sábado, julho 09, 2016

Lear as a Trump-like Figure: "King Lear" by William Shakespeare


I think there are several issues to address before we get to the issue of how foolish, selfish and vain Lear is to try to complete this public display of verbal love from his three daughters. The first is his reason for giving up the throne to them--he is clearly aware that his mental powers and emotional control are collapsing as he advances into extreme old age and thinks the power will be better held by younger minds. I think Shakespeare disagrees with him, and thinks the king’s power can and only should be held by the king himself until his death. We have two current examples of prominent people in Europe dealing with this issue: one is Queen Elizabeth, refusing to step aside to hand her throne over to Charles, despite media reports that her faculties are failing at 90, and the other is in the institution of the Papacy, the shock caused by the 2013 decision of 87 year-old Pope Benedict to step aside into retirement rather than serve, as has been traditional for the last 600 years, until God had called him. Shakespeare will show us that humanity has a monstrous (his image), wolf-like appetite for power when it seems to be available for the picking up, and those who hold the power should not be whetting those bestial appetites by opening doors for them. Shakespeare shows a tremendous, unattractive, self-referencing self-pity in Lear for himself as he talks about his desire to divest himself of power: “unburthened crawl toward death.” What fool among us thinks we can be unburdened as we go to meet death? 


The second issue to address is the issue of maintaining the integrity of England: a major issue for Shakespeare. Lear thinks he will be forestalling the occasion for civil war if he divides his kingdom equally into three sections, and he has already done so publicly in such a way that no one can see anything to be preferred in any of the three sections--hard to believe, but so we are told. Who gets London, I want to know? Shakespeare knows that it is foolish to think, that the wolfish appetite for power already mentioned can be forestalled by offering it a fraction of the kingdom; that appetite will only be increased by weakening the kingdom by dividing it as Lear envisions doing, setting it up not only for internal conquest but also for foreign invasion. So Lear is thinking very weakly, but he knows that he is not at the height of his powers. Here’s where his tragic flaw intrudes, his arrogance, his hubris, his pride, which leads him to think that he and he alone can solve the problem of turning over the power of the throne, as he is doing. Obviously what he needs is a council of trusted advisors, men like Kent and Gloucester, to advise him through the difficult years of declining powers, until God calls him and the question devolves to others for resolution. Given the weakness of his intended actions, in trying to give up his position, hoping that his actions can forestall the inevitable losses of advancing age and mortality, Lear shows that he want to retain a vestige of his importance, first by forcing his daughters to feed his massive vanity by public protestations of their love--since the divisions of the kingdom have already been made, so that each segment is indistinguishable from the others, what they say will not influence what they get. The second self-indulgent folly of Lear’s is his thinking that having given up the power, he can retain the public service that a king commands through the service of 100 knights, which immediately becomes a point of strong conflict between him and Goneril and next Regan. We see that the Christian virtue of humility is one that Lear has not an inkling of, but one of the reasons that the play is so great, and he is great, is that Shakespeare will force him to learn and find that quality within himself through suffering, and he is great enough of heart that he will respond to the harsh teaching of experience. He alone of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes does this--it is not true of Macbeth, Othello, not even of Hamlet.


Lear's insecurity seems an awful lot like Donald Trump regarding the ego and admiration he wants to have.

What about the Gloucester storyline? Both Lear and Gloucester storylines echo the concept of ’nothing’. When Lear offers Cordelia a greater stake in his kingdom, he asks, “What can you say to draw a third more opulent than your sisters? Speak." "Nothing, my lord." "Nothing?" "Nothing." "Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again." "Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth. I love your majesty according to my bond; no more nor less."

Edgar reinforces the notion when speaking to his father about a letter he has forged. Gloucester asks, "What paper were you reading?" "Nothing, my lord." "No? What need, then, that terrible dispatch into your pocket? The quality of nothing hath not such need to hide itself. Let's see-- Come, if it be nothing, I shall not need spectacles."


The contrast lies in the motivations behind their comments. Cordelia is rebelling against what her father should already know. Whereas Edmund is evil in his intentions to steal his brother’s inheritance. Edmund, Goneril and Regan feel a kinship because they know they are not the favourites. In their minds they are just as good if not better than Edgar and Cordelia. This leads to jealousy and tragedy later in the play. Gloucester blames all of his anxieties on superstitious things like eclipses and thinks there is evil to the stars. King Lear is portrayed as a petulant, vain dotty old man. Neither is the picture of mental health.


NB: All pictures taken from my Rowse.

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