The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1090  Thursday, 5 June 2003

From:           Edmund Taft <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 04 Jun 2003 11:05:07 -0400
Subject:        Edmund

John-Paul Spiro would do well to note that "killing and death" are proof
that Goneril and Regan loved Edmund, however "dumb" he may be. The
search for acceptance and love is central to Edmund's character, as it
would be for anyone who found him- or herself in his circumstances. That
this lack of love leads to actions that are socially unwarranted should
come as no surprise to anyone.

As for Spiro's seeming disdain for studying the names in this play, he
should look at them again:

        Regan = Anger = Rage(n)

        Lear = L(ear) = Leir = Real

Surely the Regan example needs no explanation. Just look at what she and
Cornwall do to Gloucester. Lear's name announces to us the importance of
sound in this play, the connection to the old Leir play, and hints that
there is more going on in _King Lear_ than a casual reader/spectator
might think.  Other names/letters are also important, as you might
expect in a play dominated by lots of letters going back and forth
between characters.

Michael Shurgot goes all the way back to L. C. Knights and his trashing
of Bradley (a much greater critic than Knights). Shurgot is just plain
wrong to suggest that all inferences about the characters' past are
somehow a sign of feeblemindedness. Such inferences may be called for,
indeed, encouraged by the play. The most obvious example is what to make
of Henry Bolingbroke in 1H4. Hotspur claims that Henry acted like a
Machiavel in Richard's time.  Did he? The play clearly poses this
question and expects us to try to answer it as best we can. After all,
if Henry IV is a bad guy, then we should be on the side of the rebels,

The same interest in the past dominates _King Lear_. Why is Edmund the
way he is? Why are Goneril and Regan the way they are? Who is more
guilty: the younger or the older generation? What, exactly, are they
guilty of?

Closing off critical examination because the reader is uncomfortable
with the nature of the questions asked, especially if the text
encourages such questions, is reactionary.

I'll end with another question that is uncomfortable. Why does France
abandon Cordelia in her moment of greatest need? Why does he send a
substitute general for the impending war? Is it really because he forgot
a great question of state and has to return to France? He says earlier
that only some "monstrous" offense would justify Lear's shabby treatment
of Cordelia. What's sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander,
no? France's "explanation" has the strong appearance of a hastily
contrived excuse.

I wonder why? (Oops! Maybe I can't wonder that! -- at least according to
Shurgot's "rules."

--Ed Taft

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