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King Lear

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King Lear First lecture Lear in the 21st century After all the warfare, bloodshed, genocide of the 20th cent., not to mention what we ve already achieved in the ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: King Lear


1
King Lear
  • First lecture

2
Lear in the 21st century
  • After all the warfare, bloodshed, genocide of the
    20th cent., not to mention what weve already
    achieved in the fledgling 21st, Lear has come to
    seem Shs most profound tragedy.
  • A dark, almost hopeless tragedy, lots of cruelty
    and suffering, even absurdity.
  • The death of Cordelia, and maybe of Lear too,
    may seem almost gratuitous.
  • And what could be worse to witness onstage than
    the blinding of Gloucester?
  • Theater of Cruelty of Antonin Artaud.
  • But a play that has depths that open further
    every time one reads or sees it.
  • It starts out with the theme of families, but
    quickly becomes more . . .
  • . . . and reaches a strangely symbolic character.

3
Lear in 1606
  • First recorded performance of the play is St.
    Stephens day, 26 December, 1606, before King
    James!
  • Mind-boggling to think that a play that shows a
    king giving up his rule . . .
  • . . . going mad and thrown to the mercy of the
    elements . . .
  • . . . and learning about the completely arbitrary
    nature of all human authority (a dogs obeyed in
    office) . . .
  • should be played before the King of England and
    Scotland!
  • A play that shows the dark side of the world over
    which James ruled.
  • There was a recent case in law, in 1604, of the
    eldest daughter of Brian Annesley, a wealthy
    gentleman pensioner of Queen Elizabeth, who tried
    to have her father declared a lunatic, so she and
    her husband could control his estate.
  • His youngest daughter, Cordell, protested and
    appealed (successfully) to Robt. Cecil (Jamess
    minister). Annesley left his estate to Cordell
    at his death in 1604.
  • And from June, 1604, to June 1606, a well
    publicized case in Star Chamber saw Sir Robert
    Dudley, bastard son of Robt. Dudley, earl of
    Leicester (Elizabeths favorite), trying
    (unsuccessfully) to have his bastardy overturned.
  • He lost, partly because of Jamess intervention.

4
Texts of Lear
  • A quarto was published in 1608.
  • And a quite different text in the folio of 1623.
  • Quarto has almost 100 lines not in the folio.
  • And folio has almost 300 lines not in the quarto.
  • So essentially two different versions of the
    play.
  • Our text conflates the two, as has usually been
    done.
  • We get the folio text with the quarto additions
    in square brackets.
  • The folio may have been the playing text.

5
Performance and source
  • Richard Burbage played Lear in the original
    performances, the actor who had played Hamlet and
    Othello.
  • And Richard Armin played the fool. He had played
    the fool in Twelfth Night (which he quotes at
    III.2.75-78), and the grave-digger in Hamlet.
  • The setting of the play is very generalized
    pre-historic, pre-Christian Britain. The story
    in Holinsheds Chronicles goes back to 800 B.C.
  • Actual source of play is an old play, King Leir,
    which had been performed in 1594 (by another
    company), and apparently staged again in 1605,
    when it was printed.
  • Shakespeare clearly knew the text of that play
    and used it in his version.

6
The strange, fairytale-like opening of the play
  • Clip of the Olivier film (1984).
  • The opening with Gloucester and Kent insists on
    Edmunds bastardy, and a violation of a taboo
    here?
  • If realism were the mode of the play, wed
    wonder why Lear is doing this . . .
  • . . . and why Cordelia cant simply tell Lear
    what he wants to hear.
  • Lear speaks of our darker purpose.
  • He wishes to retire, conferring royal duties to
    younger strengths, while we/ Unburdened crawl
    toward death.
  • The highly ornate, rhetorical flourish of
    Gonerils speech, I.1.55-61.
  • Which Regan tops!
  • And of course the exercise is all symbolic, since
    Lear has already determined the shares.
  • Do we feel some sort of taboo is being violated?
    Lear was obviously intending to favor Cordelia
    over the others what can you say to draw/ A
    third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.
  • So why does Cordelia say, Nothing, my lord?
  • And goes on to a non-rhetorical, flat statement
    of what daughters owe their fathers and their
    spouses.
  • Why is Lear doing this? And why wont Cordelia
    play along?
  • Lears rage 109ff.

7
Kents banishment
  • Kents intervention begins ceremoniously l.
    140ff
  • But Lear demands plainness.
  • So Kent lets him have it Be Kent unmannerly/
    When Lear is mad. What wouldst thou do, old man?
    Note the familiarity of thou.
  • And his rhyming at 185ff seems to round off the
    exchange.
  • The play is dividing characters according to
    their language and rhetoric.
  • The Burgundy/France test Cordelia becomes more
    desirable to France because of her dowerless
    poverty.
  • When Kent returns in disguise in 1.4, plainness
    becomes his middle name.
  • And this defines his quarrel with Oswald, whom he
    calls a base football player (1.4.85)
  • And his opposition to Oswald at II.2 his
    wonderfully inventive list of insults at l. 13ff.
  • No contraries hold more antipathy/ Than I and
    such a knave.
  • And even to Cornwall Sir, tis my occupation to
    be plain./ I have seen better faces . . .
    (89ff).
  • Characters seem to run to the moral poles of the
    world of the play Cordelia vs. her sisters, Kent
    vs. Oswald, Edgar vs. Edmund.

8
The moral poles of the play
  • Goneril and Regans opposition to Lear at first
    seems commonsense.
  • Their brief dialogue at the end of I.1.
  • Gonerils objections to the Fool, her problems
    with the hundred knights (1.4.195ff).
  • Her desire that he a little to disquantity your
    train.
  • Lears terrible curse of Goneril 1.4.271.
  • But Albanys reaction complicates.
  • Regans sympathy with Goneril, II.4
  • And they whittle down his 100 knights.
  • Oh reason not the need! What gives us our grip
    on life?
  • By this point their opposition seems moral.

9
Moral poles (cont.)
  • Edmund and Edgar
  • Edmunds role as a sort of renaissance new man
    his soliloquy at 1.2.
  • With a new sense of Nature almost Darwinian?
  • His opposition to Edgar and Gloucester.
  • And his eventual alliance with Goneril and Regan.
  • Edgars choice of disguise Poor Tom
  • Why? Hes the son of an earl.
  • His feigned madness in stark contrast to Edmund?

10
The Fool
  • One of the most wonderful conceptions, and
    wonderful roles, in the play.
  • Hes a jester, Lears all-licensed fool, whos
    allowed to say anything.
  • Court jesters were sometimes mental defectives,
    retarded adults.
  • But sometimes professional entertainers,
    comedians allowed to enliven court proceedings.
  • King James had a jester, Archie Armstrong, who
    was well known for an impudence verging on
    arrogance.
  • Lears fool has an almost filial relation with
    him.
  • Calls Lear nuncle, uncle Lear calls him boy
    (even though Armin was in his early 40s).
  • His strange link with Cordelia the Fool has
    grown sad after Cordelia went to France Since
    my young ladys going into France, the fool hath
    much pined away.
  • And my poor fool is hanged, Lear says in the
    last scene he seems to mean Cordelia, but speaks
    of the fool?
  • Its the Fool who needles Lear mercilessly about
    the foolishness of what he has done in giving up
    his kingdom.
  • And the fool disappears from the play after Act
    II, scene 6.
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