Presentation on theme: "Character Questions. Imagery is the characteristic discourse of Lear and of Edgar. The bad characters don't use imagery. Their language is rational, plain."— Presentation transcript:
Imagery is the characteristic discourse of Lear and of Edgar. The bad characters don't use imagery. Their language is rational, plain and practical, without images, suggesting their no nonsense approach to life. KENT: Kill thy physician, and the fee bestow / Upon thy foul disease. Revoke thy doom… LEAR: Come not between the dragon and his wrath. FOOL: The hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long, / That it had it head bit off by it young. / So, out went the candle, and we were left darkling. EDG: Bad is the trade that must play fool to sorrow, / Angering itself and others. EDM: I will seek him, sir, presently: convey the business as I shall find means and acquaint you withal. GON: I do beseech you / To understand my purposes aright: / As you are old and reverend, you should be wise. REG: I have this present evening from my sister / Been well inform'd of them; and with such cautions, / That if they come to sojourn at my house, / I'll not be there.
It introduces three significant characters as they are before the events of the play overtake them. Gloucester is cheerful and complacent, and not conscious of saying anything that might distress the son he professes to love. Kent is a pleasant and courteous courtier, not the blunt and tactless character he becomes. This gives a context to his opposition to Lear later in the scene. Edmund is polite and dutiful – a pose, as we learn.
His vocabulary is neither affectionate nor sensitive: this knave …saucily … good sport at his making … whoreson. He is unconcerned about dismissing Edmund to further exile: He hath been out nine years, and away he shall again. Suggests Gloucester is lacking in feelings, or is at least insensitive to other's feelings. (Though Edmund does say his father loves him as much as he loves Edgar.) Edmund might show he is hurt, or he might remain unmoved and not react, as if he is used to it and resigned to it. It is unsurprising that Edmund fails to show any affection later for the father who treats him with scant concern or respect.
Clearly he is angry at the way he is treated because of it: considered socially unacceptable, ineligible to inherit his father's lands or titles, though, in fact, Edgar as the elder son would inherit them anyway. His soliloquy reveals a great deal of bitterness, demonstrated by the repetition of the contrasting words: he uses 'bastard / bastardy' three times; 'base/ baseness' six times, and 'legitimate' five times.
Edmund's worldliness could be seen as an amplification of the worldliness Gloucester showed when he fathered Edmund, and continues to demonstrate in his jokes with Kent. Edgar could thus be seen to represent the other side of Gloucester – the good, decent side – and his conquest of Gloucester's suicidal despair thus symbolically representing the triumph of the moral side over the worldly side.
Lear is defiant to the last; Gloucester, while showing enough moral fibre to make the right choice against Cornwall, is more given to despair. He plans suicide, and despairs again when the French forces are defeated. Lear never gives in, and never loses hope, until he dies broken-hearted over Cordelia's body – the one cruelty he cannot overcome.
His strength is indicated in the power he has to have Edgar hunted; in his decision to succour and support Lear against Cornwall's orders; and in his moral courage in standing up to Cornwall and Regan over this support. After this failed suicide attempt, he finds the strength to continue. His weakness is demonstrated in his political powerlessness – he protests the stocking of Kent but is ignored; he weakly protests when Lear goes into the storm, but meekly shuts the doors as instructed; he is putty in Edmund's hands. And the ease with which he gives in to despair.
They are both 'new men' who believe in what can be measured, in numbers. Both judge people by what they have. They both think they can shape the world to suit themselves, and both are proved wrong.
Yet Edmund was beloved: / The one the other poison'd for my sake, / And after slew herself. Given the way Gloucester talked about him, and about his mother, this might be the first time he knew that anyone really loved him.
The most 'human' and least allegorical is Albany – torn between conflicting loyalties, between his wife and his father in law. A decent man caught up in a situation that is out of control. What do you think?
If there is any difference, it is slight. The first indication is in the brief discussion at the end of scene one. Having agreed on Lear's foolishness, they conclude: REG: We shall further think on't. GON: We must do something, and i' the heat. Goneril would seem from this to be the one who is more likely to act. It is Goneril at the end who poisons her sister, and then kills herself. On the other hand, Regan is the one who enjoys seeing Gloucester's eyes put out – she eggs on her husband – and who then grabs the sword and kills the servant. One writer suggests Regan is 'ever the less imaginative of the two': Regan says to "hang" Gloucester; it is Goneril who first suggests putting out his eyes.
They all serve the function of telling Lear uncomfortable truths. They are all devoted to Lear, helping to make him a more sympathetic character. They all demonstrate loyalty beyond their own interests. All seem to be dead or dying by the end of the play.
The Fool's role is to be a sort of a Greek chorus – an objective observer, outside the action. His comments on Lear's behaviour are aimed at the audience more than at Lear, who doesn't listen to them anyway. His function is to disturb with glimpses of confounding truths – the truth he tells is disguised, paradoxical. clarify the difference between intellectual and emotional 'seeing' cast doubts on the audience's certainties He speaks in prose, in similes, proverbs, epigrams and images, in rhymed adages and snatches of song. The songs especially give a sense of detachment, and contrast with the Lear's extremes of feeling. His dry realism contrasts with Lear's fantasy and emotion; the Fool keeps the scenes in touch with reality. Through him, the trivia of everyday counterbalances Lear's gigantic ideas. As a character, he remains enigmatic, unknowable.
In the scenes with Lear, the Fool functions in a number of ways. At one level he may be understood as the conscience of Lear, the inner voice - externalised, as Empson says - which will not cease in its condemnation of error. At another level he is a tutor, the intellectual master of the world who lessons Lear in the way of the world. In this role he accents the irony hinted in Kent's earlier phrase, "when majesty falls to folly." Lear falls to folly; the fool rises to wisdom. He becomes king in the sense that he sees things in the perspective which ideally should always belong to royalty – a counterpoint which is always emphatically present in the scenes between the two. But there is still something more in the Fool: it is his love for Lear and his devotion to Lear when there was every 'practical' reason for his getting aboard the political band wagon ("Take the fool with thee," he calls to Lear [I.iv, 339] – when he knows very well how badly things are going). Here the Fool is the man of imagination who by imagination grasps a value that cannot be demonstrated rationally and whose deed is the dramatic opposite of the conduct of the rationalists in the play. His speech is consistently the imaginative speech of poetry: he is always ironic, he depends on symbols (the coxcomb, the crowns of the egg, "the hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long"), on riddles and analogies, on similes ("like the breath of an unfee'd lawyer") metaphors ("truth's a dog"), and paradoxes ("thou mad'st thy daughter thy mother"). The Fool's education of Lear is in part a re-education of his imagination, an implied attack upon the calculating rationalism by which Lear had inaugurated all his troubles. Lear's imagination is recovering: he understands the Fool's poetry, he is learning rapidly to grasp the symbolic meaning of action (as he could not at the beginning), and he is moving toward the imaginative syntheses which he will make in his madness. The closer Lear moves to madness, the more he comes to exercise the gifts of the Fool. [Robert B. Heilman]
He is the allegorical symbol of justice in the sub-plot, made explicit in his appearance as the avenging knight. As 'Poor Tom', he is the living symbol of the compassionate understanding that Lear is beginning to achieve. His madness provides Lear with the exemplar that shows him the way to the madness through which he achieves a new insight. He is the one who cares for his father and teaches him patience and endurance, and he is instrumental in helping both protagonists to new insights and understanding. He also acts as a kind of chorus, commenting on what he sees; he is the only one to spell out moral lessons.
Interesting responses from the homework submitted. He is so quickly sketched in the early scenes that he is little more than a figure that Edmund bundles off. But he grows and develops through the play until by the end he has sufficient stature to be a credible inheritor of the vacant crown. He also tends to sermonise and to be priggish and somewhat patronising in his dealings with his father.
Discussion topic. What’s your opinion?
That, then, is my first worry about the sort of account that sees the play as showing us a Lear refined or redeemed by his sufferings and puts a major emphasis on that. My other query bears on the impression Lear makes on us in the late scenes of the play. Is he a finer and a better man — a greater man — than he was earlier? Finer, perhaps; but can one wholeheartedly say greater? It's my own impression that the agony of those central scenes of the play does not leave Lear a whole man. The Lear of the Reconciliation scene and of Act V is not, I think, a man whose spirit has been healed; he's a man whose spirit has been cauterised. The violence that burst out of him so destructively in the early scenes has not been controlled, brought into stable relation with the rest of his personality; rather, it's been burnt out of him. And it leaves him a 'better' man, if you like, but also feebler, more fragile, a man somehow diminished. Cordelia's prayer: 'Cure this great breach in his abused nature' isn't really answered. What does happen, the Doctor tells us, is that 'the great rage... is killed in him'. A part of Lear is killed with it; Lear with 'the great rage' burnt out of him is Lear less than himself. [Maggie Tomlinson]
Lear stubbornly refuses to believe Cordelia is dead for as long as he can… If he can postpone the certainty that she is dead, he can postpone the recognition that he himself set in motion the chain of events that killed her – on that fateful day when she said "Nothing, my Lord." What does Cordelia's corpse say to him now? Does it not say again, "Nothing"? Does he not arrive now, after searching the whole play long for an answer, at the full knowledge of his own complicity in the disaster that constitutes the play? Is it better to die ignorant? This is beyond the worst. At the same time, it is borne in upon us that Lear has, through intense suffering, undergone a spectacular improvement in character. The hard heart of the man who sent away the only daughter that loved him is now so generous as to break over her loss. Lear has changed for the better. [Ben Schneider]
LearGloucester CordeliaGoneril /Regan EdgarEdmund CordeliaEdgar KentAlbany Kent Oswald Albany Cornwall France Burgundy Kent Albany Albany Edmund
Good Cordelia The Foolweak Edgar faultless but priggish; lacks virility Kentunmannerly, blunt Albanyweak and v vacillating Francevalues truth, but a tiny role, and a foreign king Old mankind although has little Cornwall's servants show compassion but too late Goneril }both sisters are vigorous and Regan }forceful Edmundattractively cynical and amoral Oswaldloyal to Goneril but on the make Cornwallnot much good here Burgundyjudges superficially the captain pure mercenary Bad
NB. Although Lear is the most allegorical of Shakespeare's tragedies, it would be wrong to see the characters as just embodiments of abstract principles. They are not simple contrasts of cruelty versus pity and love, but a picture of what is universally true of human life. On the other hand, it is probably true to say that – Lear aside – they are the least complex characters in the great tragedies. Generally speaking, the characters in main plot do not change. Cordelia's steadfastness is not learned; it is what she is. Kent, Goneril, Regan, Cornwall are what they are; events reveal their characters but they do not change. Albany perhaps is the one exception. Edgar, on the other hand, learns from experience, grows and tells us what he learns: A most poor man, made tame to fortune's blows; / Who, by the art of known and feeling sorrows, / Am pregnant to good pity.