Saturday, March 7, 2015

Two Thoughts On King Lear

We saw today a filmed version of King Lear as it was performed in Stratford, Ontario. The play is of course magnificent. I see it as play about nothing, not Seinfeldian nothing as in the utterly prosaic and uneventful, but nothing as negation, evil so deep, cruel, sharp and pervasive it drives life into meaninglessness.

Volumes can be written about it but I want to say only two things.

The first is how cold, stinting, doctrinaire and even prideful is Cordelia in refusing to give Lear even a touch of what he wants, some generous profession of her love. She is righteous in refusing to flatter him for gain, in being disgusted at her sisters' tendentious falsity, in saying "nothing" in contrast with their massive protestations of love and reverence for Lear. But she is as self righteous as she is righteous. She is in love with her principled righteousness. And  her "nothing" measures Cordelia reacting against, and to, Lear's pathetic and foolish purchases of his daughters' love and their self advancing exploitation of it rather than transcending both with a heartfelt, genuine expression of her love. She will parcel out her love in accord with her "bond" and her "duty," half to her father, half to her husband, no more, no less. Contrast this minginess with the Juliet's expression of love:

....My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep. The more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite...

The other thing on my mind prompted by the play is my continuing to remain stumped by "Ripeness is all" in Edgar saying to Gloucester:

  Edg.  Away, old man! give me thy hand: away!
King Lear hath lost, he and his daughter ta’en.        10
Give me thy hand; come on.
  Glo.  No further, sir; a man may rot even here.
  Edg.  What. in ill thoughts again? Men must endure
Their going hence, even as their coming hither:
Ripeness is all. Come on.        15

Hamlet says to Horatio "the readiness is all," which I take in part to mean that he can no longer think out and plan what he will do against Claudius. All he can do is be ready to meet and do his best with whatever befalls him, including the likeliness of death. 

So, in Lear, "is all" also suggests a fundamental and singular insight that crowds everything else out for importance. "Ripeness" suggests to me fullness, a maturing peak, the best or peak of oneself, maybe a kind of point of equipoise between getting to that point from the instance of creation--"their coming hither"-- to the descent into spoliation and death--"Their going hence." But, in Lear, it's all a sad and burdensome lot, the going and the coming, it seems. For it all must be "endured." So, what in all that is the exact meaning of Edgar's "ripeness"? 

I feel like it's at the periphery of my understanding, like I'm only one thought away from it, but I just can't make it out. 

Sent from my iPad

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