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King Lear


Can we imagine a more heart-breaking scene on the stage or a more sustained stage meditation on the fact of death? All s cheerless, dark, ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: King Lear

King Lear
  • Fourth lecture

  • Strange to say, King Lear hasnt always ended
    with the almost unbearable ending Shakespeare
    assigned it.
  • In the late 17th cent. Nahum Tate, a poet and
    theater director, produced a version of the play
    that ended happily, with a romance-like
  • He cut the King of France from the first scene,
    and instead suggested a potential love between
    Cordelia and . . .
  • Edgar!
  • And at the end of his text of the play
    (extensively revised throughout), he had Lear
    save Cordelia from hanging.
  • Edgar and Albany enter and in turn save Lear.
  • Lear is returned to his kingship.
  • Cordelia becomes queen and agrees to marry Edgar.
  • Gloucester survives, and he, Kent, and Lear
    retire together, while Cordelia and Edgar take
    over the kingdom.
  • Obviously Tate had to write a new final scene.
  • Fool is also cut.
  • And this is the version of King Lear that played
    throughout the 18th century.

Nahum Tates ending
  • Tates ending seems a travesty to us.
  • (Of course we also need to acknowledge what we do
    the text of Shakespeares plays the cuts and
    rewriting of contemporary productions and
    wonder how those will look a century or two
  • But does the trajectory of the plot demand
  • Samuel Johnson (Dr. Johnson), who was used to
    the Tate version on stage, said he could never
    bear to read Shakespeares actual ending until he
    had to edit the play.
  • Lears journey from a foolish decision,
    rejection, madness, insight in madness, recovery
    and finally his return to Cordelia might seem a
    narrative pattern that could lead to a romance
  • From a purely narrative point of view, Tates
    ending may not seem entirely inappropriate.

The meeting with Cordelia
  • There was a climactic scene in the old morality
    plays when the penitent protagonist was given a
    garment of repentance by the saving Virtue
  • IV.7 Lear brought in, freshly clothed, asleep in
  • Cordelia slowly wakens him with music, kisses
  • Lears true delusion Thou art a soul in bliss
    . . .
  • And in kneeling plays the part in old the
    morality play.
  • And slowly recovers a sense of himself.
  • But only in a relational sense to Cordelia? as I
    am a man, I think this lady/ To be my child
  • His guilt? No cause. No cause.
  • And then in V.3 he imagines a contented life in
    prison with Cordelia.
  • The meeting and penitence would be the denoument
    of the morality play.

Justice in the Gloucester plot
  • Edgars miracle scene analogous to Cordelias
    meeting with her father.
  • But despair is cured abstractly, by the staged
  • Bear free and patient thoughts.
  • Reiterated at V.2 9-11 Ripeness is all. (Cf.
    Hamlets the readiness is all.)
  • But still Edgar doesnt reveal himself.
  • After the battle, Edgar and Edmund exchange
  • And Edgar holds to a sense of absolute justice
    The dark and vicious place where thee he got/
    Cost him his eyes.
  • But seems to admit his own fault in concealing
    himself from his father ll 193ff.
  • The circumstances suggest a dark and rigid
    justice playing itself out Edmund and Gloucester
    both die.
  • And Edgar, the just son, survives.
  • But how does it compare to the Lear story?

Irrelevance of justice in the Lear plot?
  • By contrast, everything seems excessive in Lear
  • Lears anger at Cordelia, his utter rejection by
    older daughters, his suffering.
  • And clearly justice seems irrelevant.
  • The loss of Lears kingdom to the evil forces.
  • And finally the terrible stage direction Enter
    Lear with Cordelia in his arms.
  • The play gives us no hint that this will happen.
  • And no poetic justice in the death of the one
    redeeming daughter
  • A nameless gentleman had said of Cordelia Thou
    hast one daughter/ Who redeems nature from the
    general curse/ Which twain have brought her to
  • If death had indeed been implicit in the first
    scene, it was not for this death.

Enter Lear . . .
  • Lear enters with one long sustained cry of
    anguish the texts howl, howl, howl! are more
    a stage direction, I suggest.
  • O, you are men of stones is as much directed to
    the audience as to those on stage.
  • And Lears words tell the audience what they need
    to know about the actors body he carries on
  • Kents, Edgars, and Albanys words speak also
    for the audience is this an image of the terror
    of the Last Judgment?
  • Lears words and actions try to verify Cordelias
    death Shes gone forever.
  • Or is she, What ist thou sayst?
  • But the feather apparently doesnt stir.
  • Can we imagine a more heart-breaking scene on the
    stage or a more sustained stage meditation on
    the fact of death?

Alls cheerless, dark, and deadly
  • Kents despairing words.
  • Lear attends only to the dead Cordelia.
  • At l. 311 Albany cries out O, see,see!
  • What are we to see? What does the actor playing
    Lear do?
  • Lears lines heart-breakingly focus on the
    lifelessness of Cordelia and the finality of
  • So if death was implicit in the opening scene, we
    get an uncompromising vision of it.
  • The gesture of the help with the button where
    have we seen this before?
  • And finally Lears insistence that we see
    Cordelias lips.
  • Does he think theyre moving, that shes saying
  • Clearly hes deluded.
  • Or does he see something we cant see?

Stage and audience -- reaction
  • Kent encourages Lears death for him the world
    is a rack, an instrument of torture.
  • And Kent seems to envisage his own death I have
    a journey shortly to go . . .
  • Edgars final formulation what we feel, not the
    usual comforting words.
  • Gloucesters earlier words about the world I
    see it feelingly.
  • He meant the need for touch in his blindness, but
    the word has resonance.
  • Will Edgar ever be the same after these
  • Will the audience?