Men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither. Ripeness is all
Imagine an elderly man – his mind frail and his body feeble, wrestling with a prevailing desperation inspired by imminent death. His presence resounds like a canon, a great raging beast in word but a decrepit miser in deed, for what can a man bark at nature which would cause her to alter course?
I like thinking of King Lear this way. A powerful monarch with little reason to bother himself with the idea of his mortality yet buckling under the weight of its sudden prominence. If Death ever yearned for a worthy adversary, he found one in Lear, a man who would stand firm through the mighty storm with no hopes of victory.
Yet even so, when nearing the end, he wants nothing more than an affirmation of his relevance, a proclamation of love from those whom he so deeply effects. This desire, however, must spawn the plague of his own madness as he falls victim to deception and manipulation. In a way, I sensed a feeling of insecurtiy in Lear’s query to his daughters. Why not simply bestow portions of his kingdom on his daughters without the ceremony of declarations? Why does he need to hear speeches of their love? Had he not noticed their actions and dispositions toward him before old age settled in? Why didn’t he inquire as to their aptitude in ruling their portions? This insecurity leads him to do something which leaves him open to bitter conspiracy and abuse.
Of all Shakespeare’s characters, I found the King the most compelling. Goneril and Regan behaved like so many power hungry characters in stories spanning the centuries and continents. Of course, one must notice how Shakespeare chose to bless Lear with daughters and gave them equal zeal for treachery. Despite the negative affiliation, one ought to recognize the equality the two gender’s capabilities. I appreciated Kent for his loyalty and moral guidance. The fool not only infected this play with comedic relief but filled the role of soothesayer as do others throughout Shakespeare’s plays. But Lear! What a character! What a bohemeth amongst the emotionally slim and weak youths of of Shakespeare’s bibliography! Pit any other King, comedic protagonist or tragic sufferer against the mighty foe of Death and compare their resolve!
But Nature, master even to Death itself, tugs the strings and slackens the cords of this drama wherein Edmund battles as mightily as the King. I loved his first soliloquy and feared for the villainous path he would follow because of it. Nature propped him up in merit just as much as Edgar or any other being of human birth. But custom, an oftentimes antithesis to nature, drives Edmund to conspiracy against his family. Lear must feel a similar anger since Death serves as an antithesis to Life. Because Edmund also conpspires against his father, one might think to contrast Edmund with Goneril and Regan but Edmund’s bastardly plight akins him more to Lear, who rages against natures fatal condemnation where Edmund rages against custom’s unfair destiny. Neither take their lot lying down. Of course, if one did compare Edmund to these women, they would find similar conspiratorial resolves, yet Edmund’s nurturing under his bastard upbringing changes his connection with two legitimate princesses. Perhaps Lear feels as unfairly treated by nature as Edmund feels by custom. Edgar exemplifies filial piety, as does Cordelia, resulting in both of their social woes, yet they both find reconciliation – Edgar with his birthright and Cordelia with her father. Yet most circumstances prove opposite to our understanding of nature and custom or our idea of their unity – the soothesaying fool, the ussurping daughters, the beggared firstborn, the aspiring bastard son, the banished loyalist – and, most frighteningly, the dying Life.
“Howl, howl, howl, howl!” Just imagine the crashing solemnity, the echoing boom of defeat, the sonorous bellow of mortality met and invincibility dreamt now thundering through the earth.