King Lear–By the Bard himself.

Good news.  I have found my copy of the Top Ten.  Which is a relief, for both Dave and myself.  Otherwise, Dave, who lives 9 hours from me would have constantly had to keep looking up books and authors for me in it.

I read King Lear for this week.  The following authors all listed it in their top ten:  Michael Cunningham, Mary Gordon, Wally Lamb, Adam Haslett, Iain Pears, Robert Pinsky, Annie Proulx, Ian Rankin, and Scott Spencer.

I was really looking forward to reading King Lear.  The last time I did was 17 years ago, so I remembered very little of it.  I did remember that it was my favorite Shakespeare play.  Sadly, I was not as impressed this time around.  It was still amazing overall.  But it took me _forever_ to get into it.  Of course, that might have been a mood thing.  I have picked up The Thirteenth Tale repeatedly over the last few years and never have been able to get into it.  Recently, I attempted again and ADORED it.  So, it’s possible that had I read King Lear last week or two weeks from now, it would have been my favorite.

Some notes on King Lear and Shakespeare:

1.  I think one of the amazing things about Shakespeare is how deftly he captures human emotions and the human condition.  It’s the reason why his work has endured so long and so famously.  In King Lear, Lear demands his three daughters, Regan, Goneril and Cordelia to profess their love for him, in exchange for a third of his kingdom.  Regan and Goneril profess a deep and abiding love for him.  Cordelia, of the opinion that one shouldn’t have the words for as deep as she loves him, refuses to speak and attempt to gain his favor.  He banishes her.  He then goes quite mad, and his two daughters, Regan and Goneril, despise him and drive him further over the brink of madness.  To me, it captured family dynamics, that in a way, still go on today.  The elderly parent, having slaved their life away, raising and providing for the children, gets old and sick.  More than one child, grown-up now, has stuck dear old Dad into a nursing home and gone about their merry way.  Regan and Goneril had no more use for Dad once his gifts had reached their end.  A lot of people have no use for their parents once they go from a being needed phase (the child needing the parent) to a needing phase (the parent needing the child).  This Is rambling on, I hope you get my point.

2.  I loved how the story contrasted against the betrayal of the daughters of Lear, and Edmund’s betrayal of his brother and his father (Gloucester).  I’ve noticed that in other Shakespeare plays, where he has two or three stories that mirror one another even without their intersections during the play.

3.  Either people were really dumb during Shakespeare times, or he employed a tactic that caused the necessity of “suspend your disbelief” to an extreme measure.  How many of his plays is someone disguised, like a son, or a favorite servant, daughter et cetera?  And in each one of these, until the person reveals himself/herself, no one catches on, not even those closest to them.  I’m sorry, but if Greg changed his clothes and grew out a beard and changed his speech patterns slightly, I do believe I’d still know him. 

4.  Shakespeare was great at insults.  Witness the following.

Kent: (a nobleman of Lear’s who Lear became upset with.  Kent then disguised himself and gallivanted around with Lear, who never once guessed whom it was)  “A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch; one whom I will beat into clamours whining if thou deny’st the least syllable of thy addition”.

Later in the play:

Lear: “I prithee, daughter, do not make me mad. 

I will not trouble thee, my child; farewell.

We’ll no more meet, no more see one another.

But yet thou art my flesh, my blood, my daughter;

Or rather a disease that’s in my flesh,

Which I must needs call mine.  Thou art a boil,

A plague-sore, or emobossed carbuncle

In my corrupted blood.  But I’ll not chide thee.  (Editorial Note:  Wow, if that isn’t chiding, I’m not sure I’d want to be “chided” by Lear)

Let shame come when it will, I do not call it.

I do not bid the thunder-bearer shoot,

Nor tell tales of thee to high-judging Jove.

Mend when thou canst, be better at thy leisure;

I can be patient, I can stay with Regan,

I and my hundred knights.”

I think the next time I get into one of those ill advised fights with a moron on the internet, I will quote either one of these.  I can’t seem to help myself from arguing with idiots, so I might as well have a little more fun with it, eh?

5.  Note on reading Shakespeare, for those of you intimidated by it:

You have to give yourself a little bit into the play to get into the pace and tempo of the language.  Then, let yourself go.  Don’t worry if you don’t understand a word, or a phrase here or there.  Shakespeare is amazing enough to read, that you will get the main gist of the story even without understanding every little nuance.  You will still come away from it feeling that it was an amazing story.

6.  Fair warning:  Lear is considered one of the Shakespearean tragedies.  The thing about his tragedies?  There really isn’t much of a happy ending.

7.  That’s all.  But I leave you with the ending lines of King Lear.

Edgar: (Gloucester’s non bastard son who Edmund betrays and schemes against earlier in the play.

“The weight of this sad time we must obey,

Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

The oldest hath borne most; we that are young.

Shall never see so much, nor live so long”.





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