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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: June ::
New and Improved Lear
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1102  Thursday, 16 June 2005

[1]     From:   Frank Whigham <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Jun 2005 09:57:27 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1096 New and Improved Lear

[2]     From:   Joseph Egert <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Jun 2005 17:20:28 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0696 New and Improved Lear

[3]     From:   John-Paul Spiro <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Jun 2005 13:28:01 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.1096 New and Improved Lear

[4]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Jun 2005 14:01:51 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1096 New and Improved Lear

[5]     From:   John Reed <
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        Date:   Thursday, 16 Jun 2005 06:42:33 +0000
        Subj:   Re: New and Improved Lear


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frank Whigham <
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Date:           Wednesday, 15 Jun 2005 09:57:27 -0500
Subject: 16.1096 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1096 New and Improved Lear

 >So why would we not weigh Cordelia's failure to honor her
 >father as a contributing factor to the tragedy? Her self righteous zeal
 >makes her more motivated to teach her father a lesson in front of the
 >court than to protect the honor of the father she loves. Here is tragedy!
 >
 >Without Cordelia's fatal flaw, there would have been no story, nor would
 >the story have proceeded the way it did had not others contributed their
 >flaws to the mix. Shakespeare gives his audience much to think about in
 >terms of human responsibility and the high price we pay for our
 >willfulness and carelessness in what we think are slight matters that
 >all too often become important indeed. Who would not want to learn from
 >the world that Shakespeare puts before us? And honor thy parents happens
 >to be a good, wise, and life affirming policy even though it is
 >recommended in the Bible.

Well, you don't need to be devoted to political correctness (invariably
a slur) to see that a lot depends on what "honor" means here. Lear says
(in the CUP text; it's "win" in the quarto) "What can you say to draw a
third more opulent than your sisters'?" Cordelia's refusal to enter the
conversation on such corrupt terms (trading claims of love for land; far
from a slight matter) indeed contributes to what follows (along, to say
the least, with Lear's own motives for the fake love-test, whatever they
are). Her contribution is by no means obviously to be equated with moral
responsibility for the tragedy. "Honor thy parents when they behave
corruptly"? Align yourself with your corrupt sisters? I think it's easy
to see why Cordelia refuses to play, why Shakespeare makes it possible
for us to regard her disobedient behavior not only as disobedient but as
honor-able, and why things go so badly thereafter. Richard Strier has
shown clearly that Cornwall's disobedient servant is behaving extremely
well by the ethical and religious standards of the time ("don't obey a
corrupt command"), and it's fruitful to ask throughout the play about
the parallels between the disobediences and disrespectful behaviors of
Cordelia and Kent. There's plenty in this play to disobey and
disrespect, fully honorably.

Frank Whigham

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joseph Egert <
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Date:           Wednesday, 15 Jun 2005 17:20:28 +0000
Subject: 16.0696 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0696 New and Improved Lear

In highlighting Cordelia's "fatal flaw [sic]" and "failure [sic] to
honor her father," David B. continues to bash the victim mercilessly.
Perhaps Basch can tell us how Cordelia should have responded.

Joe Egert

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John-Paul Spiro <
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Date:           Wednesday, 15 Jun 2005 13:28:01 -0400
Subject: 16.1096 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.1096 New and Improved Lear

David Basch writes:

 >Shakespeare is not politically correct in Lear. He shows all. He not
 >only shows the tragedies befalling good persons in the play but even
 >shows their own contributions to the tragedies. The bastard's father
 >in
 >the play eventually recognizes how dearly he paid his night of
 >recreation that eventuated in the twisted, evil bastard son who
 >turns on
 >him. The father's blindness to his good son also eventuates in his
 >own
 >being blinded. Lear's self-centeredness, of course, also accounts
 >for
 >his tragedy. So why would we not weigh Cordelia's failure to honor
 >her
 >father as a contributing factor to the tragedy? Her self righteous
 >zeal
 >makes her more motivated to teach her father a lesson in front of
 >the
 >court than to protect the honor of the father she loves. Here is
 >tragedy!

Accusing an interlocutor of "political correctness" is not only
meaningless, it's also just silly.  It's on par with throwing around
"communist" or "fascist" a few decades ago.  Let's just stop it.

As for the substance of Mr. Basch's claims, I agree that the characters
are three-dimensional.  So is the play.  It does not allow for such
simplification.  What exactly did Cordelia do wrong?  She honored her
father more than anyone else would: she told him the truth.  He wanted
her to say that she would love him more than her future husband.  That
would be a lie, an insult to her future husband, and an inappropriate
statement of filial love.  Honoring one's father is not the same as
loving one's father more than everything in the universe.

Basch is right to say that Lear and Cordelia contribute to their own
tragedy, but Shakespeare warns us about thinking too much in that
direction.  As already noted, that's the attitude of Goneril ("Tis his
own blame; hath put himself from rest/And must needs taste his folly"
(2.4.290-91)) and Regan ("O, sir, to willful men/The injuries that they
themselves procure/Must be their schoolmasters" (2.4.301-03)).  I'm not
comfortable agreeing with them, and I think that discomfort is very much
Shakespeare's doing.  There is something cruel in an audience's desire
to watch a man destroy himself.  There is something even worse in
considering Cordelia to be complicit collateral damage.

Anyone who wants to reduce "King Lear" to a simple theological point
needs to appreciate the diversity of views in the play and the ways in
which Shakespeare puts them into dialogue with each other.  W. R.
Elton's "King Lear and the Gods" does this admirably.

John-Paul Spiro

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Wednesday, 15 Jun 2005 14:01:51 -0400
Subject: 16.1096 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1096 New and Improved Lear

 >The politically correct mantra so
 >mindlessly prevalent today would absolve a victim of any contribution to
 >the plight that made him into a victim. But when you see the world in
 >two dimensions, you are crippled in your ability to deal with it.

I find myself in the uncomfortable position of agreeing entirely with
Basch.  What is even more astounding is that he should be the author of
the quoted observation, since his political writings contradict it so
thoroughly.

But I disagree with Basch's view of Cordelia's hamartia.  Surely, it was
not a failure to honor her father.  She showed him far more respect than
he deserved.  She failed to flatter him.  Is flattery mandated by the
fifth commandment?  Her sin was in breaking the first commandment of
realpolitik:  Thou shalt not be pigheaded.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Reed <
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Date:           Thursday, 16 Jun 2005 06:42:33 +0000
Subject:        Re: New and Improved Lear

Job: I like that story too, enough to have written a screenplay for that
also (I'm all over the place).  There might be good parallels with King
Lear, as my good friend and most noble companion David Basch notes, and
he's not the only one.  Peter Millward, in his "Religious Dimension of
King Lear" points out one interesting detail, among others.  Lear says,
"Thou'lt come no more."  And Job says, "He that goeth down to the grave,
shall come up no more.  He shall return no more."  So it seems David has
not been the only one paying worthwhile attention to the Tanakh.

The Tate variation of King Lear might be analogous to the current ending
of Job (there might have been an earlier version).  Both of them end
with worldly restoration; a charming thought, but one I don't prefer.  I
have the feeling the story of Job originally ended more tragically: he
dies, do not pass Go, do not collect 200 dollars.  If there is any happy
ending involved it is, or should have been, yea, was, a strictly
spiritual one.

In both we have an undeserved, or at least unwanted bodily death, which
has been rectified by a sentimental rewriter into a phony, impossible,
ridiculous bodily worldly happy ending, masking the real heavenly
glorification.  How can Job die undeservedly?  I'll start a new thread
with another radical idea.

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