Discussion of King Lear

Dear Friends,

We had a GREAT discussion of King Lear tonight. To everyone who called in: thanks for all of your wonderful observations and probing questions. To those of you who couldn’t be on the call: I hope you have a chance to listen to and enjoy the “replay.”

Here’s a link to last night’s discussion:

I look forward to our final discussion next on month on Twelfth Night. Unlike the first two plays we’ve read, Twelfth Night is a comedy, but in some ways it’s a very dark comedy, so it will be worth thinking about the relationship between to genres. And it will be worth asking which genre, tragedy or comedy, more faithfully represents the human experience…


All best,


16. June 2010 by Arrian
Categories: Reader Call, Shakespeare | Tags: | 1 comment

One Comment

  1. <p>One Word from King Lear</p><p>Last month, the Shakespeare reading group kicked off by reading Hamlet and had a great discussion. Last night (15 June) we had an awesome discussion on King Lear, a terrifyingly great play and, by most accounts, one of Shakespeare’s best. I found it breathtaking and can’t stop thinking about all the different angles and issues it presents.</p><p>Because it is such a complex work, our noble and steadfast moderator, Richard Johnson, sent out a provocative set of questions. (We posted the full list of questions here on the blog). Here’s question 1 and some of my thoughts about it:</p><p>Question 1. ONE WORD?</p><p>One way of getting into a play or other work of literature is to identify a single word which, to your mind, captures the heart of the play–or at least your vision of interpretation of it. As you read through or look back over King Lear, try to isolate this word, and then try to explain to yourself why it feels so important. Trust your instincts, and run with your imagination. Your word may be one that appears many times in the play, or only once.</p><p>My response:<br>A number of words came quickly to my mind: “nothing,” “daughter,” “tears,” and so on. I cheated a little in my response by combining “eye” with its natural pairs “see,” “sight,” and “blindness”. It’s a little more conceptual than just one word (sorry, Richard, I don’t always follow instructions well).</p><p>The “eye” words occur dozens of times in the play and are a constant theme. Quick example from Act 1, Scene 1, where Kent challenges Lear’s banishment of Cordelia:</p><p>Lear: Out of my sight!<br>Kent: See better, Lear, and let me still remain<br>The true blank of thine eye.</p><p>Read closely, this is a tightly packed exchange, like so much of the language in this play. The references continue:</p><p>Cornwall: You know why we came to visit you?<br>Regan: Thus out of season, threading dark-eyed night.<br>(Act 2, Scene 1)</p><p>Leading to the tragic turning point in Act 3, Scene 7, where Gloucester’s eyes are in fact blinded, shifting from metaphorical blindness to actual horror:</p><p>Goneril: Pluck out his [Gloucester’s] eyes.</p><p>[…]</p><p>Regan: Wherefore [did you send Lear] to Dover?<br>Gloucester: Because I would not see thy cruel nails<br>Pluck out his poor old eyes;</p><p>[…]</p><p>Cornwall: Upon these eyes of thine [Gloucester’s] I’ll set my foot.</p><p>And with that, Lear’s loyal friend has his eyes gouged out on stage. It’s physically gruesome to be sure and it assaults the emotions. But the real impact for me as I read closely again through “eye” passages is, of course, Lear’s blindness to the consequences of his actions, including the tragic blinding of Gloucester. Lear sees things clearly only when it is too late. His Kingdom is in ruin and, well, I don’t want to give away the ending.</p><p>Interestingly, the Fool can see what Lear cannot. So can Kent, although he has to hide from Lear’s sight in a costume. Indeed, both the Fool and Kent tell Lear that he is not seeing things properly. Gloucester too sees the proper order of things, acts on what he sees, and is blinded. <br><br>In the end, the question of seeing vs. blindness asks us to think about our own responsibility to know ourselves and see our actions clearly, and to also see how we might impact others. Most of us aren’t dividing up Great Britain, but we can still do harm if we’re blind to the consequences that surround us. I won’t belabor the point, but I do encourage you to look at all the other study questions and listen to the discussion we had last night. There are also links to some great YouTube clips of King Lear in performance!</p><p>There’s so much more to think about with Lear: the invocations of the Gods, filial complexities, and more. It is a magnificent work of art and a great topic for the Reading Odyssey. What are your thoughts about King Lear or Shakespeare?<br><br>Join us.</p><p>Tim<br></p>