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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Reader's Diary #107- William Shakespeare: King Lear (Act 2, Scene 3)


It's only since Rebecca and Barbara mentioned that they hadn't read King Lear or seen it performed, that I've been thinking more of Shakespeare works as plays. And I know there are traditionalists out there who would say I really haven't gotten to know his brilliance at all by merely reading. And I guess they'd be right to some extent. Plays aren't like novels in which you get your own images in your head only to be majorly dumbfounded by Hollywood's representation when the book gets brought to the big screen. Plays were written to be performed (not that some novelists are thinking of that as they write). I'd love to see Shakespeare performed, but for now I'll settle for the book.

Not that I have delusions of somehow getting famous for this schtick of mine, but if that ever did happen people would guaranteed bring up what I'm going to say next as proof that I am, in the words of Al Franken, "a big fat idiot."

King Lear is too Shakespeare.

I know. That's like saying the light bulb is too Edison, or the Theory of Relativity is too Einstein. But I do know that if I had been around in Shakespeare's day and had gone to see King Lear, I'd be rolling my eyes and throwing rotten potatoes the very second that Edmund cut his own arm whilst trying to frame Edgar. Doesn't that sort of villainy pop up in every Shakespeare play? Granted I know King Lear came after a lot of other plays and it must have been hard to not copy himself to some extent at that point in his career, but still it's supposed to be, according to Wikipedia, one of his greatest tragedies. I don't see it. But then, what do I know? If I had read it first, maybe I'd be saying Hamlet wasn't as great. Like 1984 and A Brave New World, generally people seem to like whichever they read first the best.

But there are other Shakespearisms in the play that I do really like. His wit, which I didn't appreciate in high school (because I was oblivious to it), began to grow on me when I read A Midsummer's Night Dream, was even more apparent in Hamlet, and I'm outright loving it in King Lear. Most of it comes off the acid tongue of the Fool as he makes hilarious barbs at the King who, for some bizarre reason, takes it. King Lear is quickly becoming more Rodney Dangerfield than Donald Trump. Then there are those insults flung from the Earl of Kent at Oswald,

"A knave, a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-liver'd, action taking, whoreson, glass-grazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition."
So not shocking by today's standards, but in it's sheer absurd length for an insult, it's still pretty funny. Sort of reminds me of when Griswold (of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation) finds out his Christmas bonus is a membership in the Jelly-of-the-Month Club.

2 comments:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Sparky Griswold as King Lear - okay now I'm convinced that you have a strange and wonderfully twisted mind.

And since you mention it, wouldn't it have been fun to be at an original showing of a Shakespeare play, hucking rotten veggies. Of course all our teeth would be falling out and we'd be dead at 35, but still...

John Mutford said...

Sparky'd have to be the Earl of Kent. King Lear would (since Rodney Dangerfield's gone) be Gary Shandling. Anyone else have other suggestions?