Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

A reader's group devoted to the discussion of meaningful books.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Pride Goeth Before a Fall

King Lear is not about politics and it is not about justice. And, it's not even tragic in the classical sense of the word. The character of the Fool has no equivalent voice in Greek tragedy, unless you believe the Greek chorus lends some ironic flavor to the action. But irony is a mood missing from classical theatre, with the possible exception of Aristophanes.

To me, the whole post-modern era is infused with a sense of irony. We often say one thing when we mean something else. When Edmud says to Kent, "Sir, I shall study deserving" he is being ironical. He already believes he is deserving but he means to make others, including his own father, acknowledge this fact.

King Lear is not about who we are; it's about who we might become in the process of living, and what we must go through in order to be the person we are capable of being (the path of spiritual transcendence).  Gloucester, Kent, Lear, and Edgar have much to learn along the way. Their journey involves a lot of pain and a lot of self discovery. They are going to find out that things are not always as they seem. Kent, of course, already knows this. But he is unable to persuade Lear or to help others who need his advice. That is because in Shakespeare's world, there is no shortcut to wisdom. Just as Oedipus was unable to heed the advice of others, Lear is unable to avoid the calamity which comes about from his own hubris.

I think Shakespeare is saying we all have the potential of being (behaving) one way or another.  Regan, Goneril and Edmund are examples of living one particular way: ambition, cruelty and deceit; Cordelia, Edgar, and Kent are examples of living a different way: loyalty, truth, and perserverence. King Lear falls in between. He is the central character around which all action occurs. Like Oedipus, Lear is both the victim and the perpetrator of his own fate. His misfortune is directly related (caused by) the flaws in his own character. In both cases, their inability to control their temper, or listen to the voice of moderation, brings about their ruin. Unfortunately, other people are damaged along the way. Lear's anger (his ego, we might say) is the instrumental cause of much suffering in this play. But that is who he is. Shakespeare says that we are who we are and sometimes this is not enough. Kent says about Lear that "He but usurped his life." In other words, he cheated himself of happiness. But it is Albany who has the best line  summarizing our human condition: "The weight of this sad time we must obey." Thus, our mortality hangs over us like a veil whose deliberate use puts out the great light illuminating all our fears and our failures.


Post a Comment

<< Home