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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: June ::
New and Improved Lear
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1158  Tuesday, 28 June 2005

[1]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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        Date:   Monday, 27 Jun 2005 13:23:52 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1154 New and Improved Lear

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Monday, 27 Jun 2005 15:51:23 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1154 New and Improved Lear

[3]     From:   John-Paul Spiro <
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        Date:   Monday, 27 Jun 2005 16:52:05 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.1154 New and Improved Lear

[4]     From:   Julia Griffin <
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        Date:   Monday, 27 Jun 2005 22:33:15 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1154 New and Improved Lear

[5]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 28 Jun 2005 11:23:31 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1154 New and Improved Lear


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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Date:           Monday, 27 Jun 2005 13:23:52 -0400
Subject: 16.1154 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1154 New and Improved Lear

Martin Steward <
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 >"Shakespeare is at pains to show that Lear's Britain is not
 >Judeo-Christian." (John-Paul Spiro,  SHK 16.1147  Friday, 24 June 2005)
 >
 >How come, then, it is revealed that there are "steeples" to be drenched
 >in Lear's Britain, just at the point when he makes his most impassioned
 >plea to an anthropomorphized Nature?

The ancient Britons, like the ancient Romans, obviously employed
steeples to house their chiming clocks, since they had pockets, but no
pocket-watches.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 27 Jun 2005 15:51:23 -0400
Subject: 16.1154 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1154 New and Improved Lear

 >the Bible is based on universal morality, moral obligations
 >that all men must obey, Jew, gentile, pagan, etc.

This is arguably so of the prohibitions against murder, theft and
perjury.  But when we go beyond those, it becomes more difficult to
argue for universality.  Even Basch doesn't go that far:

 >Some of the laws
 >in the Hebrew Bible are meant for Jews only and gentiles get no points
 >for observing them, like purification through the sprinkling of the
 >ashes of the red heifer or observing the seventh day Sabbath

And only Moslems seem to take the one about graven images seriously.

Then there are those which, one hopes, are universally disregarded.
Take, for example, this choice piece of legislation from Exodus 21:20-21:

       "And if a man smite his servant, or his maid,
         with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall
         be surely punished.
       " Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two,
         he shall not be punished; for he is his money.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John-Paul Spiro <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 27 Jun 2005 16:52:05 -0400
Subject: 16.1154 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.1154 New and Improved Lear

David Basch:

 >For one, the Bible is based on universal morality, moral obligations
 >that all men must obey, Jew, gentile, pagan, etc. These show up in
 >Genesis as what are known as the seven Noahide laws, inferred from
 >what
 >the people prior to the giving of the Law were punished for. Not
 >surprising, among them are stealing and murder. Don't the Catholics
 >also
 >believe in the "natural" or universal laws of mankind? Some of the
 >laws
 >in the Hebrew Bible are meant for Jews only and gentiles get no
 >points
 >for observing them, like purification through the sprinkling of the
 >ashes of the red heifer or observing the seventh day Sabbath.

Many religious are universalist (a notable, ironic exception:
Universalists).  But to say "That Cordelia, she didn't follow Mosaic
law" is to say more about one's own point of view than about Cordelia,
"King Lear," or Shakespeare.  Though I know Mr. Basch feels otherwise, I
do not think Shakespeare was interested in whether or not his characters
(other than the explicitly Jewish ones) followed Jewish laws.  It is an
open question whether or not Shakespeare cared if his characters
followed Christian laws.  (His friars, for example, stand out from most
stage friars of the period in their flexibility and practicality.)
Shakespeare may or may not have cared if his characters followed
"universal laws," but what Shakespeare believed to be a "universal law"
is a fool's errand.  There are always exceptions and new contexts
wherein what you think of as Shakespeare's "worldview" or "values" are
upset, overturned, and complicated beyond whatever personal dogmatizing
you may attempt.  And as I wrote before, if Shakespeare believed in
"universal laws," then it does not matter if these laws have their own
versions in various religions and cultures.  Shakespeare deployed them
in their universality, not their particularity.

 >The story of Job is set in an undisclosed time in an unknown city,
 >UZ,
 >and Lear is given a similar setting. This conveys the idea that what
 >is
 >being dealt with are the universal moralities of human societies.
 >Job
 >could be considered the most righteous and does not even need to be
 >Jewish. In fact, it is a Jewish teaching that a gentile who observes
 >the
 >universal laws is on a higher plane than an Israelite high priest
 >who
 >violates those laws.

Of course.  The source for "Job" is probably Babylonian.  Therefore,
citing "Job" as an example of singularly Jewish morality or theology is
problematic.  It IS Jewish, but it is not just Jewish.  (This is further
complicated by the integration of much of the Hebrew Scriptures into
Christian and Islamic traditions.)  So if "King Lear" is like "Job,"
then it does not follow that "King Lear" explores Jewish morality and
theology.  Both texts explore ideas that appear in many cultures and
traditions.

 >Lear's faults are characterlogical faults, as are Cordelia's, and
 >are
 >not scriptural ideas read back into earlier times but part of the
 >wisdom
 >of the human heritage. The scriptures compile this wisdom and give
 >it a
 >divine sponsorship. Thank heaven the scriptures were given and were
 >made
 >central to many societies for they were enriched by them, getting
 >compiled wisdom that served as a short cut in recognizing it as most
 >valuable to good functioning.

Absolutely.  Think of how badly people would have behaved if they hadn't
had access to such texts.  And think of how well they have behaved
because of such access.

 >John-Paul Spiro seems to be missing is a feeling for loving ties.
 >Has he
 >ever had a loved one in his life that he wishes to treat gingerly
 >rather
 >than instantly educate to his standard of super morality? Being
 >kind,
 >especially to loved ones, is basic and doing this seems to lie
 >outside
 >the bounds of embarrassing those loved ones in public. Not only is
 >Cordelia "over righteous," but she is "wise over much" too, the two
 >things that Ecclesiastes warns about as leading to self destruction.

I find it exceptionally rude to make moral judgments about a person
based on his/her interpretations of literary texts.  We are discussing
Shakespeare here, not ourselves.  (Can we make that a rule, please?)  I
understand Cordelia's failure/refusal to butter up her father in front
of his cronies, her suitors, and the rest of their family.  If this has
something to do with my own relationships and emotions, then that's
between me and people not on this listserv.  (Or, as Woody Allen would
say, "That's between me and my analyst.")  I say this not because I'm
offended but because Mr. Basch's tendency to make judgments about my
personal life and views based on my comments here is similar to the
error he makes in judging Shakespeare's personal life and views based on
his fictional works.  There is almost certainly a relation but it is not
one that anyone could know with anything resembling certainty unless one
knows the person in question quite intimately.  It is very possible that
Shakespeare's own life and views were drastically different from the
lives and views he explores in his writings.  It probably depended on
the stage of his life, the situation, and the people around him.  We'll
never know.  We would do well to leave the man alone and focus on the
works themselves.

Mr. Basch, like many readers, is discomfited by what appears to be
homosexual or bisexual tendencies expressed in Shakespeare's sonnets.
Mr. Basch has his own theory about it, as do many people.  What cannot
be denied is that a male poet expresses love for another male figure in
strikingly erotic terms.  As for what Shakespeare himself felt, we'll
never really know.  (And as for what he DID, we know even less.)

 >Everyone has heard the cautionary warning, "Don't be a wise guy,"
 >and
 >while some learn this from the Bible it can also be learned from
 >life,
 >probably through painful experience. Cordelia's over wise thinking
 >shows
 >in her grave error that thinks that love is limited only to one
 >target
 >at a time.  In her youthful zeal, she fails to recognize that she
 >can
 >love her husband and her father at the very same time, and probably
 >a
 >couple of kids too. She thought she was right and allowed that to
 >bowl
 >over her father instead of responding in love and humility.

She (and I) never said she couldn't love her father.  She said she loves
him "according to my bond, neither more nor less."  He was asking for
more and she couldn't give it to him.  She felt that her father was
asking her to lie, or at least "perform" her emotions, and she could do
neither.  She was too rigid, but he was asking for it.  If he knew her
at all, he wouldn't have asked, and if she were more concerned about the
consequences than about her own honesty, then she would have handled the
situation differently.  They both want things from each other that they
cannot give: he cannot be less than vain, and she cannot be less than
honest.  His idea of love involves public adoration while hers involves
sincerity and order.

When I teach "King Lear," I usually ask the students why we rarely, if
ever, tell our loved ones, "I love you exactly as much as I'm supposed
to."  Love often invites hyperbole.  At the same time, some people find
it annoying and childish if they are repeatedly asked, "How much do you
love me?  This much?  THIS much?"  As much as some people enjoy
flattery, some people aren't so good at it, or are insulted when it is
demanded of them.  Cordelia is such a person.  She expects better
behavior from her father and he disappoints her.  (And vice-versa.)
That Kent, who seems to be in every way a good man and loyal counselor,
defends Cordelia (and pays a price similar to hers) stacks the deck in
favor of Cordelia's position.

 >Finally, I think that Cordelia's "no cause" refers to the fact that
 >she
 >thinks her father has given her "no cause" for hatred. She can only
 >come
 >to that wise conclusion when she realizes her over reaching and
 >errors
 >in thinking, a wisdom brought about by the dire consequences that
 >followed her actions. She has learned to simply love her father and
 >not
 >try to educate him to her grand scheme of thinking that turned out
 >to be
 >an error, but would have been unwise and unkind even if it had had
 >some
 >real wisdom behind it.

I agree.  She has not learned to butter him up but she has learned to
shut up.  Instead of saying "Nothing," she says almost nothing.  In 5.3,
when Lear spins his fantasy about being locked in prison with her
forever, she says nothing.  Perhaps she nods in agreement but she is too
frightened to speak.  Perhaps she feels the end is here and nothing more
can be said.  Perhaps she rolls her eyes.  These are decisions for
actresses to make because they have to convey something onstage.  We
readers are left to speculate.  Speculate we should; simplify, or speak
with certainty, we should not.

Bill Arnold:

 >Christians do read the New Testament and note that Jesus
 >claims his Jewish ancestry from King David.  They also note that
 >Jesus
 >is the one who refers to the Old Testament in support of his
 >ministry of
 >the Gospel, his teachings of the Word of God.  Christians are not
 >doing
 >something suddenly on their own.  The combined Old and New Testament
 >Bible has a history thousands of years old and Christians of today
 >are
 >cognizant of what Christians have known during two thousand years:
 >Jesus
 >was a Jew who brought his ministry to his own people, and embraced
 >publicans and sinners from all walks of life, including his Roman
 >occupiers, who he felt most need healing and salvation from his
 >teachings.  Christians are following the teachings of Jesus who as a
 >Jew
 >is pointing back to passages in the Old Testament which he claims to
 >fulfill.  It is ludicrous to divorce the New Testament from the Old
 >in
 >the Holy Bible, because Jesus was a Jew who claimed his Hebrew
 >Scriptures foretold his coming as the Anointed One, the Messiah,
 >thus
 >John-Paul Spiro's thought is a total misread of The Holy Bible [ ! ]

Several Christians DO in fact read Christianity back into the Hebrew
Scriptures/Old Testament/whatever.  For example, many read the "Song of
Solomon" as a dialogue between Christ and his Church.  (A Jew could do
this as well, I suppose, as "Christ" is a Jewish concept, but the whole
issue of whether or not Jesus was in fact the Christ--an issue that
separates most Jews from most Christians--means that they almost
certainly read the text differently.)  It is also a longstanding problem
in Biblical interpretation that several people in the HS/OT do not
behave in an explicitly Christian manner and yet are favored by God.
These problems have stimulated a lot of writing and debate, most of
which comes from Christians reading Christianity back into the HS/OT.

Whether or not God "changed His mind" from time of Moses to the time of
Jesus is itself a matter of great controversy--but only for people who
believe Jesus to be the Christ.

Much has already been written about the "Hebrew Scriptures"/"Old
Testament" issue here.  Why can't we make it a matter of personal
preference?

Martin Steward:

 >"Shakespeare is at pains to show that Lear's Britain is not
 >Judeo-Christian." (John-Paul Spiro,  SHK 16.1147  Friday, 24 June
 >2005)
 >
 >How come, then, it is revealed that there are "steeples" to be
 >drenched
 >in Lear's Britain, just at the point when he makes his most
 >impassioned
 >plea to an anthropomorphized Nature?

Great question.  I am inclined to read the reference to steeples as
similar to the reference to clocks in "Julius Caesar": i.e., as an
anachronism.  It is also relevant that characters in "King Lear" refer
to Lear as "Your Grace."  The terms have Christian associations but not
exclusively so.  At the same time, I'll cede some ground on my argument.
  Nevertheless, the multiple expressions of polytheism in "King Lear,"
the absence of more concrete Christian references, and the historical
source convince me that the play's setting is pre-Judeo-Christian.
Elton's case is quite sound.

John-Paul Spiro

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Julia Griffin <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 27 Jun 2005 22:33:15 -0400
Subject: 16.1154 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1154 New and Improved Lear

On Lear and its supposed Judaeo-Christianity, etc.:

Shakespeare took an old, Christian play on this ancient king and altered
it in such a way that caritas does not prevail and repentance does not
save (except, perhaps, in the shadow-story of Gloucester, as reported by
Edgar).  Instead he ended his version of events with darkness - the
stark despair of the Quarto, later (it seems) complicated into the
delusional vision of the Folio, and an appalling, inverted pieta in
which the crazed father carries in his daughter's arbitrarily-murdered
body.  All's cheerless, dark, deadly, and over.

It is hard (for me) to see how any optimistic faith-system supports or
indeed allows for this story, as S has presented it.  (The Job-ending as
we have it, where the righteous hero is rewarded by new, replacement
daughters with fancy names, seems to work much better from that point of
view.)  Johnson and Tate saw all this and responded to it honestly,
finding S's play "unbearable" and preferring something more like the
dramatic story's original shape.  There seems to me something
unsatisfactory in a response that laughs the Tate version out of court
and still wants a play that is in some recognizable sense Christian.

But our responses to this play come from so deep within that I do not
expect to convince one person who did not already agree with this argument.

Julia

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 28 Jun 2005 11:23:31 +0100
Subject: 16.1154 New and Improved Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1154 New and Improved Lear

David Basch <
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 >

 >Cordelia's over wise thinking shows
 >in her grave error that thinks that love is limited only to one target
 >at a time.

Surely this is back-to-front, David?  It's *Lear* who insists that love
should be limited to one target -- him.

It also seems to me a trifle vacuous to make a moral judgement on
Cordelia's behaviour extracted from its context in the play.  What
should Cordelia do?  Love and be silent, or behave as Goneril and Regan
have just done?  And who's judgement do we follow on her behaviour --
the senile and selfish moral delinquent Lear, or the authority of Kent
who, like Cordelia, is prepared to accept the consequences of his action?

Robin Hamilton

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