Friday, June 24, 2011

French Intelligence Operatives on British soil!

With rapid innovations in communications it has been quite common for us to hear of missions of intelligence operatives into soon to be targeted territories even while these incursions are taking place. This was the case recently in the early stages of conflicts in the Middle East when we were seeing MI6 operatives on the ground identifying potential targets for air strikes. It seemed strange to me that this information was being broadcast to the world even as the operatives were engaged in their dangerous duties. I wondered at the threat that such news stories might have been to the safety of those brave men serving on foreign soil.
    A day or so after recent operations in Abbottabad, Pakistan, we heard of a nearby safe house that had been the hideout for CIA operatives for several months in advance of the attack. From there these spies were able to gather intelligence observing the comings and goings in and around the building that proved to be significant.
    It’s always exciting to me to wonder how these spies are able to pull off their successful missions all without being detected. They must have been seen by many of the locals so I wonder at the disguises they adopted, their skills in foreign languages and their ability to makeshift in foreign locations. Thinking about this also makes me wonder what safe houses or intelligence gathering missions are currently in operation in trouble spots around the world that could one day pay off or be busted.

    There was a case of French “intelligence operatives” on British soil that seems to have been completely overlooked! Even though it was a fictional one there has been little or no attention given to it in 400 years, and yet millions of people have read about it in the pages of Shakespeare’s King Lear most without realizing what happened!

    To many people King Lear is such a boring play! Today’s theatre-goers have a keen appetite for the loud and mournful speeches of the king “more sinned against than sinning” and performances seem to be judged by how well a lead actor does in delivering these. But there is so much more in King Lear that is so exciting that people are completely missing.

    If you have been following my blog you will know that I am referring to the presence of the King of France and Cordelia on British soil. They are there disguised as a Servant/Knight and Gentleman and as Lear’s Fool.

    In my earlier posts I showed good reasons for believing that France and Cordelia never left Britain, but stayed behind and served Lear attempting to direct him towards Dover where France had ordered his troops to land in the hope of restoring Lear to his throne.

    How exciting is this?! A foreign king and a banished princess, France and Cordelia, gathering intelligence about movements of Queens, possible divisions between dukes, strength of military power, and trying to get those loyal to Lear, Kent and Gloucester, to help in directing the aged king towards Dover and to the safety of armed French forces. All this without being detected, for that would have been dangerous! Indeed, all of this without wanting to be even acknowledged for their bravery and service.

    This is what Shakespeare has presented to us, and their cunning, covert operations have been completely overlooked for 400 years! However, the record is all there waiting to be rediscovered in the words, speech prefixes, stage directions, textual emendations, Biblical allusions, as well as evident glances at the sources of Shakespeare’s play.

    I have already drawn attention to Cordelia’s getting her note to Kent whose disguise and whereabouts she could not have known unless she were the Fool. Cordelia had heard Kent’s obscure words, “He’ll shape his old course in a country new” and the Fool was there moments after Lear had failed to see through Kent’s disguise as a servant and accepted the one he had banished from the land into his personal service again.

    I am maintaining that France was there too, disguised as a Servant (in the Quarto) and a Knight (in the Folio), preparing the way for the entry of the Fool by mouthing what everyone believed, that “my young lady”, Cordelia, had gone “into France”. When the Fool finally arrives on the stage for the first time, the first thing the Fool does is to chide Kent for “taking one's part that's out of favour” and then expresses the reversal of Lear’s assumed action saying of him, “this fellow has banished two of's daughters, and did the third a blessing against his will....”

    Because Lear and everyone else believes that Cordelia has gone to France, she has found a way to fulfil that which she said that she would have wanted. Before leaving her sisters on the day of the division of the kingdom, she had committed her father to her sisters’ “professed bosoms”, however she wished she could “prefer him to a better place” namely her own bosom, or to what Lear referred to as “her kind nursery.” If Cordelia were in France, it would not have been “against his will.” By reversing the states of Goneril and Regan from Lear’s loving hostesses to “banished” the Fool reverses Cordelia’s state from banished to not banished and present somewhere in disguise!

    There is no doubt in my mind that this shows that the Fool, Cordelia, sees through the disguise that Kent has taken on, and this accounts for Kent’s later receipt of the note from Cordelia.

    I have already suggested that original audiences, familiar with the earlier play King Leir, could readily have identified the character whom we will eventually know as Oswald (at this point in the Quarto he is Goneril’s unnamed gentleman) as Lear’s original Fool. They would have seen him as a young gentleman in the service of Leir who had been in the habit of coming into his presence disguised in the Fool’s motley. In Shakespeare’s play, this bungling gentleman enters twice upon Lear’s call for his Fool (which was the standard way of introducing new characters to the audience) and behaves in a very foolish manner, albeit at the behest of Goneril who encourages his negligence towards Lear with the words “If you come slack of former services”. I am maintaining that Oswald would have initially been identified as Skalliger from Leir who did let go the great wheel, Leir who was going downhill, and followed the great one, Gonorill, upwards in the opening scene of that play.

    I know it must be hard to understand all this when you are coming from the standard understanding of the action of Lear. It took me a few years to see it! If you haven’t already read it, you could do nothing better towards a fuller understanding Lear than to read the earlier Leir which you can do by clicking the link in the margin here.

    Shakespeare begins to make the situation appear increasingly dangerous for France and Cordelia to be in, presenting us with the almost immediate blow up between Goneril and Lear which leads Lear to determine to abandon her in favour of Regan. Clearly, Goneril is not going to give up the power that she has received from her father and any discovery of France and Cordelia on a mission to restore Lear to his throne will not meet with kindness! Lear has only been with Goneril a few days at the most and her earlier determination to “do something, and i’th’heat”, that is, immediately, and then that she “would ... breed occasions” that would cause Lear to hasten to her sister, has the desired effect.

    Lear storms off after protesting that he would resume the kingly “shape” that Goneril might think he has cast off forever, but Fool lingers behind and is privy to the brief exchange between Goneril and Albany which shows the beginning disparity between them! Was this just idleness on the part of the Fool or was it a deliberate attempt to spy on Goneril? Given what I am seeing elsewhere in the text, I think the latter. There does not appear to be any other good reason for this delayed exit of the Fool.

    Then we have Fool’s words in the aside, representing personal reflections:
        A fox, when one has caught her
        And such a daughter,
        Should sure to the slaughter,
        If my cap would buy a halter;
        So the Fool follows after.

    As we have already seen, here we have a fox, or a Fool, who is a daughter, a female, who will be hanged by a halter obtained in exchange for a Fool’s cap. This seems to be prophetic of Cordelia’s being hanged after she gives up her disguise as Lear’s Fool. If she were not Lear’s Fool, and was in fact ensconced in her French palace, she would not have even known about Kent’s disguised service. This female Fool is clearly concerned about the seriousness of the situation she sees developing around her. She sees that it could cost her her life!

    I am maintaining that France disguises himself as a Servant in the Quarto, a disguise similar to that which worked for Kent. Perhaps this involved the removal of a French moustache and his borrowing other accents, in the same way that we hear that Kent has raz’d his likeness and borrowed other accents. In the Folio France disguises himself as a less open-faced Knight, a disguise which Edgar will adopt with success in the presence of his own brother later in the play. In the Quarto France will appear briefly as a knight also, but when Lear has the number of his riotous knights cut, France adopts the disguise of a Gentleman which he will use until he goes off to die in the bloody arbitrement.

    In plays of that time Kings and Queens appeared as Gentlemen and Ladies on occasions. The Quarto stage directions for Goneril and Regan will later describe them as “two Ladies”. In other words, Goneril and Regan are not out there on the battlefield dressed up in their royal attire with crowns and all, even as France is not dressed as a King! That France should go through several disguises has its precedence or confirmation in the sub-plot where Edgar shifts through his several disguises of madman, seaside peasant and knight before returning to his true identity. In particular notice that Edgar’s appearance on stage as a knight would have been a complete surprise to the original audience. There is no advanced warning that he will so appear.

    The second Act opens with further development of the troubles for Edgar in Lear’s sub-plot. This secondary plot strand, like other Shakespearean sub-plots, is included as a support for the main plot. So, as we have seen Lear almost self-deceived into undervaluing Cordelia as, “that little-seeming substance, or all of it, with our displeasure piec’d, and nothing more”, so now, Edmund successfully schemes to have the self-deluded Gloucestor reduce Edgar to the “nothing” he realizes he has become at the end of Act 2 Scene iii! As a consequence of the threat to his own life, Edgar disguises himself as poor Tom, and it is while in this disguise that he will eventually be pressed into leading his blinded father Gloucester towards Dover, but not before the Fool leads Lear in the same direction and then mysteriously disappears!

    The disguised service rendered by Edgar towards his father who has abused him is certainly a high point in the morality of the play, and as it has been ordinarily understood, there is nothing in the main plot to equal, let alone surpass, this service rendered by an abused child to his or her own abusive father. The presence of this in the secondary plot should call for a like scenario in the main especially where a misunderstood, abused, and dispossessed daughter has hinted that she would “Love and be silent” and that what she well intended doing, she would do it before she spoke, and leave it to her father to make known what she had done.

    Such an act of service would be higher on a scale of love than Edgar’s love, since Cordelia would have gone into disguise as Lear’s Fool in order to serve her abusive father, while Edgar goes into disguise as poor Tom to protect himself and later even protests that “Bad is the trade that must play fool to sorrow” as he is seconded to lead his father to Dover. It is because of his self-preserving disguise that he has to lead his father, whereas, in the main plot, I believe, Cordelia goes into disguise specifically in order that she may lead her father to safety.

    Whether or not the Fool is Cordelia, the Fool is a real person in disguise, and we might compare this disguised person’s service with that of Kent who, in the main plot, has gone into disguise as a servant in order to seek to serve his master who has wrongfully banished him. There is a wonderful selflessness about the Fool whose whole intent is to labour to out-jest Lear’s heart-struck injuries. But while the Fool acts so totally selflessly it is very plain that Kent is serving with a view to being discovered, acknowledged and rewarded. And as wonderful as Kent’s service is, yet it is what Cornwall calls, his stubborn ancient knavery, and his being a “reverend braggart” that earns him a place in the stocks and is the thin edge of the wedge that opens what will be a chasm between Regan and her father outside Gloucester’s castle.

    The clash between the two separate messengers to Regan, Oswald and Kent, could perhaps be compared with the opening of Romeo and Juliet where the clash between two servants opens wide the long-standing divide between the feuding Montague and Capulet families and brings about tragedy for Romeo and Juliet. Kent’s recognition of Oswald, his deriding him and challenging him to fight, causes such a commotion that Cornwall and Regan are ready to identify Kent as an example of Lear’s riotous knights of which Goneril has complained. Rather than paving the way to a friendly reception for Lear, Kent’s behaviour contributes to the rejection of Lear by his daughter before he gets anywhere near what he expected would be the comfort of Regan’s place. Lear never even sees Regan’s place.

    The clash between Kent and Oswald gives us the longest description of any character in the play. Oswald is a “goodman boy” a “young master” who is “made” by a “tailor”, or less in quality than the cheap suit that he is wearing. He is an upstart “knave”, “knave”, “knave”, and Kent complains that Oswald smiles at Kent’s speeches as though he were a Fool! He is a knave and behaves like the motley Fool behaved towards Kent earlier. He is offered to us as both “knave” and “Fool” and I believe that the audience could have been expected in a few moments to see him as Lear’s original Fool who “runs away” leaving an opening for Cordelia as the motley Fool. Shakespeare has Kent protest that “no contraries hold more antipathy than I and such a knave”, and if, as I am maintaining, Oswald was to be identified with Skalliger who goes out of disguise and runs from the service of Leir, then he is the complete opposite of Kent who goes into disguise to regain admission into the service of Lear.

    When Lear had earlier announced that he was off to Regan’s, the Fool seems to try to dissuade him from that path suggesting that he’d get no better reception there than he had at Goneril’s, perhaps hoping that Lear could be diverted right then and there to Dover to await the French forces who would come in and rout the British and restore him to his throne. The Fool had said “I can tell what I can tell” which echoed Cordelia’s words to her sisters in the opening of scene “I know you, what you are....” Cordelia and the early audiences of Lear could expect that some time about now, as in the source play Leir, Lear is going to be rejected be his second daughter and want to head off for France with his faithful servant Kent who has taken the place of Perillus.

    Now in the beginning of Acts 2 Scene iv Lear arrives outside Gloucester’s castle in the company of the Fool and a Gentleman (Quarto has a less open-faced Knight instead of a Gentleman). If, as I maintain, the Fool is Cordelia’s disguised presence, then this Knight/Gentleman is France’s disguise. He has been accompanying Lear gathering intelligence about possible movements of the Duke and Queen. We see this in his comment to Lear, “As I learn’d, the night before there was no purpose in them of this remove.” The Fool voices the feeling that Gentleman will hear that “Winter’s not gone yet...” and then, a few moments later, after Lear leaves to talk with Regan, as if to try to further gauge the temperament of the Duke and Queen, the Gentleman asks Kent, “Made you no more offence but what you speak of?”

    On the stage at this time are three people, Kent sitting on the ground in the stocks, the Knight/ Gentleman who is standing alongside the Fool questioning Kent. The Fool then says, “We’ll set thee to school to an ant, to teach thee...” which could suggest a combined effort here. The “we’ll” suggests that Fool and the Knight/Gentleman are working together. Earlier when the Servant/Knight is not present, Fool offers to teach Lear a speech saying, “Sirrah, I’ll teach thee a speech”, but here in the presence of the Knight/Gentleman it is “We’ll set thee to an ant, to teach thee....” Later, when this Gentleman meets Kent in the storm and is asked who is with Lear, the Gentleman will tell Kent that no one is with Lear except the Fool who is labouring to out-jest Lear’s heart-struck injuries, and it struck me that while the Gentleman had to be away from Lear at that time, yet he knows the Fool is sticking with Lear and he knows the reason for the Fool’s presence! They are working together for the good of Lear.

    So after offering to set Kent to school to an ant, and stating the obvious about Lear’s situation, the Fool offers him advice, namely, “Let go thy hold when a great wheel runs down a hill, lest it break thy neck with following, but the great one that goes upward, let him draw thee after.”

    In Lear we first learned that Lear had a Fool from the lips of Goneril who is annoyed that her gentleman (who we will eventually know as Oswald) had been struck by her father because he chided his Fool. We have already suggested that in the minds of the first audiences of Lear Oswald would have been identified with Skalliger who had been in the service of Leir but defected to the service of Gonorill. I am maintaining that Skalliger would have been in the habit of going into Leir’s presence disguised as his Fool, but when Skalliger leaves Leir for Gonorill, he ditches the motley which Cordelia then takes up in Lear.

    We might ask why Oswald chided the Fool. Oswald had noticed that someone else was wearing his discarded motley and so chided this new Fool with words of advice that the Fool now repeats to Kent. Oswald was a wise man for having flown, but he is also a knave as Kent has found out! The Fool only wants knaves to use this advice, namely, leave the service of Lear, owning the advice given now as her own since she has been labelled both knave and Fool. She then lets us know that the knave turns out to be the Fool that ran away, and that she, the present Fool, is no knave, and neither is Kent, who through his time in the stocks is a Fool learning the folly of following Lear down the hill. Kent identifies with the notion of not running away and wonders where the Fool got this wisdom? It seems to me that by calling Kent “Fool” Cordelia is expressing her delight that Kent is on their side.

    In the source play, Leir, and in Lear it is Oswald or his counterpart Skalliger who are singly depicted as forsaking Leir/Lear and as shifting and seeking his own personal gain. When asked, Oswald describes Lear as “My Lady’s father” and Lear calls him “my Lord’s knave” and then Oswald calls him “my Lord.” No one else has packed and left Lear in his storm. Oswald is the knave that turns out to be the Fool that has run away.

    When Fool says, “But I will tarry, the Fool will stay” it seems to me that this is Cordelia speaking beneath her disguise in the same way as I believe she spoke earlier while reflecting on Lear’s giving away his crown saying, “If I speak like myself in this let him be whipp’d that first finds it so” because she has given away her British crown and could be wearing her French one.

    Cordelia is protesting that she is not a knave though she is the Fool. The knave was the Fool who ran from the service of Leir that Kent has just encountered outside Gloucester’s castle and declared him so to be. She is no knave and neither is Kent. They are both foolish for following Lear downhill!

    If there is another explanation for this section of the play, I would like to see it.

    I believe that France and Cordelia hope to team up with Kent to bring Lear down to Dover from where they can be protected by the invading French army, and advance against the British forces, defeating them and restoring Lear as happened in the source play Leir. But Kent doesn’t see Cordelia nor does he see France! Kent thinks that he alone is capable of going into disguise to serve Lear, and virtually everyone has accepted that this is the case because they have ignored what Cordelia and France said in the opening scene!

    Act 3 opens with Kent and this Gentleman, whom I believe is France in disguise, meeting up away from Lear’s presence out in the storm. It seems to me that the Gentleman has left Lear in the care of the Fool and gone off to check with his subordinates about the progress his army is making towards the shores of Dover. The foulest winter storm has not long begun with lightning and thunder.

    Kent however is not so gainfully employed. He is out with a letter he has written to Cordelia telling her of his disguised service of her father. He is looking for a way to get this letter to her in the hope that she will read it and think highly of him. He expects that she has just arrived with the French army, and he offers this Gentleman the opportunity to advance his standing, “build so far” on his credit, by delivering the letter to her.

    The conversation between the Gentleman and Kent in this scene is a telling one, for it begins by Kent essentially asking the Gentleman's identity, but receiving the non-committal answer - "One minded like the weather most unquietly." It seems that the Gentleman wished to remain anonymous. His response can be compared with the response the disguised Kent gave to Lear when he takes him on as a servant. Kent did not reveal his name to Lear. He was simply identified himself as “a man.”

    Despite this being the first time the speech prefix "Gent." appears in the Quarto, Kent says, "I know you", and again "I do know you", which would suggest that the Gentleman has been on stage before, and that the audience could have recognised him, in the same way that Kent, told Oswald, whom the audience has already met, that he knew him. There’s no reason to believe that this Gentleman is any different to the Folio’s Gentleman we’ve seen earlier for Kent expects the Gentleman to know the whereabouts of Lear. Kent's question, "Where’s the King?" could have afforded great irony if the audience had perceived that Kent is talking to a king (France) who he says he knows, but obviously doesn't!

    In the conversation between Kent and the Gentleman, Kent speaks of the "secret feet in some of our best Ports". The Folio at this point speaks of these secret feet as being
        ... to France the spies and speculations
        Intelligent of our State. What hath been seen,
        Either in snuffs and packings of the Dukes,
        Or the hard rein which both of them have borne
        Against the old kind King; or something deeper,
        Whereof perchance these are but furnishings –
and then he leaves off.

    If these "secret feet" appear in the play, this Gentleman, who has been observing, questioning and reporting things about the opposition, surely has two of them.

    I realise that Shakespeare's characterisation of Kent here is not what most have understood it to be, and we will have more to say about this later. But what we have here, I believe, is Kent telling the King of France, whose identity he says he knows, but doesn't know, that the King of France has his spies in Britain, and goodness only knows what they’ve seen!
    He offers to lend France credit on which he can build his reputation, which is exactly what Kent is trying to do! Kent seeks to assure France that he will see Cordelia and gives him his purse containing his ring which he is to give to her! The association of rings and purses with disguise is everywhere in Shakespeare. We have a classic example of this in The Merchant of Venice, which King James had seen twice not many months before watching King Lear, where Bassanio and Gratiano give away their wedding rings inadvertently to their disguised wives. In the secondary plot of Lear the blind Gloucester will soon give two purses, one containing a ring, to his disguised son. All of this is the height of dramatic irony, and so Shakespearean!
    Kent is depicted as confiding in this Gentleman, telling him that there is division between Albany and Cornwall “although as yet the face of it is covered with mutual cunning”. “Mutual cunning” might or might not be the best description of the differences between Albany and Cornwall, but this description of their relationship could be seen to reflect on the relationship between Kent and this Gentleman, France, for there is something like "mutual cunning", in a good cause, covering the faces of Kent and France. Kent's cunning is not as artful as France's because obviously France knows who Kent is, but Kent thinks he has one up on this Gentleman but doesn't! The lofty language of the Gentleman here is consistent with that of the Servant/Knight we’ve seen earlier and he is concerned, as always, to focus on the needs of Lear and the mission of the Fool, who he knows is labouring to "out-jest” Lear's “heart-strook injuries." The Gentleman has his eye on Lear, his father-in-law, and on the Fool, his wife. This is wonderful drama!
    Kent seems only to be concerned to get the record of his service of Lear to Cordelia, and the Gentleman is perplexed that Kent has no more to say. Kent is suddenly conscious that he should be looking after Lear who is only being cared for by the Fool and so before he goes off to try to find Lear, he enlists the Gentleman in the search for him suggesting that whoever finds him first should call for the other. When in the next scene Kent comes upon Lear he completely ignores the Fool and doesn’t seem to be worried about calling for the Gentleman as he had undertaken to do.
    For the moment I would like to skip over the storm scene, the hovel and the disappearance of the Fool and pick up where we find this Gentleman talking again with Kent.
    Act 4 Scene iii opens with the French having landed at Dover and set up camp. Kent has wandered away from Lear again and met up with this same Gentleman enquiring about the way Cordelia had received the letters he had given this Gentleman for her.
    Kent must have asked where the King of France is and he has been told that the King has gone back to France. Kent asked about the return of the king no doubt because he was looking for some sort of recognition of his service of Lear from the King of France. This I take to be the case from his question concerning Cordelia's reading and reacting to his letter, "Was this before the King returned?" He is essentially asking if the King of France could have heard what he had done. Of course he would deny any interest in recognition; he will later tell Cordelia that “to be acknowledged” “is over-paid”!
    The scene opens with Kent's asking the King of France why the King of France had to go back! There is dramatic irony in his asking France, "know you no reason?" France comes up with a vague statement which hardly would be sufficient reason for him to leave the woman he loves in a situation of danger, and go against his earlier assertion that "Love's not love, when it is mingled with regards that stand aloof from th'entire point."
    To Kent's question about whom the King of France left as General in charge of the French forces, the answer comes back, "Monsieur La Far." This is France having a go at Kent! In Love's Labour's Lost we have someone being called "Monsieur the nice" which has an obvious meaning. Zinevra, of Baccassio's The Decameron, who lies behind the character of Cymbeline’s Imogen, takes on the disguised name "Sicurano da Finale", which can be roughly translated secure at last, expressive of her feeling of security. "Monsieur le Fer", the name of the French Soldier in King Henry V is clearly chosen for Pistol to respond to with "I'll fer him, and firk him, and ferret him...." Here in Lear "Monsieur La Far" suggests someone who is afar off as opposed to standing in his presence, and is France's way of playing with Kent who still does not recognise him, in the same way as the disguised Vincentio plays with Lucio in Measure for Measure. The description of Cordelia's ripe lip which, "seem not to know, what guests were in her eyes" would, perhaps, be meant to reflect on Kent's not knowing what guest (France) was in his eyes - "seem" is present tense.
    In this scene we find that the Gentleman continues to be in touch with the movements of the British forces. To Kent’s “Of Albany’s and Cornwall’s powers you heard not?” the Gentleman responds “’Tis so they are afoot.”
    There is dramatic irony when Shakespeare has Kent tell France that some dear cause will wrap him up in concealment for a while longer, but when it is known who he really is, the Gentleman will not be sorry, but feel justified for having helped him, an Earl. But the real situation is that the King of France is lending an Earl his acquaintance, and the Earl doesn't know it!
    A little over half way through Act 4 Scene vi this Gentleman finds Lear roaming around the countryside and assures him of his rescue. His first words to Lear, "Sir, your most dear daughter ----" echo France’s description of Cordelia at the beginning of Lear "The best, the dearest...", and corresponds with the King of France's words to Leir, at the reunion of Leir and Cordella, "she is your loving daughter". Lear's request for surgeons leads the Gentleman to say, "You shall have any thing" which was the attitude of the King of France towards Leir in the 1605 version where he tells Leir “Thank heavens, not me, my zeal to you is such, command my utmost, I will never grudge.”
    To Lear's excited realization "I am a king, masters, know you that?" the Gentleman says, "You are a royal one and we obey you", which might have been meant to reflect the King of France's words to Leir in the 1605 version "she is your loving daughter and honours you with a respectful duty, as if you were the Monarch of the world.”
    The Gentleman, France, says of Cordelia "Thou hast one daughter who redeems nature from the general curse". This description could remind one of Lear’s earlier "Yet I have left a daughter" and "I have another daughter." Lear meant Regan in both instances, of course, but since we knew she would treat him the same as Goneril had, we might have thought of Cordelia, and might have seen her in the motley. One might reasonably ask what Cordelia had done to this point to redeem nature from the general curse if she had not been the Fool striving to out-jest Lear's heart-struck injuries and lead him towards Dover and safety.
    The conversation between Edgar and this Gentleman shows Edgar paying respect to this Gentleman with, "Hail, gentle sir" and asking "Do you hear aught, sir, of a battle toward?" This is somewhat like Perdita's respectful welcome of the disguised Polixines and Camillo, and the way they address her as "gentle maiden" in The Winter’s Tale. There is recognition of a noble quality in the Gentleman in the words of Edgar. The Gentleman again shows he is very much aware what is going on with respect to the battle. He knows the British army is near and the French are expecting to see them any hour. One could argue that an ordinary gentleman might possibly not be as confident in these matters as this one seems to be, but the King of France would certainly be very well informed. He knows that the French army has moved on from Dover while the Queen is still there “on special cause”.
    I have already written about France’s going off to die in the battle in my earlier post. I have much more that I want to post here in support of my understanding that Cordelia and France never left England but stayed and served Lear in disguise.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Finding Cordelia in King Lear’s Fool

Since the late 1980s children have pawed over the colourful pages of a number of picture books looking for Wally, a little character dressed in his red-and-white striped shirt with cap and blue pants. He is hidden among crowds of people doing a variety of amusing things in various locations around the world.

Four hundred years ago Shakespeare gave the world his take on the already age old story of King Lear, legendary king of Britain. Its scenes have been pawed over by students and teachers alike trying to make some sense of it. Frustrated students daily curse the play and Shakespeare, and scholars like AC Bradley have alleged that the play contains "improbabilities" that "far surpass those of the great tragedies in number and in grossness."

This allegation, though understandable, is bold when it is made against one of the greatest of all English playwrights! But the reason that the play has not been understood, the reason that there appears to be so many improbabilities, is that we haven't been asking the right questions and we haven't been pawing over the pages looking for answers to the right questions.

When we look at what Cordelia says she will do, which her first words in the play draw our attention to and invite us to think about, and when we look at France's words which introduce an element of uncertainty in "where" they will go after they leave Lear's presence, in the same way as Kent's last words introduce uncertainty as to where he will be found, we have to consider that maybe, just maybe, Shakespeare hides France and Cordelia under disguises in the middle of the play!

I mean, when France says to her "Thou losest here a better where to find" original audiences could have immediately suspected that it might not be France because that's where they went in every other presentation of the legend!

For thirty years I have been pawing over the words of the play looking for clues in the words of the Fool and the Servant/Knight and Gentleman that would confirm my suspicion that Cordelia and France never left England, but stayed behind to serve their father, Lear, in the tragic circumstances which they and which the audiences saw coming!

People have seen me as being obsessed! I even had a promotional Cordelia doll made dressed in motley and coxcomb! They've laughed at me or just ignored me, because most of them haven't got a handle, nor do they want to get a handle on the text, let alone the texts of earlier presentations of the Lear legend. And audiences these days are so taken by the mad speeches of Lear and the gouging of Gloucester's eyes, they haven't got time for anything else. Nahum Tate couldn't stand the play so he adapted it and gave it a happy ending. Today, King Lear has to be one of the most frequently played of all Shakespeare's works, but it is constantly being adapted.

But I have had as much delight in reading King Lear as I have had in reading As You Like It and seeing Rosalind's disguise, or The Merchant of Venice and seeing Portia's, and I do want other people to enjoy reading it and seeing Cordelia’s disguise. In fact, I am convinced that there are probably so many more clues that I haven't yet seen, which others will show me once they begin to look, and so our reading will be even more delightful.

"Oh, but," people have protested, "Lear is a Tragedy", and they are right in recognizing that there are tragic elements of the play that caused it to be classified as a Tragedy in the 1623 Folio edition.
But on the title page of the 1608 Quarto edition of the play it is styled as a History and it is very evidently a contrast with the anonymous 1605 History of Leir.

And there is something very beautiful in Shakespeare's play that made it such that while it might have been a tragedy for Lear, yet it was not a tragedy for Cordelia, as one of Shakespeare's sources explored the legend and styled it (Tragoedy of Cordila). I will come to that beautiful element in due course.

If you want to understand King Lear and discover what Shakespeare did with his source materials, you might need to become somewhat familiar with them and you can do so by following the links to them in the right-hand column of this blog.


We don't very often see much treatment of what Cordelia says. Oh, there's a lot of focus on her "Nothing!" and Lear's response, "Nothing will come of nothing" which sets in motion the whole play, but Cordelia says a whole lot more than that! As I mentioned above, she even draws our attention to what she will do/say by asking, with her first words in the play, an aside, "What shall Cordelia do/speak? Love and be silent." and "Then poor Cordelia! And yet not so; since I am sure my love's More ponderous than my tongue."

She seems to be saying that she is going to act in such a way that her love would be demonstrated without her speaking about it, for indeed, if she were to try to express how much she loved her father, words would fail her.

A little while later she says that "... what I well/will intend, I'll do't before I speak that you may/make known It is no vicious blot...." France will interpret her words as a "tardiness in nature Which often leaves the history unspoke That it intends to do". Cordelia's words "...what I well/will intend, I'll do't before I speak" could be taken to mean that she will do what she intends to do before she speaks again to Lear and to the audience. After this first scene, she will not appear again on stage until after the Fool has appeared and disappeared.

She does not say, "before I speak about it" but "before I speak"! She is going to "Love and be silent" and she's going to leave it to her father to know, "that you may know", what she has done (in the 1608 play) and "that you make known" (in the 1623 version). The difference between "may" and "make" in the two texts accounts for the different words of Lear at the end of the play after he says, "And my poor Fool is hang'd...." In the 1608 edition, Lear's "O, o, o, o" is his coming to the knowledge just before he dies of what she did serving him as his Fool, while in the 1623 edition, his last words "Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips, Look there, look there!" is his attempt to "make it known" that her earlier refusal to flatter her father was "no vicious blot...."

It's evident that the people in Lear's world do not make the connection between Cordelia and Fool, but Shakespeare could have expected his audience to make it, if not before, certainly at the end of the play! The reason Lear's world did not make the connection will become evident later.


In my earlier posts to this blog I have explained how in the minds of the original audiences the "boy" who used to come at Lear's call for his Fool had forsaken him and followed Goneril as her young gentleman, leaving an opening for Cordelia to step into the motley. I have also explained how France appeared disguised as a Servant/Knight right after we learn of Kent's disguise as a servant. He is paving the way for Cordelia's entry as the Fool, giving out that she has gone to France which everyone in Lear’s world already believes! He is carrying half her "care and duty" towards her father.

When the Fool finally appears Lear says "How now, my pretty knave! How dost thou?" This description of the Fool as a "pretty knave" could immediately suggest a girl disguised as a boy! Shakespeare so uses the word in As You Like It and The Merchant of Venice both of which he had written and performed before King Lear.

The Fool chides Kent for his loyalty to Lear saying of Lear that "this fellow has banish'd two on's daughters, and did the third a blessing against his will". You will recall that Kent's last words before he went into disguise were "Freedom lies hence, and banishment is here" and "He'll shape his old course in a country new." As Kent turned his sentence of "banishment" around, so, we might see, has Cordelia in her disguise as the Fool. The Fool is saying that while Lear thought he’d banished Cordelia, he had in fact banished Goneril and Regan, and allowed Cordelia to stay behind too. Lear had told Kent, in Cordelia's hearing, "Hence, and avoid my sight!" which together with Kent's cryptic words might have suggested to Cordelia the possibility of simply doing the same thing. In the 1605 anonymous Leir there is that wonderful scene in France when the King of France and Cordella appear disguised before Kent's equivalent, Perillus, and Leir, and serve them all without Leir and Perillus knowing who they are until they reveal themselves. There they form a team and return with the French army to rout the British and reinstate Lear.

In Shakespeare's play there is a constant sense that some of the characters are familiar with the legend. Certainly the audience was! Thus Cordelia says, "That lord whose hand must take my plight". "Must" could suggest a sense that this is what happens in the folk legend and has to happen here, for there is nothing to suggest that either France or Burgundy are under any compulsion from Lear to take her plight. In fact, it was quite the opposite, Burgundy refused her and Lear tried to dissuade France from taking her! Later as she is leaving her sisters she says "I know you what you are; And like a sister am most loth to call Your faults as they are named." How does she know what they are and their faults? Was it not because she, and the audience, knew what the sisters were like in the legend? It was there that the sisters' faults were already "named", flattery, deception, attempted regicide and the like.

Now that she is no longer appearing as their sister, in fact, now that she is appearing as the all licensed Fool, she begins to warn against her sisters intentions which have already been mooted to us at the end of Act I. Hardly a minute has transpired since the arrival of the Fool when the Fool offers to teach Lear a speech and Kent calls it "nothing." The Fool asks Lear, "Can you make no use of nothing, Nuncle?" and Lear reasserts, "Why no, boy; nothing can come out of nothing." This was what he had told Cordelia earlier, and Fool now points to one instance when Lear makes use of nothing, and seems to take exception to the use of "boy" throwing it back at Lear calling him "boy" inappropriately and asking him if he knows the difference between a sweet and a bitter Fool.

It won't be too long in the play's sub-plot before we will see the banished Edgar going into disguise as poor Tom saying, "That's something yet: Edgar I nothing am" and if the audience had thought they saw Cordelia in the Fool's motley here, they could have it confirmed by the sub-plot then.

Lear is to stand for the bitter Fool that counselled him to give away his land, which could have suggested, to an audience familiar with the very opening scene of Leir, Skalliger, who is Oswald's equivalent in that version of the legend. Oswald will be revealed as the bitter Fool and Cordelia will be found to be the sweet one in motley. But Lear doesn't remember Skalliger's counsel and so he takes it as a personal attack on himself alone!

Fool will then point to Lear's folly in cutting his crown in the middle and sharing it between his two daughters saying, "thou hadst little wit in thy bald crown when thou gav'st thy golden one away. If I speak like myself in this let him be whipp'd that first finds it so."

We might well ask what crown the Fool had given away? If Cordelia is the Fool, however, she has also given away her crown, two in fact, because she could be in France wearing the French Queen's crown, and rightfully owning a British one! And perhaps the audience could have seen this as Cordelia saying that if any other fool wants to point out her folly, he is to be whipped for speaking truth. In two more speeches the Fool will complain of being whipped for speaking truth.

The expression "if I speak like myself in this" is similar to Duke Vincentio's comment to Lucio in Measure for Measure when, disguised as a friar, he says, "I protest I love the Duke as I love myself." "Myself" is understood by Lucio to be a friar just as here "myself" would appear to be the Fool. But "myself" actually was the Duke as it looks very much like "myself" here in Lear is meant to be Cordelia.

Further, in the anonymous Leir, when the King of France meets Cordella in England after she has been expelled from her father's presence, she is contemplating a simpler lifestyle. France is disguised as a Palmer or pilgrim, and he is so taken by Cordella that he wants to know of her if she would entertain a proposal from a King to be his Queen. She doesn't want to be mocked by the pilgrim but assures him that she wouldn't even marry the Monarch of the earth unless she loved him.

France assures her that being a religious person, he wouldn't want to hurt her by offering her false hope, and then he tells her, "Therefore in witness of my true intent, Let heaven and earth bear record of my words: There is a young and lusty Gallian King, So like to me, as I am to myself, That earnestly doth crave to have thy love...." Cordella thought that France was talking about someone who was just like him, but we know that France is in fact talking about his own love for her! In approximately the same place in Shakespeare's story, we have this statement made by Fool which could be seen as Cordelia's obscure way of speaking about herself and her folly in giving up her chance of an English crown and a French one. If anyone else should want to point her folly out to her, let him be whipped for speaking the truth, in the same way as Lear had only moments before threatened the Fool with the whip for speaking the truth.

It might seem strange to us that Lear would not have noticed a difference in his Fool and that it was in fact Cordelia who was now wearing the motley. But Lear and nearly everyone else in Lear’s world does not recognize his faithful Kent who is now disguised in his presence, and this kind of disguise of children from parents and wives from husbands is found everywhere in Shakespeare's plays as well as in the works of other playwrights of that era.

But, in fact, Lear does notice something different about the Fool, asking, "When were you wont to so full of song, Sirrah?" and the Fool explains "I have used it, Nuncle, e'er since thou madest thy daughters thy mothers..." which was precisely when Cordelia would have had to go into disguise in order to remain at court.

The Fool then asks for a schoolmaster to "teach thy Fool to lie, I would fain learn to lie." This, of course, was Cordelia's problem in the beginning. She lacked that “glib and oily art to speak and purpose not" that her sisters had, and if she is the Fool she could be having difficulty keeping her mind in the role of the Fool, because that involved deception for her and she is used to speaking truth. Truth was her dowry.

Next the Fool complains that Goneril and Regan will "have me whipt for speaking true," which can be compared with "Truth is a dog must to kennel; he must be whip't out, when Ladie oth'e brach may stand by the fire and stink." Cordelia, truth, is out, and Oswald, "dog" over and over in the play, stands by the fire inside. "Thou wilt have me whipt for lying," as here threatened, "and sometime I am whipt for holding my peace" as Cordelia was, in a sense, in the beginning when she said "Nothing" and like a sister refused to name her sister's faults.

The Fool, reflecting on the role of a Fool, then says, "I had rather be any kind of thing than a Fool," as if there were another option which Fool knew of and yet was deliberately not taking up. But the Fool would not be Lear who is now "nothing," "an 0 without a figure" in front of it, or a zero, precisely what Lear had made Cordelia. But if she has become the Fool she is "now" better than Lear who has rejected the title Fool and given away all his other titles leaving nothing!

Lear meets Goneril's accusation, that he is encouraging riots among his followers, with the question, "Are you our daughter?" But this follows immediately upon the Fool's words about the cuckoo. Lear, of course, is addressing Goneril, but the juxtaposition of the speeches could cause members of the audience to suspect that the Fool is Cordelia in disguise. Similarly, Goneril's response,
I would you would make use of your good wisdom,
Whereof I know you are fraught; and put away
These dispositions which of late transport you
From what you rightly are...
could be applied to Cordelia disguised as the Fool, except that the 1608 text begins the speech, with "Come sir...."

Lear then asks, "Does anyone here know me?" as if to say, Have I changed that much that I am not even recognized anymore?! Of course, the audience knows who Lear is, but the question that could have been in the audience's mind is, who is the Fool?

Lear next questions Goneril's identity with the words, "Your name fair gentlewoman?" But this question, like his earlier one "Are you our daughter?" is juxtaposed with a statement by the Fool - "Which they [Goneril and Regan] will make an obedient father" in the 1608 text, and "Lear's shadow" in the 1623. "Fair gentlewoman" is used sarcastically by Lear, but people might have seen the fair gentlewoman disguised in the Fool's motley at this time and be wondering at her name!

Following Goneril's further protest Lear determines to go to Regan with the words, "Yet have I left a daughter." Now the audience knows Regan’s heart already, both from Shakespeare's sources of the legend and Lear to this point, and they know Cordelia's intention also from the sources and from her earlier claims in this play, and could have been provoked to think of her and perhaps see her here in the Fool.

In the 1608 text Lear begins to speak of his folly in the way he treated Cordelia, and then a little later he says again, "yet have I left a daughter, whom I am sure is kind and comfortable". Think of the potential for dramatic irony here where Lear is thinking of Regan, but the audience knows Regan's heart and suspects that Cordelia is the kind and comforting Fool who is caring for Lear. Lear had hoped to set his rest "on her kind nursery."

In the 1623 text Goneril next calls for Oswald. She has to do this twice in the 1623 text, but only once in the 1608 text, before Oswald comes. In the 1623 text Oswald has already come on stage twice at the call for the Fool, once in the 1608 text. Could it be that these changes from the 1608 text to 1623 text reflect an attempt to show that Oswald is used to responding to the call for the Fool but not the call for Oswald, which is perhaps a name he has assumed now that he is no longer in Lear's service, his real name being Skalliger? Goneril accuses the Fool of being "more knave than fool" but the Fool will later reject the term "knave" and it will be well and truly plastered all over Oswald by Kent.

The Fool runs off stage after Lear, but not before saying:
A Fox, when one has caught her,
And such a Daughter,
Should sure to the Slaughter,
If my Cap would buy a Halter,
So the Fool follows after.
Robert Goldsmith tells us that occasionally the fool may have worn a fox tail behind. Antonio, the artificial fool in Middleton and Rowley's The Changeling, 1653, is apparently wearing a fox-skin. Lollio, his keeper, tells him: "I shall not forebear the gentleman under the fool; if you do; alas, I saw through your fox-skin before now."

The fox in the Fool's verse is a fool, the fool is a female, and a daughter! This could be viewed as the Fool speaking about the possible end of Goneril, but it is Cordelia in some sources, as well as in Lear, who is hanged, and not Goneril. In the hovel when Lear thinks he sees Goneril and Regan and wants to arraign them he protests saying "No, you she foxes." Lear will ask Cordelia, after she has given up the coxcomb, if he has "caught" her, and refer to himself and Cordelia as "foxes". After this Cordelia will go "sure to the slaughter". This verse is prophetic of the future of the Fool, Cordelia, who will be hanged by a halter because she stayed behind wearing the Fool's coxcomb or cap in an attempt to rescue her father.

In the last scene of Act I we see Lear, Kent and Fool, as they prepare to remove to Regan's place. We hear the Fool warn Lear that Regan will use him as kindly as Goneril has. The Fool claims, "I can tell what I can tell" which would perhaps remind the audience of Cordelia's words, "I know you what you are". The Fool then speaks of spying into what one cannot smell out, which is very much like the disguised Autolycus' words to the Shepherd, in The Winter's Tale, "receives not thy nose court-odour from me?" Lear again speaks of having done Cordelia wrong. The Fool then reverses normal procedure, testing Lear in the manner that real lack wits were questioned, and then suggests that Lear would make a good Fool!

The Servant, who I am maintaining is France in disguise, enters and confirms that the horses are ready for the trip to Regan's. Later when disguised as a Gentleman he will identify himself to Kent as "one minded like the weather most unquietly." It could be that here he has been out gathering intelligence and waiting for news of the arrival of his forces from France. We will learn a little later from Gloucester's report of the letter he has received that there is only "part of a power already footed" or landed in Britain from France. From a worried look on France's face, Cordelia could surmise that there has been a delay in the mustering and transportation of his troops.

Lear continues to call the Fool "boy" which leads to the Fool's couplet, asserting her femininity with "she" and maybe voicing the worry that she is reading on France's face, that the French forces need to get to Britain faster or else they will die.
She that's a maid now, and laughs at my departure,
Shall not be a maid long, except things be cut shorter.

These days the maid in this couplet is usually thought to be a reference to any young virgin in the audience, who doesn't appreciate how dangerous the situation is, who would lose her virginity unless men's penises are cut off. But from Leir we learn that the celebration of Cordella's marriage to France would not be until they got back to France, and so Cordelia is still a maid.

The maid in this couplet could be Cordelia. The words "laughs at my departure" could be a reference to Oswald's giving up the motley, leaving an opening for her to fill, or it could be a reference to the Fool's departure from the play after saying, "And I'll go to bed at noon." If the latter, it would not sadden the Fool, Cordelia, that the motley Fool is gone because, since she has been the Fool, she can then take up her role as Queen of France. There was usually laughter when a Fool appeared on the scene and disappointment when he departed not to return. However, Cordelia won't be a maid for long after her departure from the stage as Fool, "except things be cut shorter", that is, unless the time taken for additional forces to get to Britain is shortened, because only a portion of the French troops needed has landed.

I used to think that the words "except things be cut shorter" were referring to a passage in the Bible with which King James I would have been familiar, but I'm not so sure of that at the moment.

Let me thank you for bearing with me in having read this far. As I said at the end of my last post, there are not a few clues that Shakespeare gives us that lead us to identify Cordelia in the motley. So far we have only dealt with the possible clues in Act 1.

In my next post I hope to detail the clues that I see in the next two Acts. To express an interest in receiving notice of the next posting please either follow my Twitter tweets @auusa or follow this blog. If you have any comments you wish to make, please do not hesitate to do so either below or via Twitter. I am more than willing to receive your critiques. Again, I am sorry if there is a bit of repetition in my posts, but I find it hard to make it understandable without repetition.

To see my basic justification for understanding the disguises of Cordelia and France see my previous postings below.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Shakespeare’s Fairytale Princess found in a hovel!

It was during Christmas New Year break that I was enjoying the company of two of my grandchildren and they both wanted to ride with me to the mall in my two seater van. Only one could, of course, so I playfully asked which one loved me the most. I said, "Do either of you love me up to the sun and back again?" My nine year old grandson swept his arm up and down several times to indicate that he loved me as much as several trips to and from the sun, while my seven year old granddaughter, who has twice been to Brazil, protested that she loved me more than that, "I love you up to the sun and back and then over to Brazil and around and around Brazil lots of times, and then back to Australia and around Australia lots of times!" I don't think either of them knew which one had professed the greater love, but I sure enjoyed their excited competition! I assured them that I loved both of them very much also, but since there was only one spare seat in the van they would probably enjoy riding together in Nana's car, which they did!

Putting this question of love playfully to my little grandchildren brought again to my mind the story of King Lear, one that has often been on my mind for more than thirty years.

We do not come to Shakespeare’s King Lear today with the same expectations as the original audiences, King James I and perhaps his family or the public at The Globe. Most people today come with an expectation of a celebration of darkness, madness and the death of the man more sinned against than sinning.

Yet, I am persuaded that originally the focus was not so much on the aged king, as it was on his daughter Cordelia and the King of France who, I am maintaining in this blog, both went into disguise in order to attempt to rescue Lear from the evil daughters and sisters.

It’s highly likely that original audiences would have expected, in Cordelia, a beautiful princess who was highly sort after by the King of France. While Shakespeare doesn’t comment on her beauty in the opening scene, yet there will be a tender description of her beauty later in the play from the lips of the Gentleman who talks with Kent. He spoke of her “delicate cheek” with “happy smilets that played upon her ripe lip” and “the holy water from her heavenly eyes”.

Like Cordella, her counterpart in the earlier (1605) anonymous play The True Chronicle History of King Leir, Shakespeare’s Cordelia would have come with a physical beauty that rivalled her older sisters’ looks. In Leir, Gonorill complains to Ragan of Cordella saying, “... she is so nice and so demure; So sober, courteous, modest, and precise, That all the Court hath work enough to do, To talk how she exceedeth me and you.” When the King of France first meets Cordella, before he knows her identity, he describes her as the “fairest creature ... that ever any mortal eye beheld.” According to another of Shakespeare’s sources, the 1574 edition of The Mirror for Magistrates, men judged Cordila “fairer by far” than her sisters who despised her grace and gifts and sought to assuage the praise men were giving her.

On reading these descriptions of Cordelia in the sources one is left with a strong reminder of the fairytale Cinderella and her two ugly sisters, and even though it is Cordelia’s virtue rather than her beauty that France seizes upon, yet there can be no doubt that Cordelia would have appeared in the minds of original audiences as a beautiful, fairytale princess who was to become the Queen of France. And this is the way she appears at the end of the play as well, after her supposed return to Britain from France as Queen of France, beautiful.

But there is an important aspect of the story of Cordella in Shakespeare’s source that we have not acknowledged in Shakespeare’s King Lear. In Leir there is that brief time of deprivation she feels after she is disinherited when she wanders out into the countryside still in her royal robes which she contemplates selling in exchange for garments more suited to her now meaner state. However, her meaner state does not get in the way of her contemplating the joy she will feel in her marriage to a Palmer or pilgrim, for so France is disguised when he finds her. France tells her that “There is a young and lusty Gallian King, So like to me, as I am to my selfe, That earnestly doth crave to have thy love”, and so from this lowly state he takes her to be his Queen.

Further, in coming to Britain in disguised as a pilgrim in pursuit of a bride, France takes with him his servant Mumford who persists in addressing him as “My Lord” which causes France to complain that they will be taken as spies if he persists.

Cordella does not have anything to do with her father Leir for several years until he comes to France with Perillus his servant to escape the wrath of the evil sisters. France and Cordella are out walking through the French countryside disguised “like a playne country couple” and come across her father and Perillus. France tells Cordella not to reveal herself to her father until they know the grounds of all the ill.

Leir is near to death from starvation, which Cordella and France relieve by feeding him all without his realizing who they are. Cordella wishes to reveal herself to her father but France suggests that she “Forbeare a while, untill his strength returne, Lest being over joyed with seeing thee, His poor weak sences should forsake their office, And so our cause of joy be turn’d to sorrow.”

As well as reminding us of the words the Gentleman will speak to Cordelia in Shakespeare’s play, the Gloucester sub-plot is also foreseen here. Edgar, disguised as Poor Tom is reluctant to reveal himself to his blind father until he was armed against the possibility of his father’s wrath, and then when he does so, the shock is too great for the aged Gloucester who has a heart attack and dies!

Also, the connection of the Gloucester-plot with Sir Phillip Sidney’s account of the “story of the Paphlagonian unkinde king” has been readily seen, but a connection with the Lear plot has not been acknowledged, even though Sidney’s account is the story of a king and not just an earl. Two princes, Pyrocles and Musidorus, hiding in a rock cave during a fowl storm, at the end of the storm see the blinded king of Paphlagonia passing by led by his son, Leonatus, and they hear the father telling the son to leave him to die and to get on with his own life. What interests me is the mention of the Princes stepping out of their shelter in such a way that they might “see unseen.” A little further in the story the bastard son, Plexirtus, who had put out his father’s eyes, came out to look for Leonatus to kill him. He wanted to make sure that the deed was done and so wasn’t prepared to just send someone to do it, but he came himself and story tells us that in doing this Plexirtus “therefore came him selfe to be actor, and spectator.”

This is the situation that France and Cordella found themselves in as they served Leir in the French countryside while disguised “like a playne country couple”. They were disguised from Leir when they heard his story and in this way they could “see” while their true identities were as yet “unseen”. They, like Plexirtus, were also in the situation of being “spectators”, in their case, of the misery of Leir, at the same time as they were “actors”, or having a part of the action, in their case, in providing sustenance for their starving father.

So Shakespeare’s hiding Cordelia in the Fool’s motley and disguising France as a Servant or Knight and a Gentleman, would allow them to “see unseen”, to be both “spectators” of the plight of Lear and “actors” in guiding him towards the troops France has arranged to come in at Dover.

And thus, the beautiful fairytale princess Cordelia disguised as the motley Fool, got to be with her father and Kent and Edgar in the hovel adjacent to Gloucester’s castle.

There are not a few clues that Shakespeare gives us that lead us to identify Cordelia in the motley. These are too numerous to be discussed in this posting, but will be dealt with in postings to follow. To express an interest in receiving notice of the next posting please either follow my Twitter tweets @auusa or follow this blog. If you have any comments you wish to make, please do not hesitate to do so either below or via Twitter. I am more than willing to receive your critiques. I am sorry if there is a bit of repetition in my posts, but I find it hard to make it understandable without repetition.

To see my basic justification for understanding the disguises of Cordelia and France see my other postings.  You can follow this blog or follow my Twitter tweets.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

King of France dies in attempted rescue of Shakespeare’s King Lear

It seems that forever, nations have honoured their heroes of war with Victoria Crosses, Purple Hearts and the like medals. These are often awarded posthumously, so they are not so much for the benefit of the soldier as they are for the comfort of the bereaved and the edification of the nation. Concern for the safety of their fellow soldiers or for the ultimate victory in the battle often leads men to act bravely in the face of grave danger. Stories of heroism and courage, of loyalty and self-sacrifice, and of ordinary men caught up in extraordinary circumstances, are rightly celebrated for many years thereafter.

There have been perhaps many hundreds of soldiers in many battles who acted with valour equally deserving recognition and honour about which no one knew, or else those who knew of these acts of bravery never got around to reporting them.
Then too, there have been fictional characters who are recognized for their repeated bravery in the face of danger that saved the day for western towns, city streets or battle platoons. We love their stories just as if they were real, and their examples can be an inspiration to us! But what if there was an act of courage and self-sacrifice in a fictional work that had gone completely unnoticed? How would we feel about that?
In Shakespeare’s King Lear when Cordelia and Lear are taken as captives after the failure of the French forces to reinstate King Lear on his throne, Cordelia says to her father:

We are not the first,
Who with best meaning have incurr’d the worst:
For thee oppressed King am I cast down
My selfe could else out-frowne false fortunes frowne.
Shall we not see these daughters, and these sisters?

Earlier in the play Edgar had reflected on what the “worst” would be when he said, “And worse I may be yet. The worst is not so long as I can say ‘This is the worst.’” In other words, the worst is when I have been defeated and am dead. 

Cordelia’s “We are not the first, who with best meaning have incurr’d the worst” could then perhaps give us the feeling that worse might lie ahead for her and her father, which turns out to be the case. But, according to Cordelia, someone has already suffered the worst in death, and she says that it was “with best meaning”!

Who has died to this point in time in the play? Cornwall has at the hands of his servant and that servant was slain by Regan. Cordelia’s intelligence could have known of Cornwall’s death, but it is doubtful if she would have considered his action to have been “with best meaning”. If she knew of the death of the servant she might have regarded his death as stemming from his “best meaning”.

There was, however, someone else much closer to Cordelia who I believe has died in the battle between French and British forces, namely the King of France himself. Disguised as a Gentleman he had gone off to the bloody arbitrement between the British and the French and never came back. 

To this point in time, so far as I know, no one has recognized the courageous service France rendered his fellow king, King Lear, which resulted in his death in battle, but it is there in Shakespeare’s play, as we will see.

For most readers of King Lear, France was last seen on stage at the end of the first scene when he promises Cordelia, “Thou losest here, a better where to find.” It is assumed that he returned to France with his new Queen and then some time later came back to Britain with his troops, only to make a hasty personal retreat home again because of “something he left imperfect in the state”. It has been assumed that he left his Queen Cordelia with her father and the French troops under the leadership of the Marshall of France, Monsieur La Far. 

Considering his claim in the opening scene that “Love’s not love When it is mingled with regards that stand Aloof from th’entire point”, I find it hard to believe that he would bring Cordelia back to Britain and simply leave her alone with an inadequate defence no matter what imperfections there might have been back in France. 

But going back to the words “Thou losest here, a better where to find”, the “where” is interesting because it suggests that it might be that he would not take her back to France. In the earlier story of Leir, Cordella is banished from her father’s sight and wanders around the British countryside until the King of France goes disguised as a pilgrim to Britain, finds her, and takes her back to France as his Queen. Some time later when the older daughters show their true colours toward their father, Leir and Kent’s equivalent, Perillus, go over to France to escape their evil. France and Cordella are out walking through the French countryside disguised “like a playne country couple” and come across her father and Perillus.

Leir is near death from starvation, which they relieve by feeding him without his realizing who they are. Leir then reveals himself to them and tells of his mistake in accepting his older daughters’ professions of love and rejecting his youngest daughter. Cordella and France then reveal themselves to Leir and there is a wonderful scene of reconciliation with each kneeling before the other asking a blessing. After a period of time during which Leir recuperates, France musters his troops, crosses over to Britain, routs the British forces and restores Leir to his kingdom.

So when in the beginning of Shakespeare’s play France says “Thou losest here, a better where to find” the audience could have been suspicious of their possibly not going to France. A few moments before Kent had spoken ambiguously of his determination to “shape his old course in a country new” and the next time we see him he is disguised and is reaccepted into the service of Lear as his servant.

Cordelia’s words to her sisters indicate that she is aware of what they are about to get up to, and so there would be an immediate need for Lear to be helped which could be achieved by France and Cordelia going into disguise and guiding him towards French troops at Dover.

In this blog I am contending that Cordelia puts on the Fool’s motley to be with her father and I am also saying that France goes into disguise as a Knight (in the Folio) /Servant (in the Quarto) and then as a Gentleman to accompany Cordelia, caring for her and helping her care for her father. Knights, Servants and Gentlemen and even Ladies are all acknowledged disguises for other characters in speech prefixes or tags, stage directions and speeches themselves in Shakespeare’s King Lear. In the Quarto and Folio editions of the play, individual characters can have multiple speech tags and designations in stage directions.

It seems to me that if France and Cordelia do not serve Lear in disguise, then a truly wonderful element of the old story has been ditched from the main plot and, indeed, transferred to the sub-plot! What I am saying is that Shakespeare has France and Cordelia go into disguise without announcing it, as Kent and Edgar do, and introduces the Gloucester plot to mirror what the audience could have discovered in the main plot.
So, I am saying that when Lear calls for his Fool, it is in fact the disguised France who proffers: “Since my young Lady’s going into France, Sir, the Fool hath much pined away.” Everyone in Lear’s world, including Lear, obviously believed that the King of France and Cordelia had gone to France, but the way this Knight / Servant speaks to Lear is surprising to Lear who responds “Ha! Say’st thou so?” 

Later in the play, Edgar will be disguised from his brother Edmund as a knight, and Edmund will speak of the breeding which his tongue breathes as being indicative of his courtliness. If we look closely at the words of this Knight / Servant in the beginning of the play we can appreciate the courtliness of the language and that the concerns are those a king might have, not a servant!

When the Servant says “Since my young Lady’s going into France, Sir, the Fool hath much pined away” Shakespeare is employing the plot devise of the false report as he does in other parts of this play and other plays. We have already seen Edmund’s deception of his father over the contents of the “letter” that Gloucester concludes was from Edgar, and Shakespeare employed it marvelously in Measure for Measure.
The Fool, Cordelia so disguised, then enters and begins to serve her father in that capacity and she is accompanied from time to time by France in disguise. France wanders off gathering intelligence and perhaps looking for news of his army’s progress towards Britain. I believe he sent back to France for his army to come in at Dover in much the same way that Caius Lucius sent back to Gallia for his Roman army to come in at Milford Haven in Shakespeare’s version of Cymbeline.

No one notices the disguises of France and Cordelia, but strange things happen, like Kent getting a letter from Cordelia who in such a short space of time has heard about Kent’s “obscured course” and would “find time from this enormous state, seeking to give losses their remedies.” It is a “miracle” to Kent, and to the reader, that not only has Cordelia learned of Kent’s disguise and care for her father, but she has managed to get a note to him from France! Kent is so full of himself and looking for his reward in Shakespeare’s play, but he’s not as boastful as Perillus was in Leir. If there is any doubt in your mind about Kent’s boastfulness, just consider Edgar’s report of Kent’s report to him of his service of Lear. 

There is also wonderful irony in Act 3 when Kent meets the Gentleman, who was with him earlier. Kent says he knows him, but the Gentleman does not tell him his name when asked, referring to himself simply as “one minded like the weather, most unquietly.” I believe that this is France, and Kent proceeds to tell him that France has spies who have seen into the Dukes’ activities and have secret feet ready to show their open banner! Kent reveals that he himself is much more than his disguised outfit would suggest and gives this Gentleman a purse containing letters, and a ring to pass on the Cordelia, assuring him that he would see her! He tells the Gentleman that by doing this he could improve his rank in society. The giving of purses and rings was often a sign of irony associated with disguise in Shakespeare. France extends his hand to Kent and questions whether he has no more to say to Cordelia than to reveal himself and his service to her. Kent has become dislocated from his master, Lear, whom he was supposed to be escorting to Dover, and he and France go off in opposite directions to try to find him.

In the Quarto’s Act 4 Scene 3 Kent meets up with this Gentleman again and asks him why the King of France had gone back home so suddenly. His words “know you no reason?” were calculated to be ironic not unlike the irony of Lear’s earlier words, “Ha! Say’st thou so?”

To Kent's question about whom France left as General in charge of the French forces, the answer is given, "The Marshall of France, Monsier la Far." This is France having a go at Kent! In Love's Labour's Lost we find someone being called "Monsieur the nice" which has an obvious meaning. Zinevra, of Baccassio's The Decameron, who lies behind the character of Imogen, takes on the disguised name "Sicurano da Finale", which can be roughly translated secure at last, expressive of her feeling of security. "Monsieur le Fer", the name of the French Soldier in King Henry V is clearly chosen for Pistol to respond to with "I'll fer him, and firk him, and ferret him....” Here in Lear "Monsieur la Far" suggests someone who is afar off as opposed to standing in his presence, and is France's way of playing with Kent who still does not recognise him, in the same way the disguised Vincentio plays with Lucio in Measure for Measure. The description of Cordelia's ripe lip in the Quarto which, "seeme not to know, What guests were in her eyes" would, perhaps, be meant to reflect on Kent's not knowing what guest (France) was in his eyes – the Quarto’s "seeme" is present tense.
The mention of Cordelia’s ripe lip suggests that this is France contemplating kissing his Queen’s lips. They have not yet consummated their marriage. Cordelia is still a maid. It is the language of love, and if it is not France, then one might wonder at the fantasies of this Gentleman.

After the disappearance of the Fool and the reappearance of Cordelia, there is concern because Lear has wandered off and is lost. It is the Gentleman with some attendants who find him and the Gentleman says “O! Here he is; lay hand upon him. Sir, Your most dear daughter--”. These words and the accompanying words of respect and care, could remind one familiar with the old play of The King of France’s words to Leir “she is your loving daughter, and honours you with as respective duty as if you were the Monarch of the world.”

In the Quarto version of the play, Kent meets this Gentleman for the last time as he goes off to join his army in the battle against the British. Kent still does not know him so France has fun with him again. After asking who is conductor of the slain Duke of Cornwall’s army, which echoes Kent’s earlier question as to whom the King of France has left in charge of the French forces, the Gentleman suggests that it is reported that Edgar and Kent are in Germany. Kent assures the Gentleman that it is time to look about since he knows he is about to reveal his true identity. The Gentleman has been looking about and seems to know that the French forces are not of sufficient number or strength to win the battle and so his last words in the play are “The arbitrement is like to be bloody...” which was predictive of his own death in the battle.

And so we return to where we started this post with Cordelia’s “We are not the first, Who with best meaning have incurr’d the worst...” which I am saying is Cordelia’s lamenting the sacrifice which France has made in dying for his fellow king. The “best meaning” picks up a theme that runs right through the play which we can find expressed in King James I own work, Basilikon Doron, in which he give his son instruction about how to be a good Christian king.
Use all other Princes, as your brethren, honestly and kindly: Keep precisely your promise unto them, although to your hurt. Strive with every one of them in courtesy and thankfulness: and as with all men, so especially with them, be plain and truthful, keeping ever that Christian rule, "to do as ye would be done to:" especially in counting rebellion against any other Prince, a crime against your own self, because of the preparative. Supply not therefore, nor trust not other Princes’ rebels, but pity and succour all lawful Princes in their troubles.
France's attempt to put down the rebellion against Lear and reinstate him in his kingdom was to France's hurt and I have suggested that it is France's death that Cordelia is mourning when she says at “We are not the first, Who with best meaning have incurr’d the worst...”

To see my basic justification for understanding the disguises of Cordelia and France see my other postings.  You can follow this blog or follow my Twitter tweets.