King Lear–Act V


My comments today are brief.

First, to look at a monologue. It’s very revealing about Cordelia’s effect on Lear’s life and happiness. (It’s also said to reflect the Catholic martyrs in Protestant England, but I’ll leave that to actual scholars, and not amateurs like myself.)

Come, let’s away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;
And take upon’s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies: and we’ll wear out,
In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones,
That ebb and flow by the moon. (V.iii.8-19)

I’m very fond of this monologue. I just want to, A. bring it back to attention and B. Show how, even in prison, Lear has become more joyful. With Cordelia’s death, he literally dies of a broken heart.

The guilty and greedy die (Regan, Goneril, Edmund), as do the innocent. Also, Edmund’s repentance…I’m not sure how I feel about it. Or what I think, for that matter.

I know I haven’t been keen on the Sunday evening Wrap-ups (primarily because every time I start them, I’ve said what I have to say) but I am going to try for this Sunday, because I have so much to think about over the next few days.


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.