Tuesday, August 10, 2010

King Lear properly understood!

Each year school and university students of Shakespeare, the world over, are confronted with the same questions about what for many is Shakespeare's greatest masterpiece - King Lear.
  • What became of Lear's wonderful Fool?
  • Who was the Fool anyway?
  • What really happens in the last moments of Lear's life?
  • Why does Cordelia have to die at the end of the play?
  • Why does Edgar wait so long to reveal himself to his father?
  • What is the relationship between the two texts of Shakespeare's King Lear?
  • I believe that the answers to these and other questions lie in the realization that Cordelia never went to France, as is normally understood, but that she stayed behind and served her father disguised as his Fool escorted by the King of France disguised as a Knight/Servant/Gentleman.

    At the end of the play when Lear is holding his dead daughter and exclaims, "And my poor Fool is hanged: no, no life ... you will come no more...", he has actually made the discovery that Cordelia had been his Fool and it caused him to die of a heart attack in the same way Glocester dies on the realization that his son, Edgar, had served him disguised as Poor Tom in the sub-plot.

    Several characters in the original texts of Shakespeare's play have inconsistencies in their speech prefixes and stage directions. For instance, Oswald's speeches are prefixed "Gent", "Steward", "Stew", "Oswald" and "Osw". So it ought not be thought odd that speeches tagged "Cordelia" and "Fool" could apply to the same person, Cordelia, and that speeches prefixed "Knight" and "Servant" and "Gentleman" could be attributed to the King of France, whose speeches were tagged "France" in the opening scene.

    Concerning King Lear, H.A.Mason ("King Lear: The Central Stream" The Cambridge Quarterly Vol. II No. 1 1966-67 p. 25) wrote:

    "Although the critics by and large agree on a high estimate of the play, they agree on nothing else. There is therefore a task of mediating and searching for a reading that will command wider assent than any so far obtained."

    This blog is designed to promote a reading of the play which is much more in keeping with Shakespeare's other plays than the many interpretations that have been placed upon it. I hope you enjoy reading my blog and I invite your comments.

    For comparative purposes only I have included below an brief outline of Lear as it is normally understood.