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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: June ::
Re: Edmund
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1128  Monday, 9 June 2003

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Friday, 06 Jun 2003 12:26:36 -0400
        Subj:   Edmund

[2]     From:   James Doyle <
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        Date:   Sunday, 8 Jun 2003 21:42:39 +0100
        Subj:   Edmund

[3]     From:   Todd Gutmann <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Jun 2003 02:51:04 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1078 Re: Edmund


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Friday, 06 Jun 2003 12:26:36 -0400
Subject:        Edmund

Dear Colleagues:

Michael Shurgot writes:

"I honestly cannot imagine that any spectators in a truly superior
production of King Lear are wondering why France is not on stage in 4.6;
everyone is watching Cordelia's emotionally terrifying yet beautiful
reunion with her father. That is the "business" of 4.6; France has
nothing to do with it."

Maybe, Mike. But surely the audience wonders in 4.3 why France might be
deserting Cordelia. After all, she might lose the battle or be captured
or even die. He could prevent -- or try to prevent -- this if he were
personally there. As for 4.7, you might note that Lear only partially
apologizes for how he treated Cordelia in the opening scene, and he does
not apologize at all for his treatment of Goneril and Regan. Attentive
playgoers and readers should wonder whether this son-of-a-bitch is ever
going to come clean. And they may also wonder whether he is worth losing
a husband for! Is this father-daughter reunion really so great when it
supplants Cordelia's earlier effort at independence and a new life and a
new love with France? And look what it soon leads to: within a short
time, Lear is gloating over the fact that Cordelia is now trapped with
him ("Have I caught thee?")! The reunion of Lear and Cordelia that is
often so admired is, to put it bluntly, psychologically regressive and
good only for Lear. Why male critics admire it so much is an issue that
feminist scholars might with some profit (re)consider. A better man than
Lear would tell the victors to free his youngest duaghter so that she
can go back to her husband, and then let Lear face the consequences
alone. That would be the right thing to do.

Writing of Egar, John-Paul Spiro asks me

"Can you tell me where he shows his rage for his father?  And what is
the connection between "Lear" and "real"?  Is it like the connection
between "Elvis" and "lives"?

I'll ignore the obvious insult and simply point out that Edgar's
aggression toward his father is manifest time and time again in the
son's actions. Think about making an 80+ year-old man fall flat on his
face, or leading him on an endless journey, or leaving him under a tree
close to the battlefield where he can hear the terrifying sounds of
battle but, because blind, cannot see what is happening or defend
himself. No wonder Gloucester has a heart attack.

As for Lear and Real, the problem with Lear is that he never fully
acknowledges to himself (or to others) his wrongdoing. He comes close,
but then he pulls back. As a result, he is playing a game with himself
(and with us) that we have to see through if we are to really understand
him. As one simple example, why doesn't Lear heed the fool's advice and
come in out of the storm in 3.2.10ff? He may be mad at his daughters but
why expose himself to the elements in this way? It's foolish for an old
man to show defiance by risking sickness. The answer, it seems to me, is
that he wants to be punished for what he has done to his children.
That's why he exposes himself to the unmerciful rage of the elements. He
knows at some level that he deserves it.  What, then, did he do that is
so awful?

There is, of course, a revealing medical answer: he suffers in 4.6 and
4.7 from "exposure."

Finally, I say to Jack Hettinger, "Don't stop there!" A serious look at
the name "Goneril" suggests "gone girl" -- appropriate for the
"masculine" Goneril who marries a Casper Milktoast. But does it also
mean that she never had or somehow lost the experience of being a girl?

Why such resistance to studying the names in this play? After all,
Shake-speare's use of names in _Othello_ , written just before _Lear_,
is parallel: Ot(hell)o; O-tell-o, C(ass)io; Des(demon)a. Do I have to
explain any of these?
I sure hope not.

Perhaps we should admit that critics and audiences alike have a hard
time acknowledging the real Lear (= Real)  and what this play is really
about (to get back to Professor Spiro's question). I can help.

Old men are creatures of habit. So what does it mean when, in the
opening scene, Lear uses his position and his power to force from his
three daughters totally inappropriate expressions of love? If he would
do that in public, for god sakes what has he done in private?

--Ed(mund) Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Doyle <
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Date:           Sunday, 8 Jun 2003 21:42:39 +0100
Subject:        Edmund

I can't comment on why Edmund is the way he is - he's one of the
characters I find completely incomprehensible, and would never dream of
trying to act.

As for the conversion, it's always puzzled me, and I have, on several
occasions, asked friends who have seen the play with me what they
thought of it.  Almost invariably, those new to the play don't register
the conversion at all - the last scene moves so fast and builds so
tensely to the final deaths that they don't have time to think about a
relatively minor matter like that.  That's always assuming the
production matches the speed of quality of the text, of course.

Once people know the story, they do see the puzzle of his sudden change
of character - John-Paul Spiro's idea that Shakespeare deliberately
wrote it as an unconvincing transformation is very intriguing, and one I
find quite powerful.  I know someone who is directing Lear this autumn,
and will pass some of these discussions on this crux on to her.

And the anagrams are a joke, right?  They're nearly the DAFTE{s}T thing
I've heard on here :)

James Doyle

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Todd Gutmann <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Jun 2003 02:51:04 +0200
Subject: 14.1078 Re: Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1078 Re: Edmund

In a pair of recent posts, Michael Shurgot questions Ed Taft's inquiry
into the motives of characters in Lear.

To Mr. Taft's suggestion that Edmund's apparent change of heart as he
dies is due to feeling loved for the first time, Mr. Shurgot writes:

>A character is not a somebody who walks into our
>house one day with 25+ years of having actually lived on this planet

Shakespeare created characters who behave as if they did and do have
lives other than what we see on stage, and to speculate about those
lives can be useful. That Edmund has felt unloved is a reasonable
supposition based on what we see and hear of him.

Of Mr. Taft's speculation about France's failure to return with
Cordelia, Mr. Shurgot writes:

>Surely France "leaves" to go home because the reunion that matters is that
>between Cordelia and Lear, not between Cordelia + France and Lear.

Granted. But what has it got to do with Mr. Taft's questions? That
Shakespeare had a reason for wanting a character present on or absent
from the stage at a given moment--as he must have had for every presence
and absence--doesn't mean that the character doesn't have his or her own
reason.

Whether or not Mr. Taft's questions about France lead to useful
insights, there is nothing inherently fruitless in his examining
characters' motives.

Todd Gutmann

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