King Lear Second lecture The Fool • One of the most wonderful conceptions, and wonderful roles, in the play. • He’s a jester, Lear’s “all-licensed fool,” who’s allowed to say anything. • Court jesters were originally mental defectives, retarded adults. • But later professional entertainers, comedians allowed to enliven court proceedings. • King James had a jester, Archie Armstrong, who was well known for an impudence verging on arrogance. • Lear’s fool is certainly impudent, cheeky. • But he has an almost filial relation with him. • Calls Lear “nuncle,” uncle; Lear calls him “boy” (even though Armin was in his early 40s). • His strange link with Cordelia: “Since my young lady’s going into France, the fool hath much pined away.” • “And my poor fool is hanged,” Lear says in the last scene; he seems to mean Cordelia, but speaks of the Fool? • It’s the Fool who needles Lear mercilessly about the foolishness of what he has done in giving up his kingdom. • And the fool disappears from the play after Act III, scene 6. The characters dividing along “moral” lines • Kent’s intervention: begins ceremoniously: l. 140ff • But Lear demands plainness. • So Kent lets him have it: “Be Kent unmannerly/ When Lear is mad. What wouldst thou do, old man?” Note the familiarity of thou. • And his rhyming at 185ff seems to round off the exchange. • The play is dividing characters according to their language and rhetoric, their relation to a core truth. • The Burgundy/France “test”; Cordelia becomes more desirable to France because of her dowerless poverty. • When Kent returns in disguise in 1.4, plainness becomes his middle name, devotion to Lear his absolute truth. • And his “truth” defines his quarrel with Oswald. • And his opposition to Oswald at II.2: his wonderfully inventive list of insults at l. 13ff. • “No contraries hold more antipathy/ Than I and such a knave.” • And even to Cornwall: “Sir, ‘tis my occupation to be plain./ I have seen better faces . . .” (89ff). • Characters seem to run to the moral poles of the world of the play: Cordelia vs. her sisters, Kent vs. Oswald, Edgar vs. Edmund. Moral polarities • Goneril and Regan’s opposition to Lear at first seems understandable, commonsensical. • Their brief dialogue at the end of I.1. • Goneril’s objections to the Fool, her problems with the hundred knights (1.4.195ff). • Her desire that he “a little to disquantity your train.” • Lear’s terrible curse of Goneril: 1.4.271. • But Albany’s reaction complicates. • Regan’s sympathy with Goneril, II.4 • And they whittle down his 100 knights. • “Oh reason not the need!” What gives us our grip on life? • By this point their opposition seems to involve a basic opposition to Lear. Moral polarities (cont.) • Edmund and Edgar • Edmund’s role as a sort of renaissance “new man”: his soliloquy at 1.2. • With a new sense of “Nature” – almost Darwinian? • His opposition to Edgar and Gloucester. • And his eventual alliance with Goneril and Regan. • Edgar’s choice of disguise – “Poor Tom,” the poorest, craziest, most abject sort of person to be found in Jacobean England. • Why such a role? He’s the son of an earl. • His feigned madness in stark contrast to Edmund? Lear’s journey • Freud, in essay “The Theme of the Three Caskets,” thought death was somehow implicit in Cordelia’s “Nothing,” that she somehow represented death for Lear. • The parallel in an old morality play, “The Pride of Life” – again the choice of three. • Lear says he wishes to “unburdened crawl toward death. • But Goneril and Regan’s complaints about the course of his life: “he hath ever but slenderly known himself.” • “The best and soundest of his time hath been but rash.” • Lear’s journey seems to be one of discovering who he is – before he faces death. The Fool’s lesson for Lear • To the Fool, Lear is “this fellow who has banished two on’s daughters, and did the third a blessing against his will.” • He deserves a coxcomb. • The Fool’s “wisdom,” which is nothing. • “Dost thou call me fool, boy?” • “All thy other titles thou has given away; that thou wast born with.” • Who is Lear: Lear’s irony at l.4.220. • But the Fool answers: “Lear’s shadow.” • And in I.5 the Fool decides that Lear would make a good fool himself. • If Lear were his fool, he would have him beaten for being old before his time. • “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.” • And the first stirrings of Lear’s madness: ll. 43-44. Second stage of that journey • In II.4 Lear meets with Cornwall and Regan, who similarly chips away at his self. • “O sir, you are old . . .” • And she and Goneril begin to strip away his 100 knights. • And he feels himself becoming less and less. • “You see me here, you gods, a poor old man/ As full of grief as age, wretched in both.” • And he is on the verge of tears – and madness. • The storm begins – and Lear goes out into it. Third stage – the heath in the storm • The storm as a great “anti-pastoral” – nature that shows humanity its utter insignificance. • But Lear – madly -- tries to match the ferocity of the storm? • And seems to revel in its ferocity? • His concern for the Fool: III.2.69ff. • And at III.4.28. • His “prayer” that recognizes the “Poor naked wretches.” • And the “pat” entrance of Edgar as Poor Tom. • Poor Tom’s role as repentant Mankind. • And Lear’s embracing of him as “unaccommodated man,” “the thing itself” . . . • . . . and attempting to imitate, identify with Poor Tom: “Off, off, you lendings!” • “Tom” becomes Lear’s “philosopher.” Fourth stage: Lear completely mad • IV.6: Lear on the heath, “mad, bedecked with weeds” . . . • . . . stripped of all his identity – he too “unaccommodated man”? • . . . encounters the blinded Gloucester. • How much of Lear’s discourse is madness, how much a new clarity? See Edgar’s “reason in madness. • Gloucester: “O let me kiss that hand.” • Lear: “Let me wipe it first. It smells of mortality.” • Lear’s mad insights into authority: “a dog’s obeyed in office”; “thou rascal beadle” • And the newborn infant’s tragic understanding of life. 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 character. • IV.7: Lear brought in, freshly clothed, asleep in chair. • Cordelia slowly wakens him with music, kisses him. • Lear’s “true” delusion: “Thou art a soul in bliss . . .” • And in kneeling plays the part of 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 Cordelia.” • His guilt? “No cause. No cause.” • And then in V.3 he imagines his contented life in prison with Cordelia.