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Forum Home > Shakespeare > 'Lear' ask the expert seminar

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 838

Dr Emma Smith's seminar will take place here at 7 pm this evening. :D

May 27, 2015 at 5:56 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 838

Hazel 2:04 PM on May 26, 2015

Although Lear did make a significant misjudgement, his suffering is harsh and lengthy, and the suffering of the truly evil characters seems shorter and less harsh in comparison, which is unjust. Do you think this means that Shakespeare believed there was no God/moral order?

 

Also, Goneril and Regan's actions are cruel and brutal, but unlike Edmund, there is no context of their past life to explain why they may have acted in such a way. Is the only explanation that they were born evil? And if they were born evil, would this not imply that nature has a moral order?

May 27, 2015 at 5:58 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 838

James 5:49 AM on May 11, 2015

Edmund could be considered an outsider within the play. Why do you think Shakespeare has chosen Edmund to reveal his intentions so early within the play and what his pessimistic view on the world contributes to?

May 27, 2015 at 5:59 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 838

 

Eleanor 11:18 AM on May 6, 2015

Cordelia is a character who defies Lear by being honest, yet stays loyal to him. What do you think Shakespeare is trying to say about the duty of a daughter through the character of Cordelia?

May 27, 2015 at 6:00 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Andrew Muir
Member
Posts: 16

I was re-listening to your marvelous podcast on the play and I have always been intrigued by the differrences between the Quarto and Folio versions. You note the difference the removal of the short scene where the two unnamed attendants treat Gloucester gives to the overall feel.  It makes a very dark play even darker yet. 

Instead of a potential insight into Shakespeare's changing view over time, however, could it not just be that the Folio version was based on a play where there were fewer actors available, or time to perform,and therefore this scene had to go?   (I am not asking because I want this to be so, overall I think the Folio verion an even greater play, (though I can never decide re the new final words for Lear) but smply because I think theatrical practicalities were often the key driver.)

May 27, 2015 at 1:15 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Emma Smith
Member
Posts: 221

Neil Bowen at May 27, 2015 at 5:58 AM

Hazel 2:04 PM on May 26, 2015

Although Lear did make a significant misjudgement, his suffering is harsh and lengthy, and the suffering of the truly evil characters seems shorter and less harsh in comparison, which is unjust. Do you think this means that Shakespeare believed there was no God/moral order?

 

Also, Goneril and Regan's actions are cruel and brutal, but unlike Edmund, there is no context of their past life to explain why they may have acted in such a way. Is the only explanation that they were born evil? And if they were born evil, would this not imply that nature has a moral order?

Interesting q. Firstly, I don't think that Shakespeare's plays can tell us what he himself believed. But I do think that this is a play which is difficult to reconcile with an idea of redemption. I'm not sure I think that G and R are evil, exactly - although that might be a philosophical problem - in a way I think they are the necessary foil to Cordelia, and, as you say, unlike in Gloucester's family there is no evidence given us about why the sisters are different. 

May 27, 2015 at 1:47 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Emma Smith
Member
Posts: 221

Neil Bowen at May 27, 2015 at 5:59 AM

James 5:49 AM on May 11, 2015

Edmund could be considered an outsider within the play. Why do you think Shakespeare has chosen Edmund to reveal his intentions so early within the play and what his pessimistic view on the world contributes to?

I think Shakespeare almost always introduces us to this kind of character at this kind of juncture in the play - think of Iago in Othello, or Hamlet even. After a busy opening scene in which we watch lots of people interacting in quite a public way, we tend to get a solo character confiding in us directly. I suppose this structure sets up the play's central antagonism or dilemma right from the start. 

May 27, 2015 at 1:49 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Emma Smith
Member
Posts: 221

Neil Bowen at May 27, 2015 at 6:00 AM

 

Eleanor 11:18 AM on May 6, 2015

Cordelia is a character who defies Lear by being honest, yet stays loyal to him. What do you think Shakespeare is trying to say about the duty of a daughter through the character of Cordelia?

Hmm - nice question. I think this is a play which overturns the usual social hierarchy of old and young, by showing the old to be foolish and the young to have a kind of moral authority. Or some of them, at least. I think Shakespeare idealises young, pure, favourite daughters who can somehow heal their broken fathers in a number of plays - The Tempest, Pericles etc. 

May 27, 2015 at 1:50 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Emma Smith
Member
Posts: 221

Andrew Muir at May 27, 2015 at 1:15 PM

I was re-listening to your marvelous podcast on the play and I have always been intrigued by the differrences between the Quarto and Folio versions. You note the difference the removal of the short scene where the two unnamed attendants treat Gloucester gives to the overall feel.  It makes a very dark play even darker yet. 

Instead of a potential insight into Shakespeare's changing view over time, however, could it not just be that the Folio version was based on a play where there were fewer actors available, or time to perform,and therefore this scene had to go?   (I am not asking because I want this to be so, overall I think the Folio verion an even greater play, (though I can never decide re the new final words for Lear) but smply because I think theatrical practicalities were often the key driver.)

Glad you've enjoyed the podcast! [itunesU Approaching Shakespeare series, if anyone is interested]. 

Well, I think you're right to suggest that difference in theatrical conditions is a far more likely explanation of textual variants than changing authorial views. And I think in this particular case you are right too. The quarto text is not divided into acts, just scenes; the Folio text has act divisions and this is because it was designed for performance at the indoor theatre of Blackfriars, where the candles needed to be regularly trimmed and therefore each act break had a three or four minute musical interval. The scene of Gloucester's blinding comes at the end of Act 3 in the Folio text. We can see that in the immediate next scene he needs to reenter the stage, presumably some time after the injury, to meet Edgar. Part of the purpose of the servants in the quarto is to make a bit of time in which Gloucester can be being cleaned up offstage ready for his next entrance. In the Folio the music of the act break would serve the same purpose. 

May 27, 2015 at 1:54 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 838

A tricky question, I know, but who do you think are the most perceptive and interesting critics on 'Lear'?

May 27, 2015 at 2:02 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Andrew Muir
Member
Posts: 16

Thanks, most interesting and you are an ealrly starter!

May 27, 2015 at 2:05 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Emma Smith
Member
Posts: 221

Neil Bowen at May 27, 2015 at 2:02 PM

A tricky question, I know, but who do you think are the most perceptive and interesting critics on 'Lear'?

Well, the writers I find myself returning to are Jan Kott in Shakespeare Our Contemporary, to Jonathan Dollimore in Radical Tragedy and to Wilson Knight in The Wheel of Fire. Recent work I've enjoyed has tended to be performance-based. I think lots of the recent actors in conversation (on youtube videos for instance), like Simon Russell Beale or Ian McKellan, have been really revealing about it. And I like Jane Smiley's novel A Thousand Acres, for its oblique take on the play. Any recommendations from you? 

May 27, 2015 at 2:05 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 838

There's a good range of essays in the Casebook series, McLuskie, Kettle, Copellia Khan, Eagleton. Of those, I think Kettle's interesting as a bridge to modern critical approaches.

May 27, 2015 at 2:09 PM Flag Quote & Reply

James
Member
Posts: 3

There have been many interpretations of the fool's role in the play. I believe the production with Simon Russel Beal presented the fool being killed by Lear himself in his madness, and I was wondering what your depiction on Shakespeare's inclusion of such a character. Did the Fool's disappearance symbolise a key turning point within the structure of the play or was it simply due to the actor only being able to do a certain amount of the play?

May 27, 2015 at 2:09 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Emma Smith
Member
Posts: 221

Neil Bowen at May 27, 2015 at 2:09 PM

There's a good range of essays in the Casebook series, McLuskie, Kettle, Copellia Khan, Eagleton. Of those, I think Kettle's interesting as a bridge to modern critical approaches.

Yes - and a nice introduction in the New Casebook, as I remember, showing how criticism turned 


May 27, 2015 at 2:10 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Kish
Member
Posts: 1

In terms of language analysis, what are the best things to talk about regarding the text? Do you think there are any specific lines or scenes that provide basis for substantial language analysis?

May 27, 2015 at 2:11 PM Flag Quote & Reply

SamB
Member
Posts: 42

What do you make of the various Christian interpretations of the play, especially in relation to suffering and (in)justice? e.g. J.C. Maxwell sees Lear as 'Christ-like'; A.C. Bradley agree that the play ultimately rests on the Christian notion of redemption etc.

May 27, 2015 at 2:12 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Andrew Muir
Member
Posts: 16

Emma Smith at May 27, 2015 at 1:47 PM

Neil Bowen at May 27, 2015 at 5:58 AM

Hazel 2:04 PM on May 26, 2015

Although Lear did make a significant misjudgement, his suffering is harsh and lengthy, and the suffering of the truly evil characters seems shorter and less harsh in comparison, which is unjust. Do you think this means that Shakespeare believed there was no God/moral order?

 

Also, Goneril and Regan's actions are cruel and brutal, but unlike Edmund, there is no context of their past life to explain why they may have acted in such a way. Is the only explanation that they were born evil? And if they were born evil, would this not imply that nature has a moral order?

Interesting q. Firstly, I don't think that Shakespeare's plays can tell us what he himself believed. But I do think that this is a play which is difficult to reconcile with an idea of redemption. I'm not sure I think that G and R are evil, exactly - although that might be a philosophical problem - in a way I think they are the necessary foil to Cordelia, and, as you say, unlike in Gloucester's family there is no evidence given us about why the sisters are different. 

I saw a production in 2012 in which Regan took out Gloucester's second eye and even then she was not just presented as a saditic, born-to-be-evil creature.  Obviously it was a sadistic (and in this case very bloody) act and what she was doing was evil but what she was, most of all, was an impatient force of energy, driven to distraction by opposition and delay.  

It was very powerful and her character was portrayed, overall, in much more complex shades than this one scene I describe would imply.  It has stuck with me though, it was so vivid and visceral and I guess htere is nothing "wrong" or against the text (texts) in her taking out the second eye, it's permissible within the stage directions, but I had never thought of it happening that way prior to that performance. 

May 27, 2015 at 2:12 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Emma Smith
Member
Posts: 221

James at May 27, 2015 at 2:09 PM

There have been many interpretations of the fool's role in the play. I believe the production with Simon Russel Beal presented the fool being killed by Lear himself in his madness, and I was wondering what your depiction on Shakespeare's inclusion of such a character. Did the Fool's disappearance symbolise a key turning point within the structure of the play or was it simply due to the actor only being able to do a certain amount of the play?

Hi James - probably both - in that there might be a practical reason, but that practical reason also serves a structural purpose. I guess there are questions about the extent to which Lear's own growing self-knowledge makes the fool's role unnecessary, perhaps? This is the kind of question that I think isn't definitively answerable: as you point out, different productions make quite different meanings from the text. 

May 27, 2015 at 2:12 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Emma Smith
Member
Posts: 221

Kish at May 27, 2015 at 2:11 PM

In terms of language analysis, what are the best things to talk about regarding the text? Do you think there are any specific lines or scenes that provide basis for substantial language analysis?

Well, I'm not an expert on what the exam is asking for, but I guess one way to approach that is to have a list of themes or ideas in your mind - nature, blindness, politics, family etc - and see how they are expressed through whatever passage you open your text to - that seems to me the way to practice the activity. It's sort of a given about language analysis that it is applicable wherever you look in the play. I guess other members might have good examples to share with you. 

May 27, 2015 at 2:14 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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