March 14th, 2008

Kyoami in the Rain

The Way of Madness

It's weird how certain things tend to repeatedly crop up in my viewscreen. Like when Keith Olbermann quoted King Lear in one of his special comments a little while ago;

Of course, as Olbermann notes, just because someone finds a pattern in something, doesn't mean there's an intelligence on the other side of the table intentionally making the pattern. Still, I like entertaining these patterns sometimes, creating, I guess, recurring themes in how I perceive the world. It was on February 13th that I found, on YouTube, the clip from a production of King Lear featuring Laurence Olivier and John Hurt after doing a search for "King Lear". And it was just this past Wednesday that I read the first two Acts for class.

This incident with Geraldine Ferraro shows the sort of bludgeoning rhetoric that seems to've infected Hilary Clinton's campaign lately. A lot of it seems to come from a, sadly, somewhat common, misguided conception of feminism that sees it as a name for a team locked in eternal combat for supremacy against Men. I mentioned to someone a few days ago how I thought Hilary Clinton was beginning to slightly resemble The Joker, and the person I was talking to quickly replied that men often feel uncomfortable with women in power, as though I'd suggested what Clinton needed was a fainting room and smelling salts.

I'm turning over in my head whether or not I think the King Lear quote is apropos. "That way madness lies," is much more beautiful within the play, and is prompted by a more interesting set of emotions and lines of thought. After having been turned out of the homes of two of his daughters, Regan and Goneril, and learning how little they love him, Lear wanders, unsheltered, in a storm and says;

"No, I will weep no more. In such a night
To shut me out! Pour on; I will endure.
In such a night as this! O Regan, Goneril!
Your old kind father, whose frank heart gave all--
O, that way madness lies; let me shun that;
No more of that."

The madness he speaks of is in working to solve deep problems that have no solutions--though, of course, he does need to deal with these problems, eventually. He has misjudged the characters of his daughters, apparently for the entirety of their lives. He had allowed himself to love them when his love was never returned. Dwelling on this could only serve to constantly remind him that what was most important to him--the love he depended on--wasn't real. There's the hurt pride, that his judgment was so flawed, and the narcissistic love test from the beginning of the play was so poorly considered. But the worst part is being reduced to nothing, and having to assemble his perceptions of the universe anew.

That word, "nothing," has, as is observed in the textbook's footnotes, a lot of significance in King Lear. After the flattery Regan and Goneril heap on Lear, the single word resounds quite strikingly;

LEAR: . . . what can you say to draw a third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.

CORDELIA: Nothing, my lord.

LEAR: Nothing?

CORDELIA: Nothing.

LEAR: Nothing will come of nothing, speak again.

CORDELIA: Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty
According to my bond, no more nor less.

LEAR: How, how, Cordelia! mend your speech a little,
Lest it may mar your fortunes.

CORDELIA: Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, loved me; I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honour you.
Why have my sisters husbands, if they say
They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty.
Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all.

In class discussion, the teacher actually suggested it might have been better for Cordelia to mince words, to placate her father's ego to spare his feelings. The teacher asked, by show of hands, how many in the class thought it was better to lie to a loved one than to potentially hurt their feelings--which of course reminded me of the enigmakat's recent poll. Responses are pretty evenly divided in the Kat's poll, but I was one of only two people in class who raised his hand to say one should not lie to spare a loved one's feelings.

The point Cordelia makes is one of simple logic; if Regan's and Goneril's hearts are entirely devoted to Lear, then why are they married? Of course, Regan and Goneril were obviously lying, and Cordelia figures to do the same would be to insult Lear's intelligence. Lear either accepted the lies because he enjoys feeling superior to such obvious bollocks, which would inevitably be a lonely state of mind, or he is genuinely blinded, as, in fact, turns out to be the case.

That the play ends unhappily is not, I think, an indication that Shakespeare feels it's better to be dishonest with loved ones. I think rather the point is that enlightenment has intrinsic value. As Edgar says at the end;

"The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought say.
The oldest hath borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long."

Shakespeare knows that to reward the characters with a happy ending would be shallow and to shift the focus.* Lear is a greater man in our eyes after his fall than he was at the beginning of the play.

I must admit, if I lie to someone, it is always out of disrespect. It means I think it's better to manipulate them than to have a meeting of the minds. Obviously, I'm not in the majority on this view, but I must say I have some trouble understanding the opposite opinion, though I respect my friends who hold it, since I'm fully aware of the fact that I'm not all-wise (believe it or not).

Anyway. The past couple of days have been extremely full. On Wednesday, I received my copy of Caitlin R. Kiernan's Tales of Pain and Wonder, third edition, which I'd completely forgotten that I'd preordered several months ago. I even got one of the signed editions with the nifty Tails of Tales of Pain and Wonder. The book itself is hardback and has an absolutely gorgeous cover.

*I only wish the writers of Knights of the Old Republic were half as wise. I beat the game last night, and I actually was supposed to convert a character back to the light side by beating her into submission. Sigh.
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