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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: May ::
Re: Edgar and Edmund
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1237  Friday, 3 May 2002

[1]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 2 May 2002 11:13:09 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1220 Re: Edgar and Edmund

[2]     From:   Karen Peterson <
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        Date:   Friday, 3 May 2002 05:18:17 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1220 Re: Edgar and Edmund

[3]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Friday, 3 May 2002 08:29:08 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1167 Re: Edgar and Edmund

[4]     From:   Ed Kranz <
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        Date:   Friday, 03 May 2002 09:43:03 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1220 Re: Edgar and Edmund


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Thursday, 2 May 2002 11:13:09 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1220 Re: Edgar and Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1220 Re: Edgar and Edmund

> Sean Lawrence suggests that Edgar does not reveal
> himself to his father
> when they first meet because to do so would kill the
> old man. This is an
> interesting idea, but it doesn't seem to me to be
> true. Everything is a
> matter of timing. Revealing himself right away would
> do no harm;
> revealing himself after what he has done to
> Gloucester causes such
> contrary feelings that Gloucester's heart breaks in
> two.

"Smilingly". How do you explain that, textually, Shakespeare uses this
peculiar adverb to describe how his heart breaks? How also are we to
believe that Edgar is a "bad guy" who has inflicted heavy pain on
Gloucester? Surely the pain has been inflicted by Edmund, the creator of
all of the conflict in the family, and by Cornwall and co. for RIPPING
OUT HIS EYES for God's sake. I can find words that support a more
(though perhaps not totally) heroic view of Edgar. If Shakespeare had
meant for us to be more questioning of Edgar, he would have left us
words in the text. What about the speeches I quoted previously?  How can
you refute what they say with anything but speculation about a hidden
agenda? I would like to see something that is physically said onstage to
support this reading and I can't find it. Lear is full of instances of
spoken and openly villainous acts that the audience recognizes. I am
open to this interpretation but I just don't see it there. The word
"smilingly" seems to dispel it altogether.

I'm not saying that action isn't textually based.  Let me clarify. I was
saying that action that should be questioned is often supported by the
words that characters say. Nothing that anyone says, either Edgar or
others, subverts what he does in the play. Even Gloucester's death is
delivered in a positive context.  His heart bursts out of the
overwhelming love and joy of reunion.

I should also clarify my claim that Cordelia and Edgar prove themselves.
They don't feel the need to do so. They do so out of love of their
parent and Shakespeare feels the dramatic necessity of a journey, where
the end result is the parent's revelation of their truly loyal
offspring's UNSPOKEN but acted out love. Even Kent is in this "loyalty
test" of Shakespeare's. He, like Cordelia, speaks words Lear doesn't
want to hear and is clever enough in a disguise to continue to do so and
to act on Lear's behalf, particularly against the treasonously seditious
Oswald. The loving are punished and the evil thrive. That is why Lear is
so cynical. And then when Shakespeare gives us a glimpse of Cordelia's
restoration, he rips our hearts out too. Only Edgar doesn't die but
lives to become king, and Gloucester's heart break is under much
different circumstances.


Brian Willis

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson <
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Date:           Friday, 3 May 2002 05:18:17 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1220 Re: Edgar and Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1220 Re: Edgar and Edmund

Ed, this was an extremely interesting post.  I hope I am not intruding
into the debate with Sean by adding a query or two...

> How would you feel, Sean, if someone
> did to you what
> Gloucester did to Edgar? That is the central
> question.  And the answer
> is simple and straightforward: we all would feel
> hate and the desire for
> revenge. And so does Edgar, though he can't admit it
> to himself.

I see your point, "and do in part believe it."  But I'm not absolutely
sure that the emotional response would, simply and straightforwardly, be
hate and the desire for revenge for all of us.  You cited Cordelia's
response, which certainly entails some elements of hatred and revenge,
but the focus seems different: Cordelia's anger seems to be primarily
focused on her older sisters.  True, indirectly she is acknowledging
that Lear will suffer for what he has done.  But I don't sense a desire
for revenge against Lear.  Against Goneril and Regan, perhaps, yes.

But then, as you say, perhaps it is a matter of her not admitting her
hatred and desire for revenge against her father to herself.  Hmmm.  I
must ponder this more.

> If anyone needs to prove himself, it's
> Gloucester or Lear, isn't
> it? Aren't they the ones who have done wrong?

Lear, yes.  Gloucester...maybe.  Both of them are "guilty" of
gullibility.  But in Gloucester's case, Edmund has gone to substantial
trouble to "set up" Edgar.  Gloucester is presented with more apparent
evidence for Edgar's apparent betrayal than is Lear, who disowns
Cordelia merely on the basis of her inability to skillfully stroke his
ego (or suck up, if we want to put it more bluntly!).

Edgar trusted his father, and he trusted Edmund.  People who trust
easily, or too easily, often swing hard the in other direction when
their trust is betrayed.  This, of course, fits in with what you said
about the two fathers needing to prove themselves.  I think you're right
about this, but that much of the interaction between Edgar-in-disguise
and the blinded Gloucester has as much to do with Edgar's feelings of
having his world shattered, and not knowing who he may now trust, as it
does with a desire for revenge per se.

For what it's worth...

Cheers,
Karen

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Friday, 3 May 2002 08:29:08 -0400
Subject: 13.1167 Re: Edgar and Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1167 Re: Edgar and Edmund

Janet O'Keefe wrote:

>I don't think either of the options you list represents Lear's primary
>error.

I wouldn't have chosen the term "primary" except that I was responding
to an earlier post by Martin Steward that offered the first option as
such.  Primacy is not the function I meant to identify, but rather what
distinguishes Lear from other literary kings who attempted to divide
their kingdoms and/or disburden themselves from royal responsibility.
While I identified Gorboduc as a prototype for the former error, both of
these themes are ancient: Alexander divided his empire and it fell; the
Hebrews divided David's kingdom and it fell; etc. The latter error is a
metaphor for the medieval debate between active and contemplative life
derived from Boethius and probably older. Shakespeare's Lear does not
invent these issues; it only represents their contemporary
contextualization. What is new about Lear in this context is their
conflation with the love test. It is not resigning responsibility that
brings the tragedy (given average life expectency, an eighty year old
king would have to delegate to some degree), it is to whom (and in the
case of Lear, on what principles) state power is delegated that
characterizes Shakespeare's use of the literary convention.  There is no
reason to question Lear's gradual realization that had he reserved the
intended third of the kingdom to the most deserving daughter, he would
have had refuge from the corruption of the other two (premodern checks
and balances).

>It seems to me that Lear's primary error is the same as
>Prospero's, namely the attempt to retire from power while still holding
>the title and dignities of ruler.  Prospero retreats into his library
>while still ruling Duke, allowing his brother to do all the hard work
>while he retains the title and the glory.  Naturally his brother gets
>fed up with it and boots him out.

The problem here is that it is not natural but explicitly unnatural.
Prospero describes the process by which Antonio gradually arrogates the
dukedom as perverse ambition. (Perhaps he was thinking of Michelangelo's
Medici tomb in which the statues of the brothers have been interpreted
(as the statues of Mary and Margaret flanking the Moses) as active and
contemplative principles conjoining in government. The two are not
necessarily incompatible. A "mixed life" is possible except where the
active side is dominated by corrupted worldly ambition.) There is I
think a subtle but important difference in emphasis between condemning a
public figure for selfishly fobbing off his responsibilities, and
upbraiding him for failing to recognize the corruption of his trusted
representatives (refigured in Gonzalo's awaking of Alonso to the drawn
swords of Sebastian and Antonio).  As with Lear then, the moral of The
Tempest has less to do with the consequences of delegation of power,
than with to whom it is delegated. As Elizabethan court politics was
dominated by rivalries of factions for favorite status as counselors and
delegates, it is the selection principle that makes the discourse
politically relevant.

Clifford

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Kranz <
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Date:           Friday, 03 May 2002 09:43:03 -0400
Subject: 13.1220 Re: Edgar and Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1220 Re: Edgar and Edmund

Maybe I'm missing something here but I don't see how this follows at
all.

Ed Kranz

(much elided)
>Like Edgar, Cordelia is in a
> love/hate relationship with her father. The most obvious example is near
> the end of the opening scene when she addresses Goneril and Regan:
>
>                 Ye jewels of our father, with washed eyes
>                 Cordelia leaves you.  I know you what you are,
>                 and like a sister am most loath to call
>                 Your faults as they are named.  Love well our father.
>                 To your professed bosoms I commit him.
>                 But yet, alas, stood I within his grace,
>                 I would prefer hm to a better place.
>                                         (1.1.272-78).
>
> In these lines Cordelia reverts to the role of favorite child and so
> insults her sisters that she guarantees that Lear will be mistreated by
> them.  Take that, old man!
>
> --Ed Taft

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