The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0472. Thursday, 17 April 1997.
Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 1997 08:18:31 +0000 (HELP)
Subject: Distressed by *Lear*
An extraordinarily bright student in my Shakespeare class wrote me this
letter the day before yesterday; I have asked him to give me the essay
he describes. But he would appreciate close and specific answers to his
take on *King Lear*.
So, to dispense with any further art, the matter is that I am in the
midst of reading *King Lear* (for the fourth time in a year) and have
yet to grasp-or even remotely discern-those themes which are often
attributed to it. I fail to see how, for instance, the Fool subsumes
Lear's character: he is characterized largely by frivolity and flaccid
humor, his wisdom is overrated, and, if anything, *Lear* is the one who
subsumes *him*, for the King gradually takes over the role of purveyor
of preposterous prattle until the Fool falls silent in Act III Scene 6
and is never heard from again. And what are these claims about Lear
having abandoned his masculinity, his nobility, his pride, and whatnot?
Stuff and nonsense, I say. Look at the text: it's dark, it's cold, and
it's raining. No wonder the King, once pampered and protected from the
elements, is somewhat miffed. But to say that he has all sorts of
apocalyptic revelations in the tempest, when all this doddering old fool
does is bemoan the loss of his cherished retinue and then beat his
breast for having lamented said loss of royal trappings in the first
place (talk about sour grapes), seems to me a spurious proposition.
What is this-I'm some sort of insensitive American rube? Am I missing
something here? Or do you mind if I stray somewhat from the prescribed
essay topics and devote my two thousand words simply to telling you what
I found interesting in King Lear? These are not rhetorical questions. I
am beginning to wonder whether I am cut out for the literary-analytical
trade after all.