlet with fur," then Hamlet might aptly be termed "simbaline."

Steve

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           R. Schmeeckle <
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Date:           Thursday, 4 Apr 2002 12:52:33 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0876 Re: Pessimism in Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0876 Re: Pessimism in Lear

> Roger Schmeeckle gives us his optimistic interpretation of Lear, and
> then invites us to "Shoot it down if you can, but, if it sheds any light
> on a play that ends in darkness, welcome the light". There's no need for
> any of us to shoot it down. Shakespeare has done it already in his play.
> That's not to say Roger's interpretation is wrong. Lear is the greatest
> aporia in world literature, I think. It defeats criticism, because it
> offers ideas that undermine one another consistently and unflinchingly.
> I don't usually get all romantic and essentialist about plays - but Lear
> frightens me because it feels like reality, even though the reality it
> describes is far more terrifying than anything I have experienced.
> Reading it is one the most peculiar experiences I know, not altogether
> pleasant; I always feel the need to run off to Cymbeline as quickly as
> possible. Keats writes about it well in that sonnet of his; I guess
> because it is the play which best exemplifies that "negative capability"
> he described elsewhere.
> As for it being a Fifth Gospel: well, the Gospels aren't exactly a
> barrel of laughs, are they? And they are similarly dogged by the spectre
> of aporia...

I did not consider my interpretation an optimistic one.  I think
optimistic-pessimistic is an either-or dichotomy that does not apply,
either to the play, the characters, Shakespeare's mood, or my own.  Lear
presents events that could happen and that, in the "real" world, do to
some people.  Bodies are scattered around at the end and most of the
characters are dead (what could be more real than ending in the death of
most of the characters since we all will really die?), but on the way to
that ending there are examples of truthfulness, loyalty, forgiveness,
sacrifice, avoiding suicidal impulses, purification of negative
passions, and reconciliation, hardly consistent with the play as a
simple triumph of darkness.

As for the presumed grabbag of aporia, in both Lear and the gospels,
rendering them resistant to interpretation, even frightening, their
seems to be an underlying fallacy.  From the many difficulties, it does
not follow that interpretation is impossible, only that it is difficult
or problematic.  Both Lear and the gospels have been interpreted,
reinterpreted, and misinterpreted for hundreds of years, but it does not
follow that we should regard all interpretations as equal, let alone
equally false; some can be falsified; some are better than others; the
text is there as a constraint on any interpretation.

You seem to have dismissed my interpretation, not by falsifying any of
the claims or by offering a better interpretation of the features on
which it was based, but rather by suggesting that interpretation is
futile.

I rather sketchily outlined my interpretation and the elements and
patterns on which it was based: spectrum of characters, nothing texts,
references to gods/God, scriptural allusions applied to Cordelia, the
theme of contrasting kingdoms.  I do not mean to imply that these are
the only elements of the work that need to be considered, but I do
contend that any good interpretation must include them. I will try to
work up  arguments that are more developed in terms of textual
references, that might be more acceptable to the many very good scholars
on this list.

You called Lear the greatest aporia in world literature.  I am willing
to agree that it is the greatest work of literature, if any can be said
to deserve that label, with the possible exception of Dante's Commedia,
two works that have much in common.

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