«by JANE ELIZABETH KINGSLEY-SMITH A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Arts of the University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY The ...»
restraine, or banish out of his presence, as hee findes them give cause of offence, or restore them in favour againe with the penitent sinner: So may the King deale with his Subiects.25 King James subordinates the paternal to the regal in this metaphor. His father transparently acts as a king in banishing the child 'out of his presence'. Shakespeare's King Lear has behaved exactly as James describes. He first raises his youngest daughter above her sisters for preferment. He then banishes her from his presence when she offends him. But Lear has acted only as a father, that is, he foresees his actions in paternal terms alone. In fact, the banishment of Cordelia has enormous political consequences.
Despite contemporary reservations about the division of kingdoms, the play seems resigned to or at least non-committal about the original plan for a tripartite division. The first scene begins with a brief, rather opaque discussion between Kent and Gloucester on this plan (1-7).
They depict Lear proceeding with neutrality, ignoring his prejudice for Albany by giving both sons-in-law equal portions. Harry V Jaffa has argued that the original tripartite plan was the 24 The Tre\v La\v of Free Monarchies, Political Works, 65.
25 'A Speach to the Lords and Commons of the Parliament at White-Hall', 21 March 1609, Political Works, 306-25. 308.
work of Shakespeare's greatest king at his most creative: 'an action predestined by the very means required to bring unity to the kingdom'. 26 He proposes that Lear's achievement in keeping the kingdom united thus far has depended upon alliances with lords at the extremities of his realm, formalised in the marriage of his daughters to Albany and Cornwall. By marrying Cordelia to Burgundy and bestowing England upon them. Lear will bolster the realm internally, ensuring the balance of power among the sisters, whilst also safeguarding it from European threat.27 It is Cordelia's refusal to play her part that interrupts this piece of statecraft. Lear is moved to banish her and suddenly the world of the play has changed. The map must be redrawn to contain the absence left by Cordelia. Gonoril and Regan, whose insincerity and ambition have already been implied, become with their husbands the two pillars of the kingdom.
France is enraged by his future wife's treatment and leaves at odds with Albion. Kent, Lear's loyal adviser, is banished. That this division may have national and even cosmic implications is expressed by Kent: 'Revoke thy doom, or whilst I can vent clamour/ From my throat I'll tell thee thou dost evil' (1.155-6). 28 In Shakespeare's Festive Tragedy, Naomi Conn Liebler describes the implications of
when the fundamental inscription of known national identity is altered, the definitions of all relations are destabilized, including [...] the definition of "human". At the spatial center of the play is the question of what that word 26 Harry V. Jaffa, 'The Limits of Politics: King Lear, Act I, scene i' in Shakespeare's Politics ed. by Allan Bloom and Harry V. Jaffa (New York and London: Basic Books Inc., 1964). 113-45. 122.
27 Ibid.. Jaffa argues that Lear must favour a union with Burgundy over France. An alliance with the latter might inspire French territorial claims upon Britain, 124-5.
28 Gloucester will later ascribe prophetic powers to Kent: 'He said it would be thus, poor banished man!', 11.151.
means, and with it the definition and possibility of civilization.29 Yet this new map is created through the personal schism between Lear and his daughter.
Liebler's focus on the structure of civilisation threatened by human action in King Lear, is both striking and illuminating. Nevertheless, where she views Lear's 'disintegration' as 'a sustained personified emblem' for the rupture of Britain (196), I see the play as more concerned with Lear's division from himself, as symbolized by the divided map but more powerfully by the withdrawal of the 'father's heart' from Cordelia's keeping. 30 The effect of his actions upon Lear is of immediate concern. Kent invokes a man by whom he
and others are defined:
When Lear misinterprets Cordelia and her sisters, his own status as the source of definition in Albion is threatened. In Kent's eyes, Lear becomes a foolish rash old man, capable of madness and of evil. The banishments of Cordelia and Kent recoil upon Lear who is himself thus displaced and banished.
When we first encounter Lear, he seems utterly confident in his own power and centrality.
Presiding over the map of Albion, he is reminiscent of the Genesis God presiding over Creation and wielding division as a creative power. Just as in the beginning all was good, so 29 Shakespeare's Festive Tragedy, 198.
30 Sears Jayne describes Lear's alienation from and reconciliation with Cordelia as 'the central incident, the main fable, the vehicular metaphor of the play', 'Charity in King Lear', Sh. Q. 15 (1964), 277-88, 278.
in Lear's fantasy Albion is uniformly fair. The portion bestowed on Gonoril is supposedly full of 'shady forests and wide skirted meads' (1.59). Regan's share too is 'no less in space, validity, and pleasure/ Than that confirmed on Gonoril' (76-7). The most bounteous and fecund region is reserved for Cordelia. In fact, Lear's map does not allow for anything but fecundity. It reflects perhaps his fantasy of himself as beloved, virtuous, bountiful. The act of bestowing the land upon his daughters and the nature of that gift reflect upon Lear himself. 31 Hence Lear does not find the expressions of his daughters in the least excessive or suspicious.
For Gonoril, Lear is apparently 'Dearer than eyesight, space, or liberty;/ Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;/ No less than life; with grace, health, beauty, honour' (51-3). Regan goes further, professing herself 'an enemy to all other joys/ Which the most precious square of sense possesses,/ And find I am alone felicitate/ In your dear highness' love' (68-71). Their responses are beautifully appropriate for they imagine Lear as an alternative landscape to that of Albion. They argue for his transcendence beyond the literal source of his power. This is exactly what Lear requires. He chooses to divorce himself from the kingdom in the belief that he will continue to embody Albion even when he does not possess it, disdaining the physical kingdom in the belief that Albion essentially lies within himself. Lear's desire to transcend material signification (without dying) is recognised by Charles Spinosa who poses a contemporary analogy for his action in the instigation of the 'use'. By this means, a man could relinquish his legal rights to land and invest it in another. He was dependent upon the good will and honour of the recipient to act according to the owner's instructions. Thus, Lear becomes the ceremonial king of Albion, dependent upon trust for his power, legally devolved 31 Curtis Perry suggests the importance of the concept of regal bounty to James' definition of kingship. The association of sovereignty with benevolence and maternal feeding was intended to redeem the king's notorious extravagance, whilst his imagined incorporation of the female would reinforce his claims to autonomy. See The
Making ofJacobean Culture: James I and the Renegotiation of Elizabethan Literary Practice (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1997), 115-137.
of responsibility. Lear's realm is to be found in the hearts of his subjects. 32 In disastrous contrast to her sisters' rhetoric, Cordelia rejects the 'kingdom of Lear' for other sources of pleasure. She predicts Lear's usurpation in her heart by a husband and crucially limits his significance in her life: 'I love your majesty/ According to my bond, nor more nor
less' (84-5). Lear responds by negating all the bonds that tie him to her:
This gesture of withholding something of himself from Cordelia is clarified a few lines later when Lear declares. 'So be my grave my peace as here I give/ Her father's heart from her" (117-8).33 It is then literalised in Lear's withdrawal of her portion of the kingdom and the banishment of Cordelia from his sight (116, 253-5). Since Lear identifies himself and Albion as an idealised, cultured landscape, to leave his sight is to go into the wilderness. Such exile also recognises the unnaturalness of Cordelia's crime.34 Ingratitude is monstrous and the
offender is hence transplanted to realms devoid of Culture:
32 According to Spinosa, Lear seeks 'to become king in right of the authority of the excessive (beyond habitual) feelings of warmth that reside in the hearts of his subjects for him. Such warmth is magnified in Lear's case because [...] Lear as king is already the one who shows his people that they have a recognizable, coherent national life', "The name and all th'addition": King Lear's, Opening Scene and the Common Law Use', Sh. St.
23(1995), 146-86, 163.
33 In A Knack to Know a Knave (1592) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963). Philarcus' father condemns his son's ingratitude with a similar gesture: 'as thou hast dealt unnaturallie with me,/ So I resolve to pull my heart from thee', 11 459-60. The father demands Philarcus' execution. The son pleads rather for banishment. The latter is granted by the King on terms favourable to the exile, 11 491-4, 551-4.
34 It is worth noting that Lear never accuses Cordelia of treason. Her crime is solely against his fatherhood and thus a crime against humanity beyond that of treason.
The banishment of Cordelia is perhaps the most excessive alienation in Shakespeare's canon.
She is exiled from her identity as Lear's heir and daughter (and thus from his flesh), from Lear's sight and thus from his kingdom, from Albion and thus from Nature. Lear drives Cordelia off the map of humanity as he knows it. He shows her to Burgundy as a creature entirely transformed, 'Unfriended, new-adopted to our hate,/ Covered with our curse and strangered with our oath' (193-4).
Yet Lear's boundary-drawing is threatened almost at once, not only by Kent but by the King of France. Lear has believed that he can control the definition of the kingdom including its new limits, placing Nature in Albion and barbarity beyond. France, himself a representative of the Other, rejects these boundaries. Reassured that Cordelia has not committed any moral transgression (in particular any sexual act)35 but has been insufficiently profligate in
language, France rewrites the significance of her exile through a series of paradoxes:
France not only reverses Lear's value judgement upon Cordelia and upon the outcast in general, he also rewrites the conclusion of Lear's curse, promising Thou losest here, a better where to find' (252). Thus we anticipate Cordelia's happiness in marriage and in her absence from Albion. It seems significant that Shakespeare did not choose to dramatise her experience 35 Cordelia's defence specifically denies any slur upon her chastity with its language of sexual transgression.
She has committed no 'vicious blot', 'foulness', 'unclean action' or 'dishonoured step', 219-20.
in France, either representing that country as redressive or hostile to the exile. In The True Chronicle Historie, Leir and Perillus nearly starve in France and Leir bewails the sterility of
But Shakespeare locates wilderness, exposure and starvation within Lear's kingdom. 36 To dramatise the scenes of Cordelia's happiness in France or to transport Lear there, would have been to distract from the personal geography of King Lear. There is no Golden world in Shakespeare's play within or without the limits of Albion but only in Lear's imagination.
Like Cordelia, Kent is another point of identification for the King. He reflects an image of Lear as all things, king, father, master, patron. There is also a suggestion that they share the same 'old-fashioned' values such as duty, courtesy and loyalty.37 When Lear not only ignores but rejects these values in his devaluation of Cordelia, Kent offers him a new, distorted image, Lear as fool and madman. It is an image that the subject rejects as he banishes its 'maker'. Lear proclaims, 36 Starvation in The True Chronicle Historie is partly the result of Leir's crime against Cordelia. She is envisaged as a bountiful earth mother whose literal nursing Leir has forgone, turning honey to gall, grapes to sloes and sweet milk sour, 23.2048-62. Cordelia's forgiveness of her father is signalled by the action of helping him to food and drink, 2179-80.
37 On the association of Kent and Lear with such values see Rosalie L. Colie, 'Reason and Need: King Lear and the "Crisis" of the Aristocracy' in Some Facets of King Lear (London: Heinemann, 1974) ed. by Rosalie Colie and F. T. Flahiff, 185-219. Both John Turner and T. McAlindon describe the banishments of this first scene as representing the expulsion of certain values, Turner suggests specifically feudal values. See Shakespeare: The Play of History, 105, and Shakespeare's Tragic Cosmos, 188-9.
In urging the King to revoke his curse upon Cordelia, Kent has pointed to a delay between the utterance and the performance of his will, literally a schism between 'our sentence and our power'. In Romeo and Juliet, the curse of banishment was unleashed by that word 'banished' and no attempt by the lovers to reinterpret it could limit its destructive power. In King Lear, Kent rejects the efficacy of Lear's vow (102-4), and suggests that the King can call back his words. Like Cordelia, Kent explodes the King's transcendent fantasy, anticipating what others will make of Lear when he is divested of sovereignty. The irony of Lear's speech is that, once again, he represents himself as a defender of unity, denying any gap between sentence and power, when it is he who has caused this breach through abdication.
Kent's response to banishment further undermines Lear's judgement and his power to curse.