The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Why Does It Always Rain On Me

Another BBC Shakespeare review from 2006 and you may notice they have started getting longer...


KING LEAR

Underwhelmed to be honest. It's a huge, sprawling epic, it's profound, devastating and moving. But is it Shakespeare's best play? No, I'm afraid it isn't. I'm not sure it would even make my top ten.

I have three or four niggles.

1) The plot. It relies far too much on coincidence. For the purposes of the play, the expanse of 'heath' between Gloucester Castle and Dover has to be no more than six yards across, because it seems impossible for people to make the journey without bumping into each other. I realise this is a theatrical conceit, but nevertheless the blessed plot of England of King Lear seems to have a population of about a dozen and to have the breadth and width of a middle-sized restaurant.

2) The plot, again. The ending in particular. It's frustrating, because there is an exciting, dramatic bloodbath taking place with people getting hung, poisoned or dying of grief all over the place... but it all happens off-stage. You want to see that stuff! You want staggerin', you want bleedin', you want chokin'. And it is just so annoying, to have followed characters like Gloucester for three-odd hours of heath business, only for them to be despatched in reported action. And the same goes for Regan and Gonerill. And Cornwall too, come to think of it (not the county, the character). Edmund also disposed of off-stage - it's laughable, as an officer runs on as Lear is weeping for Cordelia -

OFFICER: Edmund is dead, my lord.
ALBANY: That's but a trifle here...

It feels like we're back to the Grand Guignol gore-fest of Titus Andronicus. It is just... so unsatisfactory. The drama is ludicrous melodrama, and yet again Shakespeare's final act consists largely of the characters explaining the various plot complications to each other. It feels perfunctory and anticlimactic as the play's resolution is not afforded the same emphasis or import as its middle section, which takes place on...

3) The heath. I've attempted to watch King Lear a couple of times before and each time I've got as far as Lear being banished onto the heath, in the wind and the rain... and have then been forced to give up. Now, I appreciate the vast, primal richness of what is being done here, as the play takes us right inside King Lear's madness, and the thunder and rain are all part of that, and it's dark, and there are flashes of lightning, and droplets forming upon ruddy red noses... but f*cking hell it does go on.

Each time you think, 'Well, that's it, King Lear has finally gone postal', he goes and launches into another speech about the Nature of Man. I mean, I'm not knocking the speeches, they're totally awesome, but there is so much of it, it becomes impossible to assimilate. I realise the Bardster is dealing with Big Themes here, the futility of existence and the British climate... but it is eminently trim-able. Plus you have...

4) The Fool. Now, Shakey is clearly doing something very ingenious and plate-balance-y here, as the fool represents - or even personifies - King Lear's inner psychological torment. Yes he does. He's like a form of Conscience gone mad; he gives voice to the thoughts racing inside King Lear's head, as he tortures himself by thinking over the horrible events that have befallen him again and again and again. He provides the running commentary for what is going on upstairs. It's relentless, and I'm sure I'll go on later the use of this device - the Fool in this play is the culmination of earlier similar approaches, such as the ghosts and visions in Richard III and Hamlet, or the devil-on-the-shoulder of Iago in Othello... but he's also a bit of a Thersites too, just talking too much bollocks all the time. And he never lets up.

If I was going to direct this play, I'd make the Fool a figment of Lear's imagination. Apart from a couple of moments where the Fool seems to interact with other characters, it would fit pretty well, I think. It would certainly make more sense than him being a literal character - because I don't think the King would let him get away with being so damn impertinent all the time if that were the case.

But is he funny? No. He is painfully unfunny. His humour is based around paradoxical epigrams and satirical swipes... but by god he isn't funny. His role is, I suppose, to personify Lear's attempt to find logic in the madness of how he has been treated, but that search ultimately driving him insane as his situation defies logical explanation. Basically, he is driven mad by a twat gabbling incessantly in his left ear.

And, I'm sorry to niggle, but where the f*ck does the Fool vanish off to after Act III? The last we hear of him is him saying 'I'm going to have a lie-down' and then nothing for the rest of the play. Now, of course, if he is symbolising Lear's descent into madness then his departure has some significance, it is the point at which Lear finally loses his last remnants of sanity - but otherwise it is what? what?

Even worse is the line referring to him in Act V where Lear mentions 'And my poor fool is hang'd!'. Now this can be one of two things. Either it is an incredibly poor piece of plot elastoplast stuck in entirely the wrong place, not worthy of REDACTED, never mind the Bard... or it’s a typo. I suspect it's a typo. 'And my poor girl is hang'd' would be more apropos, given that he is cradling the corpse of his dead daughter who has just been hanged. It feels wrong that his thoughts would turn to his long-forgotten twat-faced comedy sidekick at that point.

4) The madness. Now, again, I may go on about this a bit more later, and by and large it is beautifully done, and acutely and accurately observed, as Lear descends into senile dementia - it begins with tetchiness and mood-swings, personality shifts, and then it becomes 'railing against the elements' as he storms outside in the rain in his pyjamas... before it becomes full-blooded madness where he sees imaginary mice and thinks he sees his two traitorous daughters when they aren't there... and, as I said, it’s a beautiful piece of psychology, as we follow Lear's thought processes even as he stops making literal sense, but has moments of lucidity in the tempest...

And then he gets better. And that's the annoying part. One kiss from his daughter Cordelia, and someone combing the leaves out of his beard and he makes a full recovery. Well, maybe not. He's still infirm and mildly delusional - but he regains his self-awareness, and is aware of his own loss of his mental facilities. Maybe he remains a little loopy, but he's happy and contented, cheering up his daughter at the thought of being sent to prison 'we two alone will sing like birds i' the cage'. Until of course she is murdered, at which point it's back to the howl, howl, howl, howl, howl howling and leaves in the beard and picking fights with invisible vermin.

5) Kent. Not the county, which has nothing to apologise for ON THIS OCCASION, but the character. I'm just not sure what he's doing in the play; the whole business of him disguising himself as Caius doesn't really seem to contribute. I mean, clearly he accompanies the King out on the Heath so that the King has someone sane to talk to (as opposed to his 'fool' and 'mad Tom') and to look after him... but I'm not sure he's strictly necessary.

But those are the niggles, and they are only niggles. Otherwise it's awesome. I don't think I understand half of what it is about, I think I'd need to watch it a dozen more times to reach even that point, but clearly there is weighty stuff in there, and - crucially - it is comprehensible. The language is no obstacle to understanding - it's one of the easiest to follow, in terms of the on-stage action - it's just the density of meaning, and also the fact that the ideas being explored are so vast - about growing old, and mortality, and what it actually means to be sane - that they need Proper Thinking About and, even in a play this f*cking long-winded, there just isn't enough time.

Following on from All's Well, this play properly explores the theme of age betrayed by youth, which is touched on in the earlier play, and also has it's strange folk-fable quality. King Lear is set in a pagan England - or, to be more accurate, a non-Christian and therefore Godless England, an England where there is no hope of redemption; a brutal, unspiritual England where the characters have body and mind but no soul, where there are devils but no angels. Where it rains a lot.

Other bits like other plays... the popular Morrissey showtune 'The Rain It Raineth Every Day' turns up again in this play (having previously closed Twelfth Night, of course) as King Lear cannily observes that it does seem to rain every f*cking day on the Heath between Gloucester and Dover is concerned. The escape into a wilderness makes King Lear feel like a dark echo of Midsummer Night's Dream and As You Like It. Most conspicuously, though, there is the character of Edmund, who is rather under-rated in terms of Shakespeare villains - I would say he deserves to be up there with Iago and Richard III (his forbears?) and he certainly knocks spots off John the Bastard.

That said, another criticism of King Lear springs to mind... the characterisations of the girls. Regan and Goneril are a little two-dimensional, I feel, a couple of Lady Macbeth clones... and certainly as the play progresses they become mere 'villainesses' as Regan rapaciously delights in seeing Gloucester blinded, and they both lustfully scheme with bosoms a-heave to get into Edmund's mouthwateringly impressive codpiece.

Before watching this play, I didn't realise quite how much Blackadder owed to it. The Blackadder of Blackadder II is almost indistinguishable from the Edmund of this BBC production - same costume, same beard, same codpiece. And the whole illegitimate-son-as-rival-to-the-Prince... yep, that's The Black Adder. Plus there's 'As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport' becomes 'As private parts to the gods are we, they play with us for their sport'.

The other bit they use in Blackadder II is the 'character' of Mad Tom. I put quotes around 'character' because Mad Tom is actually Edgar with bits of leaf in his beard pretending to be mad. I'm not quite sure why he does this - he's in exile, yes, and he's in hiding - but I don't know why he thinks he will not draw attention to himself by wandering naked around the heath, excitedly shaking his muddy, shrivelled goolies and leaping out of passing hawthorn bushes shouting his head off about how it's a bit nippy out. 'Poor Tom's a-cold' - well put some f*cking clothes on then! Presumably it's all some sort of massive double-bluff. It certainly works - even his own dad doesn't recognise him (although, to be fair, his dad is a couple of peepers down by this point in the proceedings). I suspect Shakespeare was up to something clever where we are supposed to draw some contrast between Edgar's faux lunacy and King Lear's genuine insanity?

In terms of compare and contrasty stuff, this play is pretty well-constructed, though - Edmund's plot (against his father, Gloucester, and legitimate brother Edgar) works effectively alongside whilst simultaneously mirroring Regan and Goneril's plot against their father (and, latterly, Gloucester and Albany as well). Indeed, I think someone even points this out during the play, but I can't find the quote, sorry.

Anyway, yes, famous quotes and word coinage. Let's ROCK!

As far as famous quotes and sayings go, quite frankly we could be here all day... but here's the biggies.

Nothing will come of nothing
Grace and favour
'Tis the infirmity of his age
Why bastard? Wherefore base?
Now, gods, stand up for bastards! (this may also turn up The Black Adder)
How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child
More sinned against than sinning
That way madness lies
Out-paramoured the Turk
The Prince of Darkness
Every inch a king.
A scurvy politician

and DOCTOR WHO story title! Full Circle.

Word-wise we get spellchecker favourite tardiness, along with unaccommodated, ungoverned, unpublished, dislocate, divest, restoration, epileptic, immediacy, flawed, foppish, half-blooded, hot-blooded and howl, plus the first use as a verb of blanket, elbow, numb and rival.

Surprisingly it isn't the first appearance of Flibbertigibbet, without which How do you solve a problem like Maria would be 5 syllables short. Google tells me that a Flibbertigibbet is a word coined as onomatopoeia for gibbering incoherently, as though possessed by evil spirits and Shakespeare probably first heard of it in 1603 when the Vicar of Chigwell published his 'A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impositures' which gives a list of all the different demons that are summoned up by evil Catholics (grrr! boo!). It's a great list:

Maho, Modu, Pippin, Philpot, Philbin, Hilco, Smolkin, Hillio, Hiaclito, Soforce, Cliton, Bernon, Gavin, Hilo, Motubizanto, Quertyuiop, Killico, Chegwin, Hob, Portirichio, Frateretto, Fliberdigibbet, Hoberdidance, Tocobatto, Ciabatta, Delicat, Puffe, Purre, Pepe, Seymour, Lustie Huffe-Cap, Lustie Jollie Jenkin, Lustie Dickie, Lustie Dustie, Lustie Bob O'Dick, Cornerd-cappe, Nurre, Molkin, Wilkin, Merkin, Edmonds, Helcmodion and Kellicocam.

Useful list there if you're making up names for Doctor Who monsters and/or new types of real ale.

Here's Shakespeare doing a c-and-p:

EDGAR: (as MAD TOM) Five fiends have been in Poor Tom at once - of lust, as Obidicut, Hobbididence (prince of dumbness), Mahu (of stealing), Modo (of murder), Flibbertigibbet (of mopping and mowing)...

Hang on, what was that? A fiend that is prince of... mopping and mowing? Household chores, basically. Cleaning the kitchen floor and doing the lawn. Quite a useful demon to have about the place. But anyway, Flibbertigibbet meaning a flighty gossip came later.

Bu the reason why Edgar can pretend to be a 'demon' is, as I said, because this a pre-Christian England, which gives Shakey a chance to have a 'grumpy old bard' type whinge about those gullible nincompoopsters who take astrology seriously. Here it is:

EDMUND: This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune, often the surfeit of our own behaviour, we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical pre-dominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforc'd obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whore-master man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star! My father compounded with my mother under the Dragon's Tail, and my nativity was under Ursa Major, so that it follows I am rough and lecherous. Fut! I should have been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing.

Which I rather agree with - the Bard being unequivocally anti-superstition. HE IS A TOTAL DAWKINS. Although later on:

KENT: It is the stars, the stars above us, govern our conditions

Which I suppose rather makes Kent one of those 'whore-master men'. Good of him to make it clear it’s the stars above he’s referring to, and not those other stars that keep on getting under your feet.

Before I rattle onto the synopsis, a mention for the BBC production. It's extremely good; possibly the best of the bag. Beautifully lit - well, it shows that the BBC could actually do 'darkness' in studio in the early 80's - and everyone's in black 17th century outfits. Great cast, too. Michael Hordern is King Lear. Brenda Blethyn and Penelope Wilton are Cordelia and Regan. Michael Kitchen and Anton Lesser are Edmund and Edgar. John Shrapnel is Kent (now there's someone who should be in Doctor Who). And to give you some idea of the surfeit of riches, it's got Ken Stott as Curan - he has 9 lines and his face is in darkness throughout, you honestly couldn't tell it was him.

Penelope Wilton has very expressive teeth. She has about four or five different ways of smiling, and then letting the smile slip... hypnotic.

What happens? Well, not all that much, to be honest. It's a bit King John-y in places. And, as I said earlier, quite fable-y. But well, here's goes.

SYNOPSIS:

King Lear's getting on a bit.

MORE DETAILED SYNOPSIS:

King Lear's getting on a bit. He decides to retire from being King. He will divide his kingdom up between his daughters - if they love him enough. It's like a test, to see if they will appeal to his old man vanity, but that vanity proves to be King Lear's undoing. His daughters Regan and Gonerill tell him how wonderful it is, and they get a third of the kingdom each. His third daughter Cordelia isn't prepared to be sycophantic - she tells her father she loves him, but not to the exclusion of others - and King Lear takes it the wrong way. He banishes her from the kingdom. She goes off and marries the Prince of France...

However, we don't hear about what happens to King Lear's fourth daughter, Shandy. She just kind of hangs around, glittering.

Anyway, Kent speaks up and says 'King Lear, are you sure about this banishing thing? It's a bit harsh' and Lear makes it absolutely clear that he never changes his mind, he never goes back on his word and once he has made a pronouncement, there’s no way of undoing it. This will be important later on. He then banishes Kent from the kingdom, but Kent decides to stay, disguising himself as a servant, 'Caius'.

The King then abdicates the throne – his kingdom will be divided in two between Regan and Goneril. Regan's married to Cornwall (not the whole county, just the Duke) and Gonerill's married to Albany. Both of the chaps are dominated by their villainous wives.

The question then arises as to who will look after the King. He does smell funny and has been known to wee himself on occasion. The two daughters both want the other to have him. They decide they will alternate, having him for a month each. Gonerill's first.

Shandy. Shandy Lear, get it? Oh, never mind.

Gonerill decides that she doesn't like having her father to stay - he has an entourage of 100 knights and servants, which is completely ridiculous, and they never wipe their feet. When she tells her father he can't have his entourage, and can only have 50 knights, he goes off to live with Regan instead... but this is all part of the daughters’ plan, you see, because Regan tells her father he can only have 25 knights... and then the two daughters gang up on their father, and ask him quite what he needs knights for at all, when it is their job to look after him - and there is no going back on his word now. Lear storms off in a rage and rages off in a storm.

Little note here: The whole treatment-of-the-elderly stuff is very well done. Lear is a little bit confused... he thinks his daughters are treating him badly but he's starting to forget things, and he thinks it's his over-sensitivity, or his fault. There is that sadness there, that he isn't quite sure of himself. If I was doing a modern version of this, I'd set it in a home for the elderly where the staff mistreat the patients. SATIRE.

That's the main plot for the first two acts. What about the subplots, I hear you cry. Well, there's some stuff with Kent (aka 'Caius') and Oswald, but to be honest that's all rather tiresome and doesn't go anywhere so I wouldn't let it bother you. All you need to know is that when Lear leaves in a huff, he has with him his faithful retainer 'Fool' and his servant Caius (who is actually his friend, Kent).

The main subplot, though, concerns Gloucester (the duke, not the whole town. I will stop doing the 'not the whole county' jokes from now on, I promise). Gloucester has two sons, one kosher - Edgar - one illegit - Edmund. Edgar is set to inherit the Dukedom and isn't very popular with Edmund. Edmund comes up with a cunning plan. He frames Edgar, faking a letter from Edgar to himself suggesting a conspiracy to murder their father. Edmund convinces Edgar to flee the castle - which makes him look even more guilty when Edmund presents the letter. Gloucester disowns his legit son Edgar, and makes Edmund his sole heir.

Edgar, as you know, decides for reasons known only to himself to disguise himself as Mad Tom. He strips off his clothes, wallows in some mud, covers himself with twigs and feathers and prances about like he has just sat on a thistle (because he has just sat on a thistle).

Act III, and it starts to rain. This is significant.

Lear goes a bit funny; his daughters, who he felt he knew, and felt he knew loved him, have both betrayed him. And on top of that his Fool just won't shut up. Lear fights to hold to his sanity, and for a while it looks like he's winning... but when he bumps into Mad Tom, he decides to join him in the Taking-Off-Your-Clothes-And-Covering-Yourself-With-Leaves-And-Calling-Yourself-Mr-Bernard-Hedgerow lark.

Gloucester has received a letter about how Lear's daughters have been treating their father... and he confides in his son Edmund that he’s thinking of supporting a French invasion against them (taking place at Dover). Of course, Edmund has other plans for the letter - he shows it to Cornwall (not the whole county I'm sorry I’m sorry I know I promised)

Gloucester goes to look for the king, and discovers Lear on the heath because the heath is tiny. He advises the King to make for Dover for his own safety, and the King, 'Mad Tom' and 'Caius' follow his advice. He also tells the King that his daughters want him dead, which seems to be the final straw as far as his sanity is concerned. Lear starts whistling and giggling and talking to the birds.

On returning to his castle, Gloucester discovers that his son Edmund has betrayed him to Cornwall and he is interrogated by Cornwall and his wife, the evil Regan. Warning; it gets a bit icky at this point. At his wife's suggestion, Cornwall gouges out both of Gloucester's eyes. Eech!

Unfortunately for Cornwall one of the nearby guards is still loyal to Gloucester and attempts to protect him - and he wounds Cornwall. Cornwall staggers off-stage to die BEHIND THE SCENES. Having had quite enough of him bleeding vile jelly over the carpets, Regan banishes Gloucester from the castle...

...where he bumps into his son, Edgar (still pretending to be 'Mad Tom'). Gloucester is suicidally depressed and 'Mad Tom' says he will help Gloucester kill himself; he will guide him to the cliffs of Dover so he can hurl himself off. There are, it has to be said, easier and quicker ways of killing yourself than walking all the way to Dover, but, well, such is the magic of theatre and let's not quibble.

King Lear and 'Caius' (the Fool having mysteriously vanished) reach Dover. Also in Dover is Cordelia, who has popped over with her French husband to do a spot of invading. She gets the news that her father has been found alive, but bonkers. 'Sunshine and rain at once' summates her feelings on the matter. Good news and bad news.

Meanwhile in various castles Regan and Gonerill both decide they would like to marry Edmund - as he is now the Duke of Gloucester he is pretty eligible, and whichever daughter marries him will become Queen of England. However Gonerill still has the small problem of still being married to Albany - so she sends a letter to Edmund asking for his help in killing Albany, in return for lots of hot sex.

Once again, because this takes place in an area about five foot by five the letter is intercepted by Regan, who don't like what her sister is plotting - she wants Edmund for herself.

Edmund has a quiet soliloquy for himself about this. Which sister does he want to have sex with? Why can't he have both? Maybe he could be like REDACTED in a Kim Wilde sandwich? And then REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED. Edmund's soliloquy takes about five minutes, after which he wipes himself down and decides to have a nice cup of tea.

Meanwhile, Edgar (as Mad Tom, remember) has led his father, Gloucester (who has had his eyes gouged out, remember) to what he says are the white cliffs of Dover - 'and that is a fact, and an actual fact, and it's where it's at and it's all over' - but which is, in reality, a small drop of maybe a couple of feet, tops. It's like at the end of The Space Pirates part three, if you remember that. Absolutely suicidal, Gloucester jumps - and survives.

Edgar then puts on a different accent and tells his bewildered father that he saw him falling from the cliff and that it is a miracle he survived. He also glimpsed some sort of 'devil' at the top of the cliff - and Gloucester ends up convinced that 'Mad Tom' was Satan. At this point they are reunited with King Lear who has now completely lost it and who thinks he is a garden centre on the outskirts of Saffron Walden.

They are reunited, and compare notes - one being mad, the other being blind - when who should wander in but a messenger, Oswald, carrying the letter from Gonerill to Edmund (the one about killing her husband and promising him a 'place for your labour' i.e. hot sex). The letter is never delivered, because Edgar kills Oswald - they have history - and then some French soldiers turn up and

HANG ON ONE F*CKING SECOND

GLOUCESTER: Now, good sir, what are you?

EDGAR: A most poor man, made tame to fortune's blows;

.... let's just try that bit again, this time with an accompaniment from The Beatles...

LENNON: I am the Eggman!
GLOUCESTER: Now, good sir...
LENNON: They are the Eggmen!
EDGAR: ...man, made tame to fortune's blows
LENNON: I am the Walrus! Goo-goo ga joob!

Yes, I Am The Walrus! I'd completely forgotten about it, and then it suddenly leapt out at me like Mad Tom leaping out of a passing hawthorn bush. And here's the bit from the fade-out ('Everybody's got one, everybody wants one, oompa loompa stick it up your jumpa')

OSWALD: Slave, thou hast slain me: villain, take my purse: If ever thou wilt thrive, bury my body; And give the letters which thou find'st about me to Edmund earl of Gloucester; seek him out upon the British party: O, untimely death!
EDGAR: I know thee well: a serviceable villain; As duteous to the vices of thy mistress as badness would desire.
GLOUCESTER: What, is he dead?
EDGAR: Sit you down, father; rest you...
MCCARTNEY: You say yes, I say no, you say stop, and I say go go go!

I know I said earlier I'd talk more later about the use of the Fool and the elements, to illustrate the inner turmoil in Lear's psyche... well, I'm not going to. It's a big subject all in itself, and I'd have to watch the play again making notes, and even then I'd only be scraping the surface. Just take it as read that it's there, it's impressive - it is, like Hamlet, about dramatising the descent into madness down the road marked 'good intentions' via 'vanity' and 'self-doubt'. In terms of exploring psyche, it's about as far as you can ever go, and is a monumental and awe-inspiring achievement. However, as I may have mentioned before, it's also hard work to actually sit through.

Where did I leave it? Oh yes, the Beatles had just done their bit and then the French turn up. Lear is treated by a doctor and reunited with his disowned daughter Cordelia... and it's a touching reunion as they forgive each other as though meeting up in the afterlife. But Lear is quite insensible - as Jacques from As You Like It would say, he's now in his second childhood, wide-eyed, childish and dependant.

Which brings us to Act 5. The English, surprisingly, defeat the invading French forces in battle, and Lear and Cordelia are captured and sent to a prison. Edmund gives a soldier a note telling him to kill Lear and Cordelia. You know, it occurs to me that if Edmund didn't keep on putting his villainous schemes into writing he would probably get away with it all.

It transpires that a soldier in the English camp has been accusing Edmund of treachery. Edmund faces this soldier in a duel and is defeated. The soldier turns out to be his brother Edgar in disguise. Mortally wounded, Edmund conveniently confesses all. Edgar also tells Albany about his wife's plot to have Lear killed and Albany finally realises what kind of insane cow he has married.

However - and this is why Act 5 annoys me - none of this matters very much as we learn that Regan and Gonerill have killed themselves off-stage as part of a suicide pact, one poisoning the other and then knifing herself to death (or poisoning herself, it's not altogether clear). The last we see of Regan she is being taken sick (and they don't do this bit particularly well in the BBC production). It's all rushed. Maybe they poisoned each other because they were competing for Edmund; yes, that's probably it, it was all his fault. Men!

Edmund mentions about his instruction to have Lear and Cordelia killed, and Edgar runs off stage to attempt to prevent this but of course it is far too late; re-enter LEAR with CORDELIA dead in his arms.

LEAR: Howl, howl, howl, howl!

So all that's left, really, is for Lear to weep over his dead daughter. As you know, he briefly mentions that his fool has been hanged - definitely a typo - and Edmund eventually dies off-stage and nobody notices or cares.

And finally, Lear dies of grief - the corpses of his three daughters strewn about the place in front of him, two of them ungrateful daughters who betrayed him, the third a grateful daughter who he betrayed. He has lost the final shreds of his sanity - he believes Cordelia to still be alive - and even the reveal that his good friend Kent was 'Caius' all along isn't enough to cheer him up.

Making his way gingerly through the bloody mass of bodies on the stage, Albany renounces his claim to the throne (as the only living husband of a daughter of Lear, the highly-strung Shandy excepted) and Edgar and Kent become joint rulers - though Kent refuses, I think, so it falls to Edgar to become sole King. But he's not really in the mood either:

EDGAR: 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 lung- ...long.

So there you go. Not quite sure what to make of it. I think it's a bit too clever for me. It's certainly too much to get on one viewing; this is one to come back to again and again. But maybe not for a while.

Next up: It's the one you've all been waiting for! It's Pericles: Prince of Tyre!

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