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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: June ::
New and Improved Lear
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1058  Tuesday, 7 June 2005

[1]     From:   R. A. Cantrell <
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        Date:   Monday, 06 Jun 2005 11:40:22 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1054 New and Improved Lear

[2]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Monday, 6 Jun 2005 17:49:19 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1054 New and Improved Lear

[3]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Monday, 6 Jun 2005 18:10:54 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1054 New and Improved Lear

[4]     From:   William Godshalk <
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        Date:   Monday, 06 Jun 2005 14:36:59 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1054 New and Improved Lear

[5]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Monday, 6 Jun 2005 16:30:15 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1054 New and Improved Lear

[6]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 07 Jun 2005 02:53:30 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1045 New and Improved Lear


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           R. A. Cantrell <
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Date:           Monday, 06 Jun 2005 11:40:22 -0500
Subject: 16.1054 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1054 New and Improved Lear

 >I
 >have always read texts with an immediate light-bulb going off over my
 >head of, ahah! and saw comparativeness to other texts I had read.

Check your wattage, and consider Lear in the context of this passage
from Cicero's De Senectute:

"Ita enim senectus honesta est, si se ipsa defendit, si ius suum
retinet, si nemini emancipata est, si usque ad ultimum spiritum
dominatur in suos."

"Old age is honored only on condition that it defends itself, maintains
its rights, is subservient to no one, and to the last breath rules over
its own domain."

ix.-38

All the Best, R.A. Cantrell 
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[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Monday, 6 Jun 2005 17:49:19 +0100
Subject: 16.1054 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1054 New and Improved Lear

Terence Hawkes writes:

 >Robin Hamilton claims
 >
 >'Well, it could be a button on Lear's own clothes'.
 >
 >Well, of course, it could be a button on anybody's clothes.

Abstractly yes, effectively no.  The actable choices come down to Lear
or Cordelia's buttons.  Having Bit Player One undo a button on Bit
Player Two's codpiece stage left would have quite the wrong resonances.

 >But only if
 >it's a button on Cordelia's clothes do the immediately following lines
 >focus on their object with maximum intensity:
 >
 >'Do you see this? Look on her. Look, her lips.
 > Look there, look there' (5. 3. 286-7)

Or you can have Lear, button undone, turning once more towards Cordelia.
  (This is the version I prefer, but I admit there's nothing in the
script that *enforces* it.)

 >At its climax, mere unbuttoning to relieve an old man's
 >angina is not the point.

A possible dramatic significance in favour of Lear's button is that it
may demonstrate Lear, for the first time, appealing for help, realising
that there is something which he isn't in control of, cannot do for himself.

 >Opening a garment to lay bare the appalling
 >violence done to a young woman's body is.

Point.  But I wonder whether such marks on the body would be clear to an
audience watching in an Elizabethan theatre?  A tongueless and handless
Lavinia I can accept-I'm less sure about the marks of hanging on Cordelia.

Robin Hamilton

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Monday, 6 Jun 2005 18:10:54 +0100
Subject: 16.1054 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1054 New and Improved Lear

 >In the last group of messages I noted that David Basch sent a message in
 >which he compared Lear to Job.

Let's not forget the Cordelia/Christ comparisons.  Compare ...

"FRANCE:  Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich, being poor".  (1:1)

with ...

"For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he being rich, for
your sakes became poor, that ye through his poverty might be made rich".
(1 Corinthians 8:9).

Also compare Cordelia's "O dear father! It is thy business that I go
about" (4:4) with the 12 year old Christ's "Know ye not that I must go
about my Father's business?"  (Luke 2:49).

WS even gives us a father-daughter pieta.

Peter Bridgman

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Godshalk <
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Date:           Monday, 06 Jun 2005 14:36:59 -0400
Subject: 16.1054 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1054 New and Improved Lear

 >Terry Hawkes writes: "Clothes, and their capacity to conceal or
reveal, as well as the
 >significance of their absence -nakedness- are a major concern throughout
 >this play. At its climax, mere unbuttoning to relieve an old man's
 >angina is not the point. Opening a garment to lay bare the appalling
 >violence done to a young woman's body is."

Yes, of course, this is a perfectly reasonable way to direct and perform
these lines.  But there are other ways that are equally reasonable as
well as dramatically effective.  This is not a "my way or the highway"
situation.  Instead we have once more Shakespeare's foison of possibility.

Bill

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Monday, 6 Jun 2005 16:30:15 -0400
Subject: 16.1054 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1054 New and Improved Lear

The fact that hanging people normally involved baring their necks is
only one of several reasons for thinking that Terence Hawkes is mistaken
about Cordelia's button being undone. I believe Alex Went is right to
see "Come, unbutton here" as anticipating Lear's later request. Lear may
ask to have a button undone, perhaps to get rid of a cloak pulling at
his neck as he bends over Cordelia--giving a single button-undoing
maximum dramatic effect--to suggest his wish to shuffle off this mortal
body and this tough world.

The surprising sight he sees at Cordelia's lips may be, as John Reed
suggested, her soul ascending from her mouth. Perhaps someone can cite a
medieval source for this belief. As I recall, I found one once in Philip
Aries' The Hour of Our Death. Lear falling back as he looks up to this
vision, invisible to all the rest, which hints at the Christian
revelation to come, makes a good end, though I've only seen one
production do it that way.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 07 Jun 2005 02:53:30 -0400
Subject: 16.1045 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1045 New and Improved Lear

 >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.

Absolutely correct!  And the distinction is important.  Lear, like
Shylock, calls destruction down upon his own head.  Job, on the other
hand, is singled out for the terrors he endures precisely because he was
regarded by Jahweh as perfectly righteous and, thus, a suitable subject
for His whimsical wager with Satan.  The misfortunes Lear suffers may
have been a sort of purgatory on earth, purifying him; they certainly
imbued him with a greater sympathy for others' sufferings.  But Job went
the other way.  If you disregard the opening commentary in the text,
which (like the prologue in Henry V) does not describe the action with
perfect accuracy, we find that Job's sufferings have actually brought
him to question Jahweh in a fashion which the all-obedient Job of the
beginning of the story would never have dreamed possible.  Thus, in the
context of what the simplistic reader of the Book of Job would regard as
"righteous." Job became flawed.

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