King Lear–Act III

I’m going to throw this out there, hopefully without making anyone think I’m a jaded and terrible person who loves violent scenes and people going insane–but I think this is my favorite act of the play. Every time I read it or see it, I am tricked–I know what is going to happen, but there is always an alternate option that I’m hoping the characters take this time.


So, two main points of discussion: the tempest and the blinding of Gloucester. We’ll begin with the first.

The tempest is many things:

  1. It is the great and natural equalizer. King, servant, fool, nature does not treat them differently because of their status. However, it’s not a symbol about how lovely equality is–it is a sad sad depiction of how low that Lear has come, for his fool and servant have become wiser than he. (Forgive me, for I am once again going to quote from my Kindle, so I do not have specific line numbers.) “Take physic, pomp;/Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,/That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,/And show the heavens more just” (III.iv). Lear is saying this to the fool, but as well to himself and the tempest. He is shed of every possible outward sign of his kingship–that which separates him from beasts. 
  2. To get super lit. major on you: the storm is the external reflection of Lear’s internal battle. 
  3. Lear begins to serve his servants and look to a madman as his councilor.

There are many more things that can be said about the storm, but I’m beginning to lose my train of thought. So onwards to Gloucester.



First and foremost–this happens on stage. We see this horrific act happen–it is not just given to our imagination. Is that actually better? Is it worse? I’ve heard it said before that King Lear is a play that cannot be fully conveyed upon the stage–that we actually have to imagine a scene like this for it to hit home. And it does, at least for me, every single time I read it.

So, the theme is blindness–duh, we could see this from a mile away. From Kent’s plea to Lear before he is banished to Gloucester’s inability to see that Edmund is a conniving jerk, there has been a very apparent blindness going on throughout the whole play. And now we have to see it. Literally. When you take something from the figurative to the literal, you’re making a big, big statement. And I want to say it has to do with those very first lines–no one can see their own faults. Gloucester is joking about his lust that conceived Edmund, like it isn’t a problem that he created and is responsible for a life, right at the opening. Lear thinks that “nothing” is a measurement of love–but “nothing” is boundless and immeasurable. They take whatever is given them, the “face-value” and cannot conceive of truth beyond their senses.

Directly after Gloucester has his eyes gauged out, he realizes Edgar is innocent. He has taken all that Edmund has said, and now truth is revealed through his loss of sight. Lear becomes mad–madness is itself an inability to see reality, however, he was already unable to see what was real insofar as we think about the love of his children.


We, as an audience, see the characters for how they truly are from their actions–we have no doubt who in this play is evil and who is good, it is a clear-cut line. We only have two characters who act upon how things seem, and not how they are. And the ramifications, well, look at them.

I want to say more–about feigned madness, about the servant who dies, about nature, about the imagined trial that Lear puts on–but I promised myself to only speak about these two things.

Until tomorrow.


King Lear–Act II



I always found it difficult to sympathize with Lear when he first is kicked out of Goneril’s house. I mean, really, a hundred nights all running around. I wouldn’t be happy either.

But reading this act made me realize what was really going on, that Lear had really put into place when he gave his land away–it’s an issue of authority. When Reagan states, “For his particular, I’ll receive him gladly,/But not one follower” (II.iv.), I understood that it was a matter of the King’s autonomy from his daughters, that he was still a ruler, and not merely an old foddy that was living on the charity of his daughters. At least, that’s what I think thus far.

Oh, and who doesn’t love Edgar? He takes the same course as Kent, becoming Poor Tom by defiling and disguising himself. I’ll get more into what I think when time will allow me, but we only see the monologue of his transformation into a beggar.



I also want to kind of side-note Albany’s lack of control over his wife’s actions and his own household. And, the rumors of impending war between Albany and Cornwall.

This is an act I usually breeze through to get to the good stuff, but I think what it primarily reveals is the complete loss of respect for Lear that existed when he was king. That inversion that I was talking about previously is now taking root–and Lear is left to the woods and rain.

Until tomorrow.

King Lear! Act I

'king lear' pictures 135R

I have read this play five times already, but when my finger pointed to it, I became very excited. Especially because it’s January. I want to introduce this play with a poem by John Keats.

O golden-tongued Romance with serene lute!
   Fair plumed Syren! Queen of far away!
   Leave melodizing on this wintry day,
Shut up thine olden pages, and be mute:
Adieu! for once again the fierce dispute,
   Betwixt damnation and impassion’d clay
   Must I burn through; once more humbly assay
The bitter-sweet of this Shakespearian fruit.
Chief Poet! and ye clouds of Albion,
   Begetters of our deep eternal theme,
When through the old oak forest I am gone,
   Let me not wander in a barren dream,
But when I am consumed in the fire,
Give me new Phoenix wings to fly at my desire.
When one of my professors taught us this play, this was exactly how she opened it. Because we read it in January, it was a cold, glum, winter day (the ones where leaving your room sounds worse than having a root canal) and truly, what a more fitting time to read King Lear.
These entries may be longer than my others, only because I have studied this play, but through re-reading it, I’m still finding new things.
To begin with–the very beginning. This play does not wait to become extremely intense, but the introduction with Kent and Gloucester, making jokes about Edmund’s being a bastard right in front of him. How inappropriate. Or, very appropriate, because the “stuff” of this play is centered around the inappropriate relations between fathers and daughters/sons. I had another professor once say that you could tell what Shakespeare was “getting at” within the first few lines of the play. The tone set by these few lines? Perhaps that faults are not being treated seriously?
Moving on to the “darker purpose.” Here are a few things to be said of Lear’s fault in the very beginning:
  1. He’s doling out his land before he’s dead. Before he’s dead. What on earth is an inheritance unless you inherit it after the person no longer is using it. He’s completely going against the natural way that land is inherited. Score against him on upsetting the social-structure.
  2. To quote the fool: “thou madest thy daughters they mothers.” The inversion of the natural order I previously pointed out was merely a political one–but the family? He’s given them all, but he’s made it so he must rely upon them like they were his parents. The inversion of his family matches the subversion of his kingdom.
  3. Here there is a map. Maps measure distances, much like Lear is going to use it to measure how his daughters love him. Quantity versus quality–he wants to measure love like a mathematical problem.
  4. He refuses council. What good king refuses council.

Now, when I read the play the first time, I kept thinking, “Why is he doing this? Is it because he’s old, mad, stupid?” I was seeking out the fatal flaw of Lear’s person. During this reading I thought, “Does it matter?” The fact is, the play is beginning on a note of inversion of the natural order. The point is, there are severe ramifications for it, regardless of what is wrong per se with the king himself.

I will wait a little bit to say more about Edmund, but for now all I will say is that it is interesting that he claims to be able to make his own nature, but really…he’s kind of a bastard.
Lastly, a quick point about Kent. After his banishment, it is through his disguise that he is actually revealed to the blind king. When asked what he is by Lear in Scene VI, he reveals that he is a man to give council honestly and plainly–the same reason the the undisguised Kent banished. Disguises, when the character is masked from “who” they truly are, reveal “what” they truly are. I’ll say more about this regarding Gloucester and Edgar later.
Well, this play is a big one to conquer, and I will not do it through this reading alone. It’s one that a person spends their life with. Until tomorrow.

King John–Act V


King John repents to the bishop as an attempt to keep peace with France, who has led most of his allies into revolt. Always a man of business, this John. And he dies as he lived–working on state matters.

Aside from King John’s disconnect from the spiritual life (and that “kill the kid” incident, which I think was a spur of the moment act of fear) I don’t see him as a particular villain. I was expecting to see a more notorious picture painted of him, and given the feelings about the Catholic Church when Shakespeare is writing, he seems to be a kind of fated-to-doom character.

Oh, and since I brought up the Church, the day that the war sets on in the beginning is the beginning of the Triduum (the three day solemnity/celebration of Easter) which paints a very interesting picture. You know, with all the war and marriage and death.


I was surprised that the Bastard Phillip turns out to be a legitimate servant to his king. I bring this up, because the last lines are spoken by him. “This England never did, nor never shall,/Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,/But when it first did help to wound itself” (V.vii.112-114). I’m leaving this really as food for thought. England shall not be conquered, unless it is by the mistakes she makes herself. Hmm. At the end of a history play (and my knowledge of English history is not extremely extensive prior to, well, really the Victorian era–but I’m reading this to attempt to make up for that…as well as this) these three lines left me pondering on how this is pertinent to a kind of “English understanding of being English.” Perhaps my friends across the pond may be of service?

King John–Acts III & IV

My apologies, I have been rigorously working on getting my life together and make myself a career in something a little more academic than bar-tending. Prayers, if you can!


So, Act III satisfied my “the war ended to quickly” proposition, thanks to the entrance of a bishop. Rome visits, excommunicates, and causes a huge complication of which fundamental religious honoring to take–the alliance between England and France that has at it’s foundation the Church’s Sacrament of marriage VERSUS the authority figure from the Vatican directly telling King Phillip that he’ll be excommunicated with King John. Poor Blanch.

So, we have these two poles that the audience gets to swing between: France and England. France’s leader concerns himself primarily with matters of the soul above the matters of state, both in his breaking of the alliance and with Louis’ trust in the bishop’s prophecy that England will fall. Ol’ John is excommunicated for putting his own matters of state above the Church and he has no concern for his soul, so long as he has looked out for his body and reputation (the assigning of Arthur’s assassination).


Act IV reads like a tragedy–the too late realization that killing an innocent kid might be a mistake. King John, on the cusp of losing his allies, states, “They burn in indignation. I repent:/There is no sure foundation set on blood;/No certain life achiev’d by others’ death (IV.ii.105-107). Arthur’s alive and let go! Then he’s actually dead. And no one saw him fall. So, obviously, King John was up to mischief, setting himself on a foundation of blood that he only too late realized was not in his best interests.

Oh, and the whole thing is taking place during late, very close to the feast day of the Ascension. I’m wondering if Blanch’s lamenting her wedding feast turning into a blood bath has more to it than meets the eye….

King John–Act II

Am I a bad person for being a little disappointed in how well this war for “the true king of England” ended? Probably. But, my feelings are not my thoughts. Moving on.


My main focus is on Hubert (or, the First Citizen, on my Kindle…which I almost prefer him being nameless, in a way. If anyone has information on what the First Folio names him as, I would really appreciate it.) and both what is said about him and what he says.

For starters, this train of thought started because of the comment made by the ol’ Bastard: “By heaven, these scroyles of Angiers flour you, kings,/And stand securely on their battlements,/As a theatre, whence they gape and point/At your industrious scenes and acts of death”(II.i.373-376). While reading these lines, I was thinking, “As a member of the audience, I feel compelled to be on the side of this town. I’m watching the fight. And I’m not even rooting for a specific character to win the kingship.” Hubert is also the voice of reason among the kings, and it is his idea that brings about peace…And he has a sweet line that goes,

A greater power then we denies all this;
And till it be undoubted, we do lock
Our former scruple in our strong-barr’d gates;
King’d of our fears, until our fears, resolved,
Be by some certain king purged and deposed.(II.i.368-372)’

I think I might just be in love with Hubert/the First Citizen’s inability to judge the merit of which king is proper without them proving it. But that’s modern. In the feudal system, Arthur ought to be king. There’s an amazing tension here, between merit and blood-line nobility.


My after-thought is solely: Constance seems to be the only one who actually cares about righting the wrongs of the throne.

Until tomorrow.

King John–Act I

Mmm, smell that sweet, sweet verge of war opening. Toto, we’re not reading a comedy anymore.

King John

Few historical bits:

  1. John was the youngest of his brothers. Which makes him the least likely heir to the throne. But, being the favorite, and everyone dying, he inherited the throne
  2. John was excommunicated by the Catholic Church, because he wanted his authority over the Church’s. (That’s really really the bare bones of what I can gather. The actual story is messier and complicated.) John’s seen as a pre-Protestant martyr, etc.
  3. You’ve seen the Disney Robin Hood? The thumb-sucking lion that’s a big ol’ jerk–that’s King John.

Either Shakespeare is going to paint us a nice picture of John, but I find that unlikely. To quote is mother, “A strange beginning: ‘borrow’d majesty’!” (I.i.5).

The scene shifts from the looming war with France–because, well, it is evidently not King John’s birthright–to the will of Sir Robert regarding which son inherits his land. Phillip dons knighthood under the king that is the brother of his actual father. And then, he’s left alone. Monologue time.

But this is worshipful society
And fits the mounting spirit like myself,
For he is but a bastard to the time
That doth not smack of observation;
And so am I, whether I smack or no;
And not alone in habit and device,
Exterior form, outward accoutrement,
But from the inward motion to deliver
Sweet, sweet, sweet poison for the age’s tooth:
Which, though I will not practise to deceive,
Yet, to avoid deceit, I mean to learn;
For it shall strew the footsteps of my rising. (I.i.205-216)

The age is a bastard himself to time–the age of flattery and ascension into positions from flattery. I’ve never known Shakespeare to paint a bastard son that is a good man, at least looking as Much Ado or King Lear, so I can only see Phillip, now Richard, being a conniver and a liar. However, I wonder since he comes from a nobleman’s blood, if perhaps he’ll come out better. I’m not placing my money on it.

KingJohn 1

The play ends with the denouncing of one name for another. And the question of who owns what land by birth. And given that the full name of the play is The Life and Death of King John, I don’t think it’s going to be pretty for Johnnie boy.