King Lear

D.J. Enright-suffering “The principle characters are not those who act, but those who suffer”
“Allow not nature more than nature needs, man’s life is cheap as beasts” Lear states that the removal of his knight’s as being unnecessary is turning him to an animal: it is only pretence and frivolity that makes us human?
G: What need you five and twenty? Ten? Or five? To follow in a house where twice so many that command to tend you?R: What need one? Link to Genesis 18: Abraham bargaining for Sodom: 10 righteous needed for God to not destroy the city (the one good man, Lot, is spared). Abraham’s bargaining shows his compassion, and desire to save people. R+G’s bargaining shows their lack of compassion, as they strip away Lear’s last vestiges of power, beating down Lear’s price/ his masc worth.
“Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art. Off, off you lending: come unbutton here” This speech is a break from Lear’s earlier blank verse (no rhyme, but in iambic pentameter).His reduction in the “kingliness” of his speech to fit his new lower status as a tramp. No longer “every inch a king”-first recorded use of the phrase “unaccommodated man”-Unbutton: foreshadowing his death: “pray you und this button”Clayton: shed “this muddy vesture of decay”
Storm Scene:[Lear, tearing at his clothes, restrained by Kent and the Fool] They prevent him tearing off his regal gown, his symbol of kingship: he cannot rid himself of the vestiges of kingship, even if he looses all his power
Harold Bloom-on man “The descent from monarch to ‘unaccommodated man’ thus conveys most potently man’s fragility, fallibility and fatality”
A. C. Bradley saw Shakespearean tragedy characterized by the “tragic flaw,” the internal imperfection in the hero that brings him down. His downfall becomes his own doing, and he is no longer, as in classical tragedy, the helpless victim of fate.
The weight of this sad time we must obey, speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.The oldest hath borne most; we that are youngShall never see so much nor live so long” Quarto= AlbanyEdgar= King James, a fresh start, diff line. Learned like Lear to “feel what wretches feel”Theme of diff between lang and meaning”I see it feelingly” only becomes aware through physical blindness
Catharsis The purging of the feelings of pity and fear that, according to Aristotle, occur in the audience of tragic drama. The audience experiences catharsis at the end of the play, following the catastrophe.
Catastophe the terrible event that ends the play, usually the death of the protag: initiates the denouement or falling action of a play
Chorus A group of characters in Greek tragedy (and in later forms of drama), who comment on the action of a play without participation in it.
Tragic hero A privileged, exalted character of high repute, who, by virtue of a tragic flaw and fate, suffers a fall from glory into suffering.
Bathos an effect of anticlimax created by an unintentional lapse in mood from the sublime to the trivial or ridiculous.-Gloucester’s death/Absurdism
Bathos + wanton gods is the auidnce the “wanton… gods”: do we simply watch this tragedy for ourselves, for our own enjoyment. What can be the purpsoe of the suffering
Anagnorisis: moment of revelation of identity Aristotelian definition of tragedy, it was the discovery of one’s own identity or true character (e.g. Cordelia, Edgar, Edmund) OR of someone else’s identity or true nature (Lear’s children, Gloucester’s children) by the tragic hero.
“thunder would not peace at my bidding” Lear is used to having control over the natural worldThis new impotence mirrors his loss of power in the kingdom/ broken nature
“Is this the promised end?” asked by Kent at the end of the playPossibly a metatheatrical statement, mirroring the audience’s own horror at the ending, as they expected Cordelia to survive.
“The wheel is come full circle, I am here”circularity imagery: what if nothing really changes? Edmund to Edgar: shows that justice has been done?However, is Edmund a mere instrument: this is a dramatic departure from his previous thoughts: “if thou art noble i do forgive thee”Arguably, Edmund was a mere tool of the gods, and his reversion to a respect for the “natural order” is evidence of his compulsion to evil to be lifted: perhaps he really is a villain by necessity, that his father’s vice must be punished.
Sophocles Ajax: “that wheel comes surely round”: wheel of fate is a tragic motif. No divine justice, vents are random.
SchlegelLear’s downfall a “fall from the highest elevation into the deepest abyss of misery”
Apollonian Dionysian Apollo and Dionysus are both sons of Zeus. Apollo is the god of reason and the rational, while Dionysus is the god of the irrational and chaos.Reason + logic / emotion + insitinct
Apollonian kills Dionysian. Lear, in demanding the love test, is favouring the rational over the instinctual, the felt love (which is why C is fave). Lear also retreats into the Dionysian, in the primal storm scene.Gloucester takes a Socratic approach, using suicide as a “cure” for the disease of life, whereas the Dionysian affirms life, at all costs. Edgar perhaps represents the balance struck between the two, knowing the value of both emotion and balence
Nietche: birth of tragedy The tragic hero struggles to makes sense of his unjust fate, although he remains unfulfilled.Purpose: “Primordail Unity” with the Dionysian, the heart of creation. Salvation possible in this
CONTEXT: King James ascent to throne this fixed a lot of uncertainty about the heir
Lear: Henry 8th: destabilising effectRegan and Goneril: evil sexy ladies, who try to change the natural orderCordelia: Elizabeth, sexless Gloriana/armada. But no kids/a woman, not a valid heir.Edgar: King James: reunite what has been broken, fix the sins of the past I’m thinking why Cordelia has to die: it’s her house that has to die, like the curse on the house of Atreus: became of the sins of the ancestor, they are bound by fate to suffer and die: the only ones who survive are not of their fam.She dies for her blood, not her action
“Does any here know me? Why this is not Lear. Does Lear walk thus, speak thus? Where are his eyes?””Who is it that can tell me who I am?” Lear divides what is indivisible: the kingdom, and therefore also his mind. In dividing the body politic, he dies just as if he has divided the body natural, his own body.
Royal Estate Queen Elizabeth was advised to treat all land not as property of the king/queen as an individual but belong to the crown, so could not be removed. King James advised his heir to not divide their land, but to give all to the eldest, and give the others privet estates, otherwise risk “the seed of diuision and discord amoung your posteritie”
Lear when he exits Act 1, is still wearing his crown “The name, and all th’addition to a king”This ironically visually highlights the fact that Lear wishes to maintain his royal prerogatives, while giving away his power.
Kent’s nihlism “all’s cheerless, dark, and deadly”
“All friends shall taste the wages of their virtue, and all foes the cup of their deservings” This is contrasted deeply with the presence of the dead Cordelia on stage. How can Albany claim justice when Cordelia, renowned for her virtue, is dead?Is it because woman are supposed to be silent/ Kathleen McLuskie: “restoration of the patriarchy”
Kathleen McLuskie ” Women are made either to submit- Cordelia- or must be destroyed- Goneril and Regan”-But Cordelia does not submit, she stands up to Lear–> However the idealisation of the silent woman makes Cordelia a hero to the audience, for acting as a woman should.
Charles Lamb “… we see not Lear, but we are Lear, we are in his mind”
“Nothing, my lord” Edmund and Cordelia:Edmund, the base, becomes legitimateCordelia, the most loved/legit, becomes disowned/ a bastard
“the quality of nothing hath not such need to hide itself” Glocuster to Edmund.Is this saying that Cordelia’s nothing was better off spoken? Or given the effects of Edmund’s nothing, is this wrong, as is Lear’s deman of Cordelia’s inditement
“It is his hand, my lord, but I hope his heart is not in the contents” Ironically, Edmund is advocating for the separation of words and their meaning. If this was believed, his plan would fail.Cordelia, advocates for this and meets similar rejection.
“As if we were villains on necessity… knaves, thieves and treachers by spherical predominance” “enforced obedience of planetary influence”Gloucester believes in the planets: “these ;ate eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us”Edmund rejects this, and his villainy is about proving this wrong, going against the supposed order of reason towards a meritocracy. He later reverses these ideas when he dies
“The gods are just and of our plesent vices make instruments to plague us” Edgar seems to be arguing that Edmund killed his father, and was a plague. However, Edgar was the only one present at his gather’s death: is he trying to alleviate blame?Poetic justice: this seems to be undermined by C’s death
“The dark and vicious place where thee he got cost him his eyes” Dark and Vicious place: Peter Rudinsky: the vagaina, a “nothing”Oedipus Rex: tears out his eyes for adultery: Gloc punishemnt, not hanging for treasonExample of justice: shows that the real crime is
“Oh how this mother swells up toward my heart! Hysteric passio…” Hysteria: supposed to be a woman’s disease, to dot his the womb.Seems to be a symptom of anxiety. hard to breathAnother example of upside down father: the father suffering the mother. -also coincides with the only ref to his kids mum.
Adelmanhysteria Lear: “discovers his origin in the suffocating maternal womb”
“and let not woman’s weapons, water drops, stain my man’s cheeks” Lear grows to accept the healing power of tears, or catharsis when he is reconciled with Cordelia, representative of “good femininity “, he accepts the woman in himself
“thou art a soul in bliss, but I am bound upon a wheel of fire that mine own tears do scald like molten lead” Lear: Wheel of fortune comes full circle: C in heaven, Lear in hellRecalls Ixion: punished for trying to seduce Juno.
Castration:Made less powerful, phallic imagery “Their precious stones fresh lost”: ref to Gloucester’s eyes, but with the loss of his eyes, Gloucester also loses his power. Rudnsky: stones= testicles= masc power. “You are men of stones”= statues, unacting/unfeeling, masculinity= unfeeling, after Lear comes to terms with his femininity +feeling.
“I’ll not weep.” [storm and tempest] The placement of nature thundering= shows him to be a king over the elements, and the storm rep his inner turmoil.
“Meanwhile, we shall express our darker purposes” 1000 Acres, a modern novelization of Lear, where the imagery of abuse is made explicit.Plural: is Lear’s love-contest purely in order to exorcize control of Cordelia, and to deliberately expel her from the family.
“by all the operation of the orbs from whom we do exist, and cease to be” Rudnsky: the good/bad breast, which brings life and also ends it. Lear’s infantile fixation on the mother
I love your majesty according to my bond, no more nor less
Hubris: in Lear thinking he can go against God’s will and resign form king/ divide land.
George Orwell The Fool “acts as a foil to Lear’s furies… his endless digs at Lear’s high-minded follies”= the only “trickle of sanity” in the play.
“he hath ever but slenderly known himself” Regan on Lear.however, rashness may be a long held trait. No-ne ever speaks against it: this is why two so dear to Lear fall so quickly in such succession.
Fool as a Greek Chorus Nietzsche: Chorus Satyrs, bring down the “illusion of culture”
Lear: Now by Apollo-Kent: Now by Apollo, King, thou swear’st thy gods in vain Apollo= clear-sighted + god of reason. they both swear by the same god, showing how useless this is (and is a function of heir later speech “by Juno/Jupiter”)Highlight’s Lear’s focus on the sycophantic words of R+G over the true, less flowery words of Cordelia.
J. Stampfer Lear’s catharsis is the exercising of our anxiety over the human condition. We fear breaking the covenant with society, and we fear that nothing we do will ever atone for this, and in Lear’s unmitigated punishment for his single sin, we gain catharsis.
Jan Kott/ Peter Brook Absurdist adapations
Goneril accuses Lear of turning her home into a place of “Epicurism and lust” Epicurean Paradox: formulation of theological problem of evil”If God is neither able nor willing to prevent evil, why call him God?”App to Lear: If Lear is neither able nor willing to exercise power, why call him king?
I am a fool, thou art nothing Lear has given up being king, so is now nothing (fem)However, thou is a term of address for those of a higher social status.
Lear as an absurd hero cannot be rescued from the meaninglessness of the human condtion
Cunningham-how does anagnorisis manifest in Lear and Glocester G: “Insight through blindness”L: “wisdom through madness”-yet by being made impotent, they are unable to use this new learning.
Becket: endgame: tears Clov: He’s cryingHamm: Then he’s living