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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: June ::
New and Improved Lear
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1045  Friday, 3 June 2005

[1]     From:   H. R. Greenberg <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 1 Jun 2005 14:04:44 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1037 New and Improved Lear

[2]     From:   William Godshalk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 01 Jun 2005 22:08:01 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1037 New and Improved Lear

[3]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Thursday, 02 Jun 2005 11:25:51 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1037 New and Improved Lear

[4]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 2 Jun 2005 16:31:05 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1039 New and Improved Lear

[5]     From:   William Godshalk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 02 Jun 2005 12:28:47 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1039 New and Improved Lear

[6]     From:   Scott Sharplin <
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        Date:   Thursday, 2 Jun 2005 11:01:29 -0600 (MDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1039 New and Improved Lear


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           H. R. Greenberg <
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Date:           Wednesday, 1 Jun 2005 14:04:44 EDT
Subject: 16.1037 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1037 New and Improved Lear

Can someone tell me the dates of Nahum Tate's first performance?

Can someone take a shot at how the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech was
first played early performances theatrical and at court in 1599 or
thereafter  may have asked this before mind is a terrible thing to lose.

Thanks in advance,
hr greenberg md

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Godshalk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 01 Jun 2005 22:08:01 -0400
Subject: 16.1037 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1037 New and Improved Lear

John Reed writes:

 >"As there are no stage directions at the crucial moment, so there are few
 >clues concerning where King Lear is looking when he says, 'Look there,
 >look there!' just prior to expiring."

A possibility or two is that Lear sees her death rictus and understands
that she is genuinely dead, or he takes the rictus as a smile and thinks
she's alive. In the second reading, he again does not see Cordelia as
she truly is.  See better Lear.

Bill

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Thursday, 02 Jun 2005 11:25:51 -0400
Subject: 16.1037 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1037 New and Improved Lear

I enjoyed and profited much from John Reed's discussion of King Lear
("New and Improved Lear" - 6.1.05). I was moved by the revisit to the
last moments of Lear and his daughter and I read with interest the
presentation of the thoughtful, nuanced interpretations of this scene.

What is unambiguous in the play is that, in telling that he sees
Cordelia's lips moving, Lear dies in an ecstasy of happiness. But did he
actually see her lips move? Was it her spirit that he saw as it rose
heavenward for him to join? Or had he imagined it all? About these, the
play remains ambiguous, as it must. It must, I believe, because this
play is Shakespeare's version of the Book of Job and this ending is true
to that conception.

I am by far not the first to construe King Lear as Shakespeare's version
of Job. (One scholar who mentioned this link credits Shakespeare with
coming closest in spirit to the Bible's Job.) The many parallels of Lear
to Job amply justify this linkage, beginning with the fact that both
stories are set in kingdoms remote in place and in time, in
pre-Christian and pre-Judaic times, in Job's land of Uz and Lear's
mythical early England.

True, unlike Lear, Job lives to be restored and to have a new family.
However, there are characters in Lear that are similarly restored. For
example, Edgar survives his harrowing and painful ordeal of suffering
and has his life restored like Job. In Shakespeare's Lear/Job, there are
numerous persons that share the torments of Job, not only Lear.  Some
achieve the restoration that Job does, but many others do not, which is
true to life.

Job was the book of the Bible that made clear that misfortune could be
visited upon good people. Thus, just because one had great misfortune
did not mean that one had done some great evil to deserve it.
Shakespeare took that message and traced its full implications in the
play, that there would be good, righteous persons that would not be
restored. They would be like the good servant who interferes with his
master's heinous act of blinding Gloucester only to be cut down as his
reward in this life.

The distinction is almost always cited of Job's righteousness as
compared with the flawed Lear. In fact, Lear starts off in the play as
an unworthy, self-centered person. But as the play progresses he is
changed through his great suffering and, toward the end of the play, he
emerges cleansed, as righteous as Job. Shakespeare then shows in his
play that this change was its own reward since his life ends on an
apparently tragic note, one of the outcomes possible for the righteous.
So for the exact parallel to the restoration of Job in Shakespeare's
play, we must look to the restored ones. In the fate of characters like
Lear we will find the extreme case of the suffering righteous, implicit
as a possibility in the Book of Job.

Shakespeare spells out the range of the implications of the various
fates of righteous and teaches the lesson that the righteous life must
be its own reward, independent of reward and restoration. Job's fate
shows the ideal case of righteousness rewarded and Lear'e example shows
the extremity where this fails to materialize, or did it fail in
Shakespeare's play? In fact, Lear achieves his "ripeness," a growth to
his ideal emotional and spiritual maturity, a reward in itself for his
efforts in aspiring to the good and, in some sense, a restoration of the
purity of soul he began his life with. He is also restored in other
ways. He is reunited with his daughter Cordelia and in this way, in the
words of psalmist, he lives "to see the goodness of the LORD in the land
of the living." Lear again sees this goodness in the land of the living
in the movement of his daughter's lips, in the last breath of his life.

Job illustrates the case of a person that persists in being righteous
even in calamity as Lear does when Lear rises to become the caring,
comforting father to his daughter. The restoration in Job is incidental
to this theme and was necessary since he, a righteous man, was being
used as a guinea pig in the heavenly experiment. Otherwise his fate
would have been like the situation mentioned by the suffering Gloucester
in Lear who, imaging his condition, describes it "as flies to wanton
boys are we to the Gods, They kill us for their sport." Lear's
righteousness too, like Job's, is its own reward irrespective of whether
or not he is materially restored. Through the "ripeness" that he gains
by treading his righteous path, his unrestored material well being
teaches that righteousness must essentially be its own reward. This
lesson could not be taught if Shakespeare had adhered to the happy
ending of the original Lear tale.

Shakespeare's Lear, in a fashion, does depict an imperfect world that
roughly operates on the basis of reward and punishment. The evil of the
characters do get punished as do the moral failings of the good that
rebound on their own head. For example, Gloucester's blindness to the
goodness of his son turns into his own blinding. Cordelia violates the
Bible's cardinal word "to honor thy father." It is her violation of that
precept that puts into orbit the calamities that in the end consume her.
Interestingly, in the Bible, the honoring ones parents is linked to the
phenomenon of the lengthening of our days on this earth.  But, then
where is God's mercy?

About this, one must think of the Lord's words to Moses in Exodus 33:19,
"And He said, I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and I will
proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom
I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy." Few
will not see in this a description of life on earth and what happens in
Lear and Job. For Job never gets an answer to the question of why the
good suffer. It is only his touch with God, a God of justice, that gives
him the faith that there is a just answer to this question.

The ambiguity of the last scene of Lear reinforces the idea of goodness
being its own reward since, in the world of Lear, we never know whether
he and his daughter have or have not gained a restoration in an after
life, as the differing conclusions of commentators suggest. Those with
faith will see expressed in Shakespeare's play through Lear's eyes his
daughter's rising, the unmistakable sign of the same ultimate
affirmation and restoration experienced by Job.  Those with no such
hopes will see a man who in this life had his "ripeness" and a moment of
ecstatic happiness. Others may wonder which it was and may vacillate
from hope to skepticism and back again. Isn't this a lot like life?

David Basch

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Thursday, 2 Jun 2005 16:31:05 +0100
Subject: 16.1039 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1039 New and Improved Lear

Terence Hawkes <
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 >But there's a clear enough indication in Lear's request 'Pray you, undo
 >this button. Thank you sir'. (5. 3. 285) If the button is at the throat
 >of Cordelia's clothing, undoing it reveals the marks of her hanging.

Well, it could be a button on Lear's own clothes.  The dialogue enforces
an implicit stage direction that a button is undone, but not which one.

 >That's immediately followed by
 >
 >'Do you see this? Look on her. Look, her lips.
 >Look there, look there' (5. 3. 286-7)

Suggestive but not conclusive.

The scene can be acted coherently with either Lear's or Cordelia's
button being undone.

Slightly earlier: "And my poor fool is hanged" -- there's also the
problem of whether this refers to Cordelia or the Fool.  Again, while
most interpretations seem to pick Cordelia, it's open.  However, unlike
the button, there isn't a crucial stage action involved here.

Robin Hamilton

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Godshalk <
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Date:           Thursday, 02 Jun 2005 12:28:47 -0400
Subject: 16.1039 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1039 New and Improved Lear

John Reed thinks that 'Look there, look there!' (5. 3. 287) is not
transparent.  What are we supposed to look at?

Terry Hawkes, however, thinks that "there's a clear enough indication in
Lear's request 'Pray you, undo: "this button. Thank you sir' (5. 3.
285). If the button is at the throat of Cordelia's clothing, undoing it
reveals the marks of her hanging."

But what if the button is a Lear's throat?  He is beginning to feel
discomfort before his heart attack and asks one of the servants to undo
one of his buttons, possibly at his throat.  After the button is taken
care of, he looks at his daughter and sees the death rictus.

Bill

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Scott Sharplin <
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Date:           Thursday, 2 Jun 2005 11:01:29 -0600 (MDT)
Subject: 16.1039 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1039 New and Improved Lear

T. Hawkes writes:

"But there's a clear enough indication in Lear's request 'Pray you, undo
this button. Thank you sir'. (5. 3. 285) If the button is at the throat
of Cordelia's clothing, undoing it reveals the marks of her hanging."

Is it clear? Most directors choose to have Lear refer to a button on his
own collar. I think "this button" is deliberately unclear, as is "thank
you, sir", which could be directed to Kent, Albany, Edgar, or an unnamed
attendant-or could simply be a figment of Lear's imagination.

Philip C. Maguire writes about this "open silence" at great length,
suggesting that its lack of specificity specifically invites a wide
range of theatrical interpretations (ending the play on a wide range of
notes).

And, regarding the idea that Cordelia revives like Desdemona, there is
at least one other scholar who considers it a plausibility. E.A.J.
Honigmann writes:

"If Cordelia returns to consciousness and then dies, as I would suggest,
the final twist of the knife is that she is unable to speak ... She
opens her eyes; now it is the father who hangs breathlessly over his
child. She wants to speak, but the words do not come; father and
daughter are locked together in a look ... again, so much has to be said
without words; again, as Lear gazes into his dying daughter's eyes, the
mystery of the universe, the need to understand..." ("Myriad-Minded
Shakespeare" 91)

--Scott Sharplin

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