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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: June ::
Re: Edmund
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1144  Tuesday, 10 June 2003

[1]     From:   Sherri Fillingham <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Jun 2003 11:53:14 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1128 Re: Edmund

[2]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 09 Jun 2003 12:16:09 -0400
        Subj:   Edmund

[3]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Jun 2003 14:14:04 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1128 Re: Edmund

[4]     From:   Mary Jane Miller <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Jun 2003 14:25:20 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1128 Re: Edmund

[5]     From:   Michael Shurgot <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Jun 2003 11:32:28 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.1128 Re: Edmund

[6]     From:   Gareth M. Euridge <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Jun 2003 15:34:53 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.1128 Re: Edmund

[7]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Monday, 09 Jun 2003 16:13:48 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1128 Re: Edmund

[8]     From:   Sean Lawrence<
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Jun 2003 18:07:24 -0300
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.1128 Re: Edmund


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sherri Fillingham <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Jun 2003 11:53:14 EDT
Subject: 14.1128 Re: Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1128 Re: Edmund

>A better man than
>Lear would tell the victors to free his youngest daughter so that
>she can go back to her husband, and then let Lear face the
>consequences alone.

Um, but isn't he technically taken prisoner because he is part of an
invading army?  He's not the one in the wrong as far as the armies are
concerned.  They're concerned because the army of France has invaded,
aren't they?  She's the actual prisoner as the head of the army at this
point in time.  Lear's just a nice extra catch.

At least that's my understanding.

Sherri Fillingham

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 09 Jun 2003 12:16:09 -0400
Subject:        Edmund

James Doyle writes:

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

I'll try to take your comments with the smile that you add at the end,
but I'd humbly suggest that revealing names and anagrams are not at all
foreign to the Renaissance: Hotspur, Dull, Holofernes, Lucio,
Hamlet/Hamnet, Gads Hill/Gadshill, Pistol,
[Malvolio/Viola/Olivia/Orsino], and that's just a small sample form
Shakespeare!

Anagrams, in particular, are often used to signal that there is a puzzle
to be solved. I think that _Lear_ presents more of a puzzle than is
common-ly assumed.

E.T.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Jun 2003 14:14:04 -0400
Subject: 14.1128 Re: Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1128 Re: Edmund

>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.

1.  Where does Ed Taft get the idea that Gloucester is 80?

2.  If Edgar feels such rage at his father why does he put himself
doubly at risk to help Gloucester escape, first by coming far enough out
of his own hiding to associate himself with a proclaimed traitor, and
second by taking on the sworded Oswald armed only with a staff?

3.  Encouraging Gloucester to fall flat on his face is one way to
visualize the fake suicide scene in *Lr*.  There are others.  In any
case, this is Edgar's therapy for Gloucester's self-destructive
despair.  It seems to work.  What would Taft suggest as an alternative?

4.  The "endless journey" seems to occupy no more than a few hours.  It
is undertaken in order to seek the protection of Cordelia's army; the
precaution seems well-advised when Oswald arrives, and the fact that the
pursuit, when it appears, is a solitary household servant and not a
dozen soldiers makes it doubly appropriate.

5.  If the purpose of the trip to Dover was to look for protection from
Cordelia, to lead Gloucester away from her army and the battle would
negate the "endless" journey.   Gloucester's response to Edgar's finding
him such shelter as is available is a blessing, not a statement of
anxiety or alarm ("Grace go with you, sir" [5.2.4]).  Edgar tells us
that it was not the stress of the nearby battle but the struggle between
Gloucester's grief at his gullibility toward Edmund's falsehoods and his
joy at regaining his lost son.  Why should we not take this at face
value?

I must confess these seem like desperate attempts to achieve some sort
of "original" reading of the play.

David Evett

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mary Jane Miller <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Jun 2003 14:25:20 -0700
Subject: 14.1128 Re: Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1128 Re: Edmund

I have never had trouble with this 'conversion.'

It starts back with Edmund needlessly fighting an anonymous challenger -
presumably because he wants to be seen to be honourable before the
English army - a new facet of his character.

To me, as with other correspondents, the key is "Yet Edmund was
beloved." but for a different reason. This pragmatic, sceptical schemer
needs ocular proof  before he believes in anything. It takes the news of
his father's death, the irony of "the wheel come full circle" which
suggests to him that the heavens can be 'just' to soften him up. But the
trigger is  that Goneril  loved him enough to kill Regan then commit
suicide on the battlefield because he has been fatally wounded. Regan
had already publicly put herself and her titles at his disposal. With
the final concrete proof of the smoking knife he knows certainly that
"All three now marry in an instant".  Each of the women has, in turn,
proved her love to him before all of the English army -- and he believes
it. Among all the ironies of this scene, one of the most complex is that
the twisted and lethal 'love' these three share actually moves Edmund
from unloved bastard to 'beloved'. The worst irony is, of course, that
his 'conversion', and thus the messenger cancelling the writ on the life
of Cordelia is 30 seconds too late to save the third sister.

[In some productions I have seen, Regan refuses to help Cornwall off
stage as he dies, having already transferred her allegiance to the up
and comer, Edmund.]

As for France not being there - the politics of the Jacobean response to
his leading the French army have been widely discussed. On the level of
Cordelia's character - like her sisters she would go to the battlefield.
As a queen she chooses to be present during the battle.  Tilbury anyone?
She does not need France to provide a reason, support or protection. She
is much too independent a character for that.  which, one might
speculate, is why he wanted her in act I. In fact, since the English
must win this one on the narrative level, then having a spare king
around would be a difficult obstacle not only for IV vii but also the
whole of Act V.

Mary Jane

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Shurgot <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Jun 2003 11:32:28 -0700
Subject: 14.1128 Re: Edmund
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.1128 Re: Edmund

Dear Colleagues:

The posts on 6/9 on Lear and Edmund are intriguing, and well worth
consideration. They illustrate the differences in approach and critical
methodology present among those who read, teach, and attempt to write
about as complex a play as King Lear, and I think illustrate what ought
to happen on a list-serve such as this. My commendations to all
involved.

Certainly speculations and inferences about characters' motives is
essential, especially when teaching Shakespeare's plays, and I agree
with Todd Gutmann that Shakespeare created characters who appear to have
lived and moved among us. That is in fact one of the principal reasons
why we still study and read and watch the plays: Hamlet's mirror, if you
will, reflecting ourselves in what we see on stage. My principal point
in this sequence is that during performance, which I stress in my
classes and in my writing, I believe that 4.6 can be so compelling that
spectators do not consider the question of France's whereabouts,
although I would agree with Ed Taft that one might wonder, especially
upon reflection, why France wasn't with Cordelia. But I sense that
Shakespeare designed the scene to be primarily about Lear and Cordelia,
and that he allowed us to wonder as we will about France and his
motives. Certainly one could point that France's absence is one more
instance of fractured relationships in this play, assuming that one
believes that France is away because he considers politics more
important than his wife's life and well being. But that is the kind of
speculation that I would argue takes us too far from the action and
motives of the characters whom we actually see on stage.

I would also speculate, although at the moment I have no data to support
this suggestion, that France's absence may have been necessitated by the
need to double actors. I read Steven Urkowitz's S's Revision of Lear
many years ago, and I don't know offhand whether Urkowitz addresses this
possibility. But that book might be worth consulting on this topic.

Regards,
Michael Shurgot

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gareth M. Euridge <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Jun 2003 15:34:53 -0400
Subject: 14.1128 Re: Edmund
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.1128 Re: Edmund

Friends:

The supposed conversion of Edmund has never particularly bothered me
because it strikes me as full concordant with his (rightfully?
justifiably?) cynical nature.  Edgar, just a few lines before, has
argued that the "reason" for Gloucester's blindness is that, many many
years before, he had engaged in some naughtiness behind the arras:

The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices
Make instruments to plague us.
The dark and vicious place where thee he got
Cost him his eyes.

As my students are so keen to argue, what goes around comes around (and
by a stretch, perhaps, tertiary syphilis and blindness).  In this play,
which, I think, more than any other suggests that there is no
providential design upon this blighted sphere, the "explanation" offered
by Edgar is mere poppycock--more than this, Edgar, I suspect, knows that
it is balderdash too.  But, it makes people feel better.  Edmund
recognizes that this is also twaddle, and so, in gleeful though terminal
maliciousness, agrees with his brother wholeheartedly.  More than this,
he thinks, let's throw in a few other Elizabethan platitudes for good
measure- - "The wheel is come full circle" - - and while Edgar continues
with his nonsense (Gloucester died of that rare condition of exploded
heart, occasioned by grief and joy - - - rather than suicide?) Cordelia
and Lear find the noose tightening (Edmund, much seemingly moved by
Edgar's explanations, would stop it, but the entertainment is too good
to be interrupted--go on, Edgar, you look as if you have something else
to say, an encore performance).  Edgar, redoubling his efforts,
continues, and, assuming, I imagine, Kent to have died on the
battlefield (I mean, he's not there), he constructs a piteous tableau of
the grief-deadening kent fallen over the grief-killed Gloucester--only
to then discover, somewhat awkwardly, that Kent is very much
alive--"here comes Kent."

"Yet Edmund was beloved."  Surely, a joke, a witty observation, an
ironic pop-psych acknowledgment that, had he only been loved as a child
too . . . .

Gareth M. Euridge
Aka "Edgar! Gee, I'm hurt"

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Monday, 09 Jun 2003 16:13:48 -0400
Subject: 14.1128 Re: Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1128 Re: Edmund

Isn't it likely that the reason France is not present at the end is the
same as why the fool isn't in the opening court scene?  The same actor
can't play two characters at once.  Any ideas for which character was
doubled with France?  My guess is Edgar.

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence<
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Date:           Monday, 9 Jun 2003 18:07:24 -0300
Subject: 14.1128 Re: Edmund
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.1128 Re: Edmund

Edmund Taft asks,

>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?

Good questions, though surely they admit of several answers.  I usually
advise my students not to ask rhetorical questions, since they invite
the reader to wrack his brains for alternative explanations, and sooner
or later you'll meet someone who'll rap off several.

The reason that Lear exposes himself to the elements is that he's trying
to become a tragic character, for existential reasons of his own.  A
tragic character is the most individual of persons, and Lear struggles
for this sort of individual being against the chaos of being in
general.  If anything, his self-inflicted suffering shows that he's
trying to deny his guilt, to take refuge in self-righteousness, not that
he's trying to inflict punishment upon himself.  As to what he's guilty
of, his own suggestion that he's "taken too little care" of the wretched
of the kingdom, and of other people in general, seems a reasonably fair
one.  In any case, to a time with a strong belief in original sin no
specific wrongdoing has to be imagined.  I should think that an
indifference towards others is equally general.

A further question:

>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?

On the contrary, the divestiture ceremony is a unique and public
occasion. The inappropriate expression of love only makes sense as a
public display.  Cavell wrote about this at some length, arguing that
Lear wants only an expression of false love.  Making the ceremony
private would make the expression of love true (i.e., it would cease to
be a ceremony, an act) which might be more than Lear could handle.
Dealing with familial affections in this cold and public manner keeps
them at a comfortable and objective distance.

Yours distantly,
Sean.

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