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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
Lear
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1312  Wednesday, 18 June 2004

[1]     From:   Frank Whigham <
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        Date:   Thursday, 17 Jun 2004 07:53:35 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1295 Lear

[2]     From:   Greg McSweeney <
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        Date:   Thursday, 17 Jun 2004 09:22:36 -0400
        Subj:   Lear Both Domestic and Cosmic

[3]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 17 Jun 2004 08:32:07 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1295 Lea


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frank Whigham <
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Date:           Thursday, 17 Jun 2004 07:53:35 -0500
Subject: 15.1295 Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1295 Lear

I don't know if religion counts as cosmic (it's a fuzzy word), but the
play is elaborately concerned (as Elton showed in King Lear and the
Gods) with contemporary (skeptical) ideas about the human relation to
the transcendental. Shakespeare's careful de-Christianizing of the
source play moves it very much in a generalizing and skeptical
direction. If thunder is just weather and Edmund's Nature is
detranscendentalized I suppose one could argue that the play is
anti-cosmic, though I wouldn't. The domestic intensity doesn't preclude,
or even militate against, these factors at all.

Frank Whigham

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Greg McSweeney <
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Date:           Thursday, 17 Jun 2004 09:22:36 -0400
Subject:        Lear Both Domestic and Cosmic

The abiding complaint of my students is that Lear is so populated, and
so full of groups of people migrating from one character's house to
another's that it's difficult to know who's where and what they're there
to do. In this sense, I agree that Lear is a play that works through its
thematic materials domestically and politically, rather than cosmically.
However, I do think that any staging of the play by definition
emphasizes the mundane events at the expense of the lurking cosmic
content, as it were.

Edmund's "Thou, Nature, art my goddess" soliloquy, for instance, is a
show-stopper on stage, but its larger significance in that setting can
be missed. In the leisure of the written text, however, the reader has
time to reflect on other characters' allusions to their own beliefs in
the supernatural, the divine, fate, and fortune, and as a result the
larger question of who's running the universe and the affairs of
humanity comes to the fore. The play invokes pagan, Classical, and
Christian figures through apostrophe; what accounts for the multiplicity
of belief systems in this fairly homogeneous community? A staging must
necessarily treat this question negligently, because it is so textually
peripheral. The question is important, though, because if a unified,
reconciled religious system does not exist in Albion, there must be a
reason; what does this imply? Surely it's not merely a topical reference
to the national break with Catholicism, which was hardly news in 1605.

The Fool's disappearance, similarly, makes sense only in a
non-representational way. On stage, he makes the brief and typically
elliptical remark about going to bed at noon, and then either slinks
offstage, or sits silently waiting for the scene to end, never to
reappear. This is just bad drama: a character who has dependably
provided the only much-needed comic relief in a play of this darkness,
as well as having acted as a sort of Greek chorus on behalf of the
reader/viewer should not simply disappear mysteriously; it's
unsatisfying to the emotionally-invested audience, especially since the
Fool is never again mentioned by any other character (assuming that
Lear's "my poor fool is dead" comment refers to Cordelia). In the
philosophical / psychological / textual play, however, it is more
immediately clear that the Fool's major role is to act as Lear's sane
ego, and that once the King has reached his nadir on the heath and is
ready to undertake the resumption of his own sanity, the Fool is
'cosmically' unnecessary, and becomes integrated into Lear's healing
psychic self. In other words, no explanation for his disappearance is
required since he has not actually left. On stage, however, as on the
screen, we tend to believe and accept what we see, and in performance
the Fool simply vanishes.

About the unstageability of Gloucester's blinding, I can only say that
in the many productions I've seen, the event is either so grotesque as
to completely knock the viewer out of the fictional world of Albion, or
so underplayed in the attempt to be tasteful that the viewer is not sure
whether the old man is being blinded or is simply enjoying an ocular
massage. In no case in my experience has the scene been rendered
satisfactorily (I have not yet seen Miller's Christopher Plummer
production; I hear it admirably addresses this moment.)

All of this may not mean that the play is too "cosmic" for performance,
but I believe there are aspects of Lear that simply are not present on
stage, because they loom in their rightful perspective only in the
thought processes sparked by an interaction with the text.

Greg McSweeney
Montreal

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Thursday, 17 Jun 2004 08:32:07 -0500
Subject: 15.1295 Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1295 Lear

Larry Weiss <
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 >>Hordern, indeed.  Bravo!  And he was rather good as Marley's ghost in
 >>the Alister Simm version of "A Christmas Carol."
 >
 >He was also a brilliant Capulet in the BBC R&J . .

Yes, indeed, great

 >But his Prospero fell flat.

Not to me.  Incidentally, he is wonderful as LeFeu in All's Well.

David Cohen

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