King Lear

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Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are,
That bide the pelting and pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have t'en
Too little care of this!

Much of Lear's madness, and his rage, seems to be a flight from these types of moments, which punctuate the play -- moments where he is truly aware of the existence of others and his own (broken) commitments to them.

treeship., Wednesday, 18 November 2020 12:09 (six days ago) link

oh this is totally the tragedy of a leader who's prey to his own feelings and humanity

imago, Wednesday, 18 November 2020 12:14 (six days ago) link

but that is every Shakespeare tragedy so

imago, Wednesday, 18 November 2020 12:14 (six days ago) link

Not a genius-level insight, I admit, but it's striking how poignant it is. He wants to bathe his mind in resentment because it's easier to bear than responsibility. This is a kind of cowardice for sure. I am teaching this to high school students and they have absolutely no time for Lear and his narcissistic entitlement. Specifically, they are pissed at his refusal to accept real responsibility, or see the situation in terms beside "betrayal". (The whole kingdom is falling apart bro!)

They're right, of course, but I wonder if Gen Z - more than millennials - are conditioned to like, specifically not be moved by Lear's suffering, and to see his entitlement as a root of evil that he must be held accountable for, not just an instance of tragic hamartia.

treeship., Wednesday, 18 November 2020 12:18 (six days ago) link

I wonder about the extent to which their models of leadership have preconditioned them to eschew empathy? In a Trumpy world, doesn’t wailing seem performarive?

mildew and sanctimony (soda), Wednesday, 18 November 2020 12:24 (six days ago) link

Lear is extremely Trumpian. He demands flattery in scene 1. He relentlessly cycles through his grievances once things don't go his way. The only thing that distinguishes him from Trump are these moments of self-awareness, when he catches himself, but they're rare:

Your old kind father, whose frank heart gave all--
O, that way madness lies, let me shun that.
No more of that.

Of course he goes back into the grievances like a page later.

The thing is, it is the story of an asshole narcissist who, due to moral laziness and an indifference to discerning the truth (due to a Trumpian combination of senility and narcissism), hands the keys to the kingdom to a couple of sociopaths and unleashes misery on others. When I first read this play, it didn't feel so directly relevant, but today it seems like an actual, plausible model of how the world might go to hell.

treeship., Wednesday, 18 November 2020 12:34 (six days ago) link

He is also, of course, capable of being better, and throughout the play is in flight from his conscience. For me, that makes him sympathetic -- facing the world honestly is a struggle for everyone. But I get it if my students are unmoved.

treeship., Wednesday, 18 November 2020 12:35 (six days ago) link

If Trump is Lear, then his base is Edmund...

imago, Wednesday, 18 November 2020 13:08 (six days ago) link

Now gods stand up for deplorables!

imago, Wednesday, 18 November 2020 13:08 (six days ago) link

lol

treeship., Wednesday, 18 November 2020 13:10 (six days ago) link

i think i need to read the play a few more times to really understand what the deal is with the fool. his jokes and songs feel repetitive and annoying to me.

treeship., Wednesday, 18 November 2020 13:16 (six days ago) link

i get that he is providing commentary on the action, like a greek chorus, and also adding a creepy element of levity to a environment where people are getting their eyes gouged out and things. but i still think i am missing something.

treeship., Wednesday, 18 November 2020 13:17 (six days ago) link

Oh, the fool is always the only one who completely understands everything, surely

imago, Wednesday, 18 November 2020 13:31 (six days ago) link

he's the only one who both recognizes goneril and regan as vicious AND holds lear responsible for what he's done. the other characters in the play are either blindly loyal to lear or in league with the forces of chaos.

treeship., Wednesday, 18 November 2020 13:46 (six days ago) link

but why the sing-song nursery rhymes? i guess it adds a horror element, almost...

treeship., Wednesday, 18 November 2020 13:46 (six days ago) link

surely a way of showing how easily the truth is mocked or disregarded

imago, Wednesday, 18 November 2020 14:01 (six days ago) link

Isn't there a theory that Cordelia and the Fool were written to be played by the same actor? I like the idea that Cordelia is in some way haunting Lear through the Fool.

jmm, Wednesday, 18 November 2020 14:18 (six days ago) link

Both roles to be played by Sarah Cooper. Jared Kushner as Edmund, Goneril and Regan feat. ACB and Brett Kavanaugh in drag.

mildew and sanctimony (soda), Wednesday, 18 November 2020 14:29 (six days ago) link

The sing-song nursery rhymes are part of the unspoken agreement that says that the Fool can tell the truth as long as it's cloaked in humor or entertainment, yes? Lear doesn't tolerate people telling him even mild truths directly, but he lets this guy roast him on the regular because that's the price of having a talented comic around all the time. (A major difference between Trump and Lear, incidentally - a guy who did his best to overthrow Western democracy because he couldn't handle the White House Correspondents' Dinner could never keep anyone like the Fool around for a second.)

I mean, the Fool must be a kind of analogue to Shakespeare himself, I think - his vision of himself as an artist who stuck pretty close to the centers of power but was also able to keep a lot of artistic freedom because he was so good at entertaining people.

Lily Dale, Wednesday, 18 November 2020 16:43 (six days ago) link

^good posting

imago, Wednesday, 18 November 2020 16:44 (six days ago) link

I would also say that a key difference between Trump and Lear is that Trump would never willingly give up any of the symbols of his power, because he understands, as Lear does not, that the support he gets is entirely conditional on his being in a position of power. And of course Trump understands that so well because all of his relationships are conditional, and always have been, whereas Lear has two, maybe three people around him who genuinely care for him regardless of the position he occupies. He has to learn to recognize the difference, and the inability to to recognize the difference leads him into disaster, but there is still something in him that people like Cordelia and Kent respond to, and whatever that is, Trump doesn't have it.

Lily Dale, Wednesday, 18 November 2020 17:17 (six days ago) link

I mean, the Fool must be a kind of analogue to Shakespeare himself, I think - his vision of himself as an artist who stuck pretty close to the centers of power but was also able to keep a lot of artistic freedom because he was so good at entertaining people.

i guess i don't find the fool funny enough to see him as an analogue to shakespeare. the funniest moments in the play don't have to do with him, really. but i think you are right that the fool is a kind of stand-in for shakespeare and the (contingent, relative) freedom enjoyed by artists in a strictly hierarchial society.

totally agree that lear is not as, um, spiritually impoverished as trump. there is indication in the play that he was once a great king and his descent into fantasy and narcissism is a recent thing. cordelia tries to appeal to his reason in the beginning -- to snap him out of it -- which suggests he was once someone who could be reasoned with.

treeship., Thursday, 19 November 2020 12:28 (five days ago) link

what a great play.

treeship., Thursday, 19 November 2020 12:29 (five days ago) link


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