This hit me when it came time to write about Hamlet: so much has been written already: nanomachines loosed in the minutia hell-bent on cataloguing organelles. In that case I felt the only way to write anything with a trace of originality was to rest upon an extract, something that out of context spoke wryly. I had not yet done that before, and it made me laugh to give Shakespeare’s longest play my leanest comment. And here I am in the same situation, with Lear.
It makes me wonder, having completed my essays on the Histories, how it is that Lear differs from them. For one it’s source is not recent medieval history, but much farther back, past Juliet Caesar, to a British king purported to rule before the Romans arrived. This distant locale begins to give this tragedy its enchanted feel. It’s as though the whole thing plays out inside a witch’s bubbly cauldron.
Much was different before recorded history. The wind blew fiercer, every storm was a calamity, and the sea’s only job was to turn everything dry into splinters. And though it’s hard for us to imagine, it’s undoubtedly true that pre-historic homo sapiens were every bit as loving, loyal, devious, and political as we.
Another difference between this play and the Histories is that here the hemline being eyed is not the king’s. Right at the beginning Lear peels the target from his back himself, abdicating in all but name. His two wicked daughters divide the kingdom and rule it, while the good one is shunned. While Lear pretty much wanders the howling wilderness, banished by the daughters who no longer have to defer to him, the play splits off another family saga, that of the Gloucesters.
A good Shakespearean villain is born out of wedlock. Say hello to Edmund. He isn’t satisfied stealing his brother Edgar’s legitimate inheritance, he wants to go all the way, seducing Goneril and Regan to gain the kingdom. His plots send Edgar into exile and get his father the Duke’s eyes put out. Edmund’s good for a laugh, just don’t remind him when it’s Mother’s Day.
A third: the cast is small. There aren’t many more than a dozen roles. Each character has much to say, some have more than one role to play. Kent stays loyal to Lear and disguises himself to follow him, Edgar chooses to go mad and calls himself Tom. Edgar meets his blind father on the road and takes up his care and succor. Lear has only his friends. They’re servants, really.
And if an old king, stubborn, metaphorically blind, can change, so then can a villain. Edmund’d been Iago’s equal until he received his mortal wound. The bodies of Goneril and Regan are before him.
Edmund: Yet Edmund was beloved:
The one the other poisoned for my sake,
And after slew herself.
Albany: Even so; cover their faces.
Edmund: I pant for life. Some good I mean to do,
Despite of mine own nature. Quickly send —
Be brief in it — to the castle, for my writ
Is on the life of Lear and on Cordelia;
Nay, send in time.
Albany: Run, run, O run.
Though he too refuses explanation, Edmund will not go mutely as Iago. Perhaps Shakespeare could not resist this brilliant, empathic speech. Mark first how Edmund rejects his own nature. Here is a scorpion who vows not to sting. Mark then how we can see in the dialogue how the breath of life is leaving him. He grows weaker, moribund. He only just gets the words out, Lear and Cordelia in danger, and then no more. When he says, “Nay, send in time,” he’s saying that’s it, go, and that contrast with the previous line paints for us him slumping, having raised himself to sound the alert, now spent. It’s amazing these words show that much. They show more than that. They are a pre-historic storm of emotion. With his wife right beside him Iago never knew he was loved. Edmund finally does. It was from treachery, machinations, adultery, but it rose up still. Poor Albany feels this storm. It makes him cry out, “Run!”, willing the message to be as fleet as his cries. Then he turns intensely on Edmund and has him carried off to die knowing nothing more, this insight his last.
Ghosts on the Lake
The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas
The Secret in Their Eyes
Dover Thrift Editions
The Dover Thrift Edition Awards
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
Fellini on Fellini
My Life as a Dog
Life and Art of
Herzog and Lynch
Let It Loose
Art Over Subject
A Fool's Paradise
All or Nothing
Lewis and Clark
The Journals of Lewis and Clark
Herzog and Lynch
The Mill and the Cross
A New Life
At the National Book Fest
The Museum of Innocence
The Birthday Party
Six Characters in Search of an Author
Gerhard Richter Painting
Living in the Material World
A Midsummer Night's Dream All's Well That Ends Well Antony and Cleopatra The Comedy of Errors Coriolanus Cymbeline Hamlet Julius Caesar King Henry IV Part 1 King Henry IV Part 2 The Life of Henry the Fift King Henry VI Part 1 King Henry VI Part 2 King Henry VI Part 3 King Henry VIII King Lear King Richard II King Richard III The Life and Death of King John Love's Labour's Lost Macbeth Measure for Measure The Merchant of Venice The Merry Wives of Windsor Much Ado About Nothing Othello Pericles, Prince of Tyre  Romeo and Juliet The Taming of the Shrew The Tempest Timon of Athens Titus Andronicus Troilus and Cressida Twelfth Night The Two Gentlemen of Verona The Two Noble Kinsmen The Winter's Tale
My Novel 3 Quarks Daily Arts & Lit Prize Nomination Missouri Review Contest 1 Missouri Review Contest 2 Book Republic Selection
Newborn Artistry Calis Inmost Stares How Obvious David Attenborough Philosophy 1 Marcos and the Maniacs The Pantanal Aught-tober Drywall Banned The River North Saul Birmingham Broken Neck The Indian Viable One Polly The Sign Acabou Cloven Russ and I Money Talks The Top of Bud's Skull Pik Oh Bud Lizards I Bud A Scorpion Freddy O'Clare A New Cartoon Short The Weiner Platz Affair Help, Coach The People's Voice Swineherd Fernando The Glitch SE Asia Labels Oh Geri Gehargehunk The Geologist Gordon Morgan The Unified Team Gymn Was a Spy True Crime Stonehenge Fishing Ricky the River Aspirin Two Messa Jo's The Feeling of Being Hit The Prioress Harz Roller Cardinal Ordinal Bacterium Is Unrelated When Sheryl Was Little Hey Guys Lads, Lasses Jevon Had a Sad Face Recipe for Attracting Aliens This Mess The HMS Colophon I've Got a Song The Elephants The Trouble with the Fire Station The Right Family Faladabad 24 Hoof Prints The Future Back to the Meat World The Pebble Gelsomina Kept Excerpt
Hope Brings Sleep Pelo Amor de Deus
Damsels in Distress
Friday, or The Other Island
Self Portrait Abroad
The Work of
While Mortals Sleep
What Art Gives Us
Four Men on a Raft
One Mo Time