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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: June ::
New and Improved Lear
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1110  Saturday, 18 June 2005

[1]     From:   Stephen C. Rose <
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        Date:   Thursday, 16 Jun 2005 09:51:00 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1102 New and Improved Lear

[2]     From:   Martin Mueller <
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        Date:   Thursday, 16 Jun 2005 11:51:58 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1102 New and Improved Lear

[3]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Thursday, 16 Jun 2005 13:09:12 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.1102 New and Improved Lear

[4]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Friday, 17 Jun 2005 18:09:43 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1102 New and Improved Lear


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephen C. Rose <
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Date:           Thursday, 16 Jun 2005 09:51:00 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 16.1102 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1102 New and Improved Lear

I think WS deconstructed honor with Falstaff's immortal speech in H41.
Cordelia, recondite as she may be, is cut from Falstaffian cloth. Best, S

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Mueller <
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Date:           Thursday, 16 Jun 2005 11:51:58 -0500
Subject: 16.1102 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1102 New and Improved Lear

The lively discussion of Cordelia's flaws may benefit from looking at
the figure of Antigone as an indirect but powerful source. It is often
pointed out that the Gloucester subplot in Lear comes from the story of
the Paphlagonian king in Sidney's Arcadia. It is less often pointed out
that this story with its combination of a blind king and a loyal
daughter is a transposition of the Oedipus story and  would have been
seen as such by contemporary readers. Once you see that you also see
that Shakespeare focuses on the salient combination of fierce loyalty
and intransigence that is the essence of Antigone and conceives of
Cordelia as a new kind of Antigone. Martha Nussbaum's discussion in her
Fragility of Goodness of the what and how of Antigone's position would
be an excellent guide to the paradoxes of Cordelia

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Thursday, 16 Jun 2005 13:09:12 -0500
Subject: 16.1102 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.1102 New and Improved Lear

Cordelia would seem to have two choices: tell lies in order to flatter
her father with a lot of phony dutifulness; or tell the truth.

In the moral theology of David Basch telling the truth in these
circumstances violates the Fifth Commandment. I find this unlikely, but
am neither a rabbinical scholar nor a professional theologian. Does
anyone know any of such persons who could be persuaded to offer an
expert opinion on the subject?

(By the way, my screenplay on the Book of Leviticus explores these
matters in some detail. The scene dealing with hunchbacks, dwarves and
men with crushed testicles not drawing near to offer sacrifices is a
cinematic masterpiece.)

Cheers,
don


[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Friday, 17 Jun 2005 18:09:43 -0400
Subject: 16.1102 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1102 New and Improved Lear

Leave it to Shakespeare to create dramatic situations that feature
clashing values. To say that Cordelia, by not honoring her father,
contributes to her fate is not to say that she was totally responsible
for her fate.

As the play is perused, it becomes evident that we have not only values
pitted against each other but also personalities. Cordelia is such that
she cannot bend. She is not one who can step aside from an oncoming
sixteen wheel truck when she has the traffic lights in her favor. It is
the truck driver that must yield since she won't. But the vain and
powerful truck driver thinks he is too important doing government work
to desist and that she ought to step aside. Others have pointed out that
if it were Desdemona in Cordelia's place, there would be no play.

What is astounding is how the controversy simmers in the minds of
audiences. Frank Whigham and John-Paul Spiro, in the spirit of Cordelia,
insist that it is her father that must yield to her high principled
stand on the nature of her love duties to father and husband and that it
is he that must lick his wounds when his favorite daughter shames him, a
powerful king, in public. I do hope Frank is not confronted with such
issues between himself and his parents or children since I suspect that
things will go badly the way they did for Cordelia.

And, by the way, Lear did not deal "corruptly," as Frank insists. He was
not evilly corrupt but was humanly flawed in character. He was vain and
wanted to be honored by his favorite daughter and was cut to the quick
when she grievously disappointed him. Obviously, Cordelia failed Lear's
love test, but so did Lear fail Cordelia's love test.

As the play unfolds, both father and daughter realize their mistake.
When Lear is united with Cordelia after she rescues him, Lear is
astounded that his daughter loves him even after what he has done,
saying that she has "cause" to hate him and but yet doesn't. Lear
realizes his mistake. Frank would probably pop up at this time to berate
Lear and tell him what a jerk he was for not knowing better, but not
Cordelia. Cordelia says, "no cause." Can it be she realizes her mistake
in not honoring her father and admits her mistake in not handling the
test better? I would note here that honoring of parents seems to have
universal acclaim among diverse cultures aside from its affirmation in
the Bible, an intuitive recognition of how life enhancing it is as a
principle.

What should she have done? She could have been diplomatic, as the King
of France tried to be, but then she would not be Cordelia, standing on
principle no matter what. When Mary Tyler Moore is faced with such a
principled situation before Lou Grant her boss, she at first stands firm
and then breaks down in weeping to everyone's laugh as she shows her
vulnerability and recognition that if she persisted she would lose the
job she loved and would be pounding the pavement.

By standing fast, would Cordelia have been honoring her father in the
breach? That idea needs to be scanned. She would have shown her vain
father to be an utter fool, shamed him in public. For Lear to have
accepted that humiliation out of love for his daughter would have
required that proud Lear not be proud Lear. She didn't honor him but
rather she honored her principle. The King of France recognized her
mistake and tried to warn Lear that her words are not completely
adequate in explaining the causes behind her statements. If Lear had
been him, there would be no story.

Interestingly, the Bible considers honoring parents as a high principle,
a principle so valuable that it is deemed powerful enough to gain reward
in this life by lengthening life on earth. In the play, and often
elsewhere, it is an underrated principle. Cordelia (and Frank and
John-Paul) think other things are more important, especially when the
parent behaves like an ass. Talmudic wisdom instructs that we take a
deeper view of such things and recommends adherence to even what seem
minor Biblical commandments since one never knows what may really be
behind them. This point is illustrated numerous times through stories
and parables that show how in the breach of a "minor" commandment
surprisingly dire results follow. One of these stories is about a man
who publicly shames a person he dislikes, breaking a Talmudic law that
asserts that it is a grievous sin to do so, an inference from Biblical
laws. As the story proceeds, the act of shaming provokes reaction and
counter reaction and leads to the fall and destruction of Jerusalem, all
from the failure to honor a colleague.

David Basch

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