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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Edgar and Edmund
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1145  Friday, 26 April 2002

[1]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 17:22:10 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1128 Re: Edgar and Edmund

[2]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 12:56:35 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1106 Re: Edgar and Edmund

[3]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 17:27:17 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1128 Re: Edgar and Edmund

[4]     From:   Anna Kamaralli <
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        Date:   Friday, 26 Apr 2002 14:52:53 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1106 Re: Edgar and Edmund


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 17:22:10 +0100
Subject: 13.1128 Re: Edgar and Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1128 Re: Edgar and Edmund

IN response to my ideas about nature and merit in KL, Sean wrote:

>the "merit" seems to be ascribed to "nature", i.e., what nature will use to
>make its challenge.
>In other words, I'm not sure that the distinction is very clear, at
>least not to me.

The distinction isn't very clear, you are right. Which begs the
question, why come up with such an ambiguous line? The normative reading
would be "the nature with which merit makes its challenge", but the
ambiguity implies a conflict between merit and nature which seems, to
me, to be backed up by Lear's insistence that he himself will "say" who
loves him most - over and above what "nature" dictates, whatever that
might be. Why wouldn't Lear simply say, "So that we know which of you
loves us most..."? Because he never plans to favour any of his daughters
over the others - if all went well, they'd each get an equal share in
the Kingdom (even though, "naturally" enough, one of them does indeed
love him better than the others). If it really came down to who loved
him most, there would be trouble. And indeed, Cordelia brings it to this
impasse, and there is trouble. Lear's second mistake is to criticize
Cordelia in terms which commit the category error I talked about, rather
than doing the sensible thing and choosing to interpret Cordelia's words
as just another rhetorical variation on what Goneril and Regan have
already done. Why can't he do this?  Because he hasn't really adapted
himself to the new politics, which is more about "saying" what is true,
and "merit", than it is about "nature". He wants (needs?) to play the
new game, but won't abide by the rules.

m

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 12:56:35 -0400
Subject: 13.1106 Re: Edgar and Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1106 Re: Edgar and Edmund

It's not the dividing of the kingdom that is Lear's primary error. This
is already a hackneyed trope going back at least to Gorboduc, the first
Tudor tragedy. Lear's major error is in offering property payment in
exchange for a verbal expression of love neither of which has any
necessary relation to the real substantial love he supposes them to
signify (just as the already divided map demonstrates that the enactment
of the contest originally has no relation to the actual bestowal of the
kingdom). Cordelia speaks like Chaucer's Scholer who spake no word more
than was need. Lear tries to buy the suits and ornaments of love with
the suits and ornaments of love, a linguistic signifier with a social
signifier whose abstract nature is emphasized by the prominence of the
map (a new and prominent material textual phenomenon for the Jacobeans).
Like Morocco's rejection of the dull lead in MOV and unlike Bassanio who
observes:

     So may the outward shows be least themselves:
     The world is still deceived with ornament.
     In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt,
     But, being seasoned with a gracious voice,
     Obscures the show of evil? In religion,
     What damned error, but some sober brow
     Will bless it and approve it with a text,
     Hiding the grossness with fair ornament?

Lear chooses among his three deceived by ornament and so serves as a
metaphor for the Catholic focus on ritual and ornament (whose rejection
by the Reformation incidentally echoes the Lollardy of Chaucer's day).

I cannot see how facilitating his father's virtual reality suicide can
be interpreted as a "practical joke." It looks to me instead like:

a) an effective means of ridding his suicidal thoughts

b) a kind of Early Modern psychoanalysis in which the analyst talks the
analysand through his neurotic fantasies in order to free him from their
grip

c) a kind of Early Modern Eleusinian rite in which the initiant is given
drugs and made to experience his own death

d) a metaphor for tragedy in which the performance of tragic destruction
acts as an emotional catharsis

e) some combination of the above

Practical joke or act of revenge do not seem consistent with his aside
on seeing his eyeless father: "O gods! Who is't can say 'I am at the
worst'? I am worse than e'er I was."

Clifford

PS: I disagree that the upswelling mother in Lear's heart necessarilly
equates sterility with feminization. Might it not just as easily refer
to
his parental instinct? Furthermore, might not Goneril and Regan's
conspiracy
to strip Lear of his retinue be what it appears, merely the
demonstration of
Lear's original error in equating their mutual proclamation with true
love
and so a condemnation of the Machiavellian tendencies of the younger
generation? The problem with a reading that would have Lear rather than
his
daughters deceived as to the real nature of political power is that the
sympathy of the audience is so extremely tied to Lear and Cordelia that
the
ending had to be rewritten. The values of which generation does the play
therefore valorize? Isn't there an "even so" at the conclusion of its
exploration of real politik?

>Ed is is surely right: the division of the Kingdom is a political
>howler, but it refers to a kind of deep-seated part of his character
>which also seems to generate his other mistakes (including his
>mistreatment of Goneril and Regan).

>"Which of you shall we say doth love us most," asks Lear of his
>daughters as he prepares to abdicate his regal responsibilities in
>favour of retirement, "That we our largest bounty may extend / Where
>nature doth with merit challenge?" (I.i.51-53). Making it clear that he
>will "say" who loves him most, he appears to understand that he cannot
>look into their hearts and know for sure; in other words, he seems ready
>to accept that "nature" will be overcome by the "merit" of his
>daughters' depositions. Goneril and Regan read the signs, and reply in
>kind. Cordelia alone refuses, or is unable, to behave in the customary
>manner, wanting "that glib and oily art / To speak and purpose not"
>(I.i.224-225).

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 17:27:17 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1128 Re: Edgar and Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1128 Re: Edgar and Edmund

> Do me the favor of reading my earlier SHAKSPER post
> on Edgar's failure
> to acknowledge his real motivations, and study 5.2
> very, very carefully.
> Then we can discuss the issue intelligently with
> each other.
>
> --Ed(mund)
>
> PS The historical Edgar's performance is hardly
> germane. Edgar is a
> character in a play, not a real-life person.

Having read some of Steve's fantastic scholarship, I am certain that he
is in a position to discuss Lear in intelligent detail. I can say that I
am certain without a shadow of doubt that he has read Lear 5.2 very,
very carefully many, many times.

I too am not convinced about Edgar's "villainy".  Contrast his soliloquy
in IV. i. with Edmund's in I.  ii. In such a symmetrically structured
play as Lear (perhaps perfectly symmetrical), Edgar is the Gloucester
equivalent of Cordelia. I think it is quite clear in the text of the
play that Edgar is doing what he does for the benefit of his father. He
is avenging him when he slays Edmund, as Cordelia attempts to do when
she levies an army to fight her sisters. I was struck, when I read your
first post, by the fact that none of the points you made were
substantiated by the text of the play other than stage directions. They
seemed rather to be impressions of what you saw to be odd actions taken.
Of course, there is a comic absurdity to the entire play, perfectly
embodied by the fool and reaching a climax in the storm scene, with a
virtually naked king, Poor Tom and the fool onstage at the same time.
This tone substantially impacts the play and the cliffs of Dover scene
is a reverberation and echo of this scene. Lear had to learn to become a
poor naked wretch in the storm, and Edgar is the link between the two
scenes, helping his father to "see" the truth. Shakespeare could easily
have had Edgar say "Dad, Edmund's a bastard and I was always true to
you" but that's not the profundity we are dealing with here. Edgar's
actions come across as compassionate to me, not as mocking or cruel.
Mocking and cruel is III. vii. There Gloucester is blinded by the real
villains of the piece; this scene is Edgar's way of spiritually opening
his eyes. I am always profoundly moved by their reunion and Gloucester's
abjectness - a parallel to Lear's.

I also don't think you can dismiss the historical Edgar. Look at
Shakespeare's sources for this play.  Look at the title page of Q1. "The
History of King Lear". They can't be discounted so easily.

Brian Willis

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Anna Kamaralli <
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Date:           Friday, 26 Apr 2002 14:52:53 +1000
Subject: 13.1106 Re: Edgar and Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1106 Re: Edgar and Edmund

Annalisa Castaldo wrote:

> It seems to me that in the latter part of his career, Shakespeare was
> much concerned with the idea of forgiveness. The so called problem
> comedies - Measure for Measure and All's Well - offer us the required
> happy ending in a hollow, ironic form. Horrible deeds are forgiven. In
> fact, in Measure for Measure, Isabella pleads for Angelo's life while
> she believes her brother dead by Angelo's order. The lack of reasonable
> penance by the guilty parties creates a deep sense of dissatisfaction in
> the audience.

While Angelo's repentance probably is inadequate, let's not let it
detract from the sublime humanity of seeing a person plead for someone
who has wronged them so cruelly, simply because they believe that mercy
is better than justice.  As a somewhat unforgiving person myself, I am
always awe-struck by the power of such a capacity for principle above
all personal inclination. Other aspects of these conclusions may be
hollow or ironic, but I can't see this forgiveness as either of those
things.

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