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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Edgar and Edmund
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1167  Monday, 29 April 2002

[1]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Friday, 26 Apr 2002 09:13:47 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1145 Re: Edgar and Edmund

[2]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Friday, 26 Apr 2002 14:31:43 -0400
        Subj:   Edgar and Edmund

[3]     From:   Janet OKeefe <
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        Date:   27 Apr 2002 09:35:31 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1145 Re: Edgar and Edmund


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Friday, 26 Apr 2002 09:13:47 -0700
Subject: 13.1145 Re: Edgar and Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1145 Re: Edgar and Edmund

Martin Steward asks,

>The distinction isn't very clear, you are right. Which begs the
>question, why come up with such an ambiguous line?

Because it sounds nice?  Bear in mind that the ambiguous line only
exists in the F1 text.

>The normative reading
>would be "the nature with which merit makes its challenge",

Actually, no, I think it's "the merit with which nature makes its
challenge".  The "merit", therefore, is inspired by "nature", and there
isn't much of a difference.  More importantly, since Lear himself judges
both, whether he thinks that the nature is truly reflected in the merit,
or the merit in the nature, or that he has direct access to his
daughters's natures, or that their merit is sufficient without nature,
is all sort of academic.  It's all his own narcissistic projection
anyway.  His daughters are like Echo, from whom he hears only his own
voice.

>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).

I don't think this is true.  He tempts Cordelia with "A third more
opulent than your sisters".

He won't, as I've already argued, say "So that we know which of you
loves us most" because he is insisting on their status as things for him
to interpret.  They are to be under his control both in speaking on
demand, and in having their words interpreted by him.

>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.

Indeed.  There is trouble because Lear can't accept love any more than
he can accept forgiveness.  To do either would be to accept a pure gift,
impossible to buy or earn with love or land or speeches, and coming from
a radical alterior, outside his control and resistant to his grasp or
even comprehension.

Instead of really asking for, and being able to receive, the love of
another, he reduces the love-test to a bargain (in which he only has to
receive what he can purchase or demand) and a command performance (in
which he only has to hear speeches which, if he hasn't actually
scripted, he at least elicits).

>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 by surprising him, she shows her independence.  She is resistant
to his ability to control the world.  He does try to interpret her, but
desperately, in declaring her "untender."

Cheers,
Se

 

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