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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: March ::
Defects in King Lear
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0635  Tuesday, 9 March 2004

From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Monday, 8 Mar 2004 07:45:19 -0600
Subject:        Defects in King Lear

Ed Taft writes:

 >Arthur Kirsch wrote, famously,
 >that Othello's problem is that "he has insufficient regard for himself,"

That may well be psychologically true, but the moral dimension of the
play concerns a man who takes dishonorable advantage of his position as
a guest to make off with a beloved daughter against the will of the
host-father.( Claudius' "The offense is rank" seems appropriate here.)
Then, Desdemona's willingness to join in this offense against her father
makes her liable and feeds Othello's suspicion, a suspicion
well-grounded in his own dishonorable conduct: he believes Desdemona
guilty of deceit because he has found the sin in himself. (Do we not
most often condemn in others the very error we discover through that to
be our own?  The self-revelation is sometimes quite devastating.)

But I don't believe the play explicitly makes the point.  It is one of
those "understood" elements in Shakespeare - like the unexamined reason
for Capulet to insist on Juliet's sudden marriage after having earlier
that he would not do so because she is so young. (The reason for the
change? The alarming death of Tybalt and the fact of Capulet having now
but this daughter to continue his line.). Or, the reason for Hamlet's
delay: the undeclared but obvious consideration that he is a Prince of
the realm and has the particular responsibility to act *publicly* to
"revenge" his father's death. (Hamlet's problem is not that he "cannot
make up his mind," but that he hasn't the talent that Claudius has to
manipulate the political world to his own ends).

Shakespeare, like other great playwrights, seems to have expected his
audience to appreciate these points without his having to express them
outright. And here - please bear with me - I must return very briefly to
the now forbidden subject of "Cordelia's insolence": the existence of
such unexamined and unexpressed but very important ideas in all three of
these plays is grist for my mill when I argue that Cordelia is given the
opportunity to sincerely complete the obvious formula her sisters have
so insincerely  mouthed.  We cannot expect the playwright  to provide us
with a gloss explaining even the most important things; for in great
plays many are to be inferred.  It is for the director and actors to
bring these points to the fore, if they can.

L. Swilley

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