«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 ...»
Yet, he also sees his relationship with the storm as a bitter conflict in which he is the intended victim of the elements' wrath. He rebukes Nature for fighting on his daughters' side against a head/ So old and white as this' (19-24). To what extent Lear is complicit with the elements or battling against them is a question he himself cannot decide. Nor can he perceive what the storm's purpose is. It could be a power summoned up by his daughters to punish him. Yet he also envisages it as an apocalyptic force in which he is only incidentally caught up. Lear's need to interpret the storm as related to himself is an expression of his need to defend his 'little world' and its meanings from the chaos outside, that is, from poverty, starvation, exposure and insignificance. Ultimately, he can find no reason to polarise the storm around himself. In this land Lear has no meaning and madness attends this discovery. But if Lear's meaninglessness drives him to the brink of madness, it is his confrontation with the meaningful Poor Tom which drives him mad.
The scenes on the heath are patterned by the reflections characters see of themselves in one another. 61 When Gloucester finds Lear and his followers on the heath, he tells Kent that he too has nearly gone out of his mind at filial ingratitude (11.152-7). Later Gloucester will find his wits threatened by the spectacle of Lear's suffering, a pattern already established on the heath where others reflect one's own wretchedness. Who better to be such a mirror than Poor Tom? The Fool, another alien, deracinated figure, at first tries to counteract the dangerous influence of Poor Tom upon Lear but by scene 13, the Fool's witticisms and riddles have 61 Maynard Mack compares the reflective nature of Arden in As You Like It with the heath in King Lear. He finds that the natural world in the tragedy remains: 'curiously expressive, as in romance, of the protagonist's mental and emotional states' The heath reflects Lear's condition as 'barrenness, tempest, and alienation, the defenseless suffering of his Fool, the madness of a derelict beggar...', King Lear in Our Time, 66.
become as bewildering and even as maddening as Poor Tom's. 62 For Lear, Poor Tom is an object of such misery as to represent his own suffering and almost to 'outface' him with it.
Hence, the King assumes that the half-naked and apparently deranged beggar must have suffered the same misery as himself, 'Hast thou given all to thy two daughters,/ And art thou come to this?' (11.43-4). In the beggar Lear sees the universality of his suffering but also, specifically, he sees a better way to play that role. He strips off his clothing, externalises his demons, as Poor Tom does, by addressing Gonoril and Regan in the trial scene, and he goes mad in reality. Edgar may well remark later, 'He childed as I fathered' (13.103).
From his desire to become the archetypal king and a universal father figure, Lear has fallen to represent an opposite symbol. Ambitious to transcend his identity in the beginning of the play, Lear becomes the outcast man to the destruction of all other facets of his identity. It is to this reductive view of man that the mirror-imaging of the heath has tended. We may eschew the same vocabulary of education or redemption, perhaps appropriate to As You Like It, in the case of King Lear. It is the knowledge of 'the thing itself that drives Lear to distraction. Yet the discovery of man as outcast is presented in the play as the perception of a kind of truth.
Lear repeatedly identifies Poor Tom as a 'philosopher' (11.141, 159, 162), emphasising his wisdom as that of a 'most learned Theban' (144) or 'Athenian' (166) with whom Lear must have discourse. Lear's own experience of exile, as mediated through the outcast beggar, reveals something of the little world of man: the frailty of his body and the exorbitance of his self-deceit.
62 John Kerrigan considers Shakespeare's revision of the Fool from Quarto to Folio. He suggests that the Fool tries very hard to compete with Poor Tom in the Quarto but that the Folio, with its excision of the trial scene, depicts a more marginal Fool who declines to compete. It is partly because the Quarto Fool and Poor Tom seem to overlap that Kerrigan favours the Folio interpretation, suggesting that here we have a range of fooling, from real insanity to rational riddling. I would suggest that it is the very merging of sanity and derangement in these scenes and of the characters' identities that make the Quarto so rich. See 'Revision, Adaptation, and the Fool in King Lear' in The Division of the Kingdoms, 195-245. 226-30.
We might contrast the pairing of Lear and Poor Tom with that of Timon and Apemantus in the wilderness outside Athens. 63 The latter has come to find Timon, hearing that he has turned misanthrope, that 'Thou dost affect my manners, and dost use them' (4.3.200). Where Lear has indeed affected Poor Tom's manners, both Timon and Apemantus reject the comparison. The former's abhorrence of all men includes a special loathing and disdain for
In King Lear, the beggar is seen to offer some previously unknown insight into the human condition. Lear is susceptible to this wisdom through his identification with Poor Tom. In Timon ofAthens (1607), the self-exiled man rejects any human identification at all and would purge himself of humanity. Yet, paradoxically, Apemantus is too low a man for Timon ever to imitate. Fortune has never smiled upon this Athenian and hence he cannot imagine the magnitude of Timon's loss, one 'Who had the world as my confectionary,/ The mouths, the tongues, the eyes and hearts of men' (261-2). Where Lear debases himself to the level of Poor Tom but sees no debasement, Timon insists upon hierarchy. He may detest men and himself but he remains superior to Apemantus and proud of their difference. At the end of Timon's eulogy for his former state, Apemantus asks 'Art thou proud yet?' to which Timon replies, 'Ay, that I am not thee' (278-9). Timon does not see his fall from power as connected to his delusions of grandeur but feels embittered at the men who brought him down. For this reason, 63 The Oxford Complete Works dates Timon of Athens c. 1604 and places it immediately before The History of King Lear, a decision endorsed by James C. Bulman in his dating of the comedy, The Date of Production of Timon Reconsidered', Sh. S. 27 (1974), 111-28. I find the most interesting parallels for my study between Timon and Coriolanus (see the following chapter).
Apemantus too denies the comparison between them. Timon has not become a philosopher who willingly renounces the world, but a man consumed by bitterness and frustrated selflove.
G. K. Hunter contrasts the experiences of Lear and Timon, arguing that the latter play 'does not explore the condition of the outcast as symbolic of basic humanity, but only shows the outcast set against his society'. 64 Where Timon atrophies with hatred, Hunter argues for
Lear's particular fecundity in exile:
When Lear leaves the warmth, the society, the 'civilization' of Gloucester's castle he might seem to be leaving behind him all of the little that is left to make life bearable. But the retreat into the isolated darkness of his own mind is also a descent into the seed-bed of a new life; for the individual mind is seen here as the place from which a man's most important qualities and relationships draw the whole of their potential. 65 We have already seen examples of Lear's madness as self-expansion and as self-diminution.
His experience seems at first to engulf the world and to redefine every relationship as that of Lear and his daughters. But gradually, there are also references to Lear's insignificance and to his share of guilt, reflected once more in the condition of Poor Tom (11.76-85). From Lear's abandonment of all pretensions to greatness and his subsequent self-knowledge, 'I am a very foolish, fond old man' (21.58), he is brought to a reconciliation with Cordelia. In their
mutual recognition, Lear glimpses the possibility of a new world:
64 'Shakespeare's Last Tragic Heroes', 254.
65 Ibid., 252. Harry Levin makes the point that grief has a humanising effect upon Lear but dehumanises Timon in 'Shakespeare's Misanthrope', Sh. S. 26 (1973), 89-94, 94.
Hunter's response to this speech is to suggest that Lear's isolation and self-sufficiency lead to an embracing of humanity, beatifically imagined in this prison cell with Cordelia, 'new and fresh words of civilization have risen'- 66 Yet this new civilisation is created out of the mutual sufficiency and isolation of Lear and Cordelia. Lear embraces marginality now as a defence against the world. In pastoral drama he would have to take this vision outside and redeem society with it. In Stoic philosophy, Lear would be advised to fully renounce the world in order to find contentment and true security. Neither of these solutions is available in the play.
Lear's determination to transform his punishment into joy and his seclusion into selfsufficiency may remind us strongly of Stilbo, as quoted by Seneca in his De Constantia:
There is no reason why you should doubt that a mortal man can raise himself above his human lot, that he can view with unconcern pains and losses, sores and wounds, and nature's great commotions as she rages all around him, can bear hardship calmly and prosperity soberly, neither yielding to the one nor trusting to the other; that he can remain wholly unchanged amid the diversities of fortune and count nothing but himself his own. and of this self, even, only its better part. 67 Stoicism is a philosophy deeply relevant to this play in the way it prizes marginality and its promise of invulnerability to suffering. The wise man will sever all ties that bind him to the 66 Long, The Unnatural Scene, 213. Janette Dillon also uses the prison speech to endorse her argument that evil works through isolation in the play and that social bonds are the foundations of happiness, Shakespeare and the Solitary Man, 122, 128-9. 134.
67 De Constantia in Moral Essays, vol. 1, VI, 3, p 65.
external world, including wealth, status, family and friends, but more fundamentally he will suppress the passions of desire and fear, anger and pity. King Lear is haunted by the longing not to feel and the quest for fortitude and constancy. Arthur Kinney perceives 'a remarkably rich and pervasive strain of neo-Stoicism in Lear [...] a quiet but dazzling ability to suffer with dignity, with self-sufficiency'. 68 Edgar counsels himself and others, particularly
Gloucester, with this doctrine of endurance. He flouts at Fortune:
Similarly, Gloucester's emphasis on a patient and dignified end, on dying because he can no longer comply with the will of the gods and on his right to liberty through death should all be very familiar. 70 Cases have also been made for the Stoicism of Cordelia and Kent. 71 Yet, as Gilles Monsarrat has suggested. Stoic sententiae are repeatedly undercut by the 68 'Some Conjectures on the Composition of King Lear' in Sh. S. 33 (1980), 13-26, 25. Kinney proposes a source for the play in Justus Lipsius' neo-Stoic tract, Sixe Bookes ofPolitickes or Civil Doctrine (1594). He finds specific verbal echoes of this text in Lear, for example the Fool's reference to 'court holy water' may be anticipated in the chapter on flattery wherein Lipsius advises the king to 'freelie permit his Counsellors, to speake their minde boldlie, not loving this court holy water', G2v. He also draws a parallel between Gloucester's prophecy of universal discord and Lipsius' consideration of the effects of civil war, Bb2-Bb2v, 19The Folio expands upon this Stoic defiance of Fortune adding, 'Welcome, then,/ Thou unsubstantial air that I embrace./ The wretch that thou hast blown unto the worst/ Owes nothing to thy blasts' (4.1.6-9).
70 In De Finibus, Cicero advises that 'very often it is appropriate for the Wise Man to abandon life at a moment when he is enjoying supreme happiness, if an opportunity offers for making a timely exit. For the Stoic view is that happiness, which means life in harmony with nature, is a matter of seizing the right moment', De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum tr. by H. Rackham (London: Heinemann, 1983), 281. Seneca also referred to the liberating power of suicide: 'He who has learned to die has unlearned slavery; he is above any external power, or, at any rate, he is beyond it. What terror have prisons and bonds and bars for him?' in his AdLucilium Epistulae Morales tr. by Richard M. Gummere (London: Heinemann, 1917), vol. 1, p!91.
71 See Hiram Haydn, The Counter-Renaissance (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1950), 642-51, for an expanded consideration of King Lear's Stoics.
actions and supposed motivations of the characters. 72 Edgar's conceit that he can fall no further and his derision of Fortune are immediately contradicted by the appearance of his blinded father. His response is to weep, a refutation of Stoicism in itself, and to expostulate.
"Who is't can say I am at the worst/ I am worse than e'er I was' (15.23-4). Similarly, Gloucester's suicide is considered by Monsarrat as an act of despair rather than of cool rationality, 73 and the Stoic attitude towards suicide is denounced by Edgar from the Christian perspective. Gloucester comes to agree with Edgar that suicide is the work of fiends and takes Job as his example rather than Seneca, deciding to endure all until his natural end (20.75-7).
As if to reiterate finally how far from Stoicism Gloucester is, his death is the result of passion (24.193-6). 74 The play recognises the agony of human interaction, particularly the cost of pity, but does not condone the alternatives. The Fool repeatedly pricks Lear's conscience over Cordelia and whilst the King laughs he attests to the bitterness of such company, describing the Fool as a pestilent gall to me' (4.110). On the heath, companionship is partly a solace but also exacerbates misery. Edgar weeps for Lear in the trial scene (13.55-6) and is utterly cast down when he sees the blinded Gloucester (15.7). Both Edgar and Gloucester then have to endure a meeting with Lear at which Edgar cries aloud, 'O thou side-piercing sight!' (20.85) and Gloucester, 'Alack, alack the day!' (170). Yet those who have the ability to detach
themselves and to deny pity are depicted as monstrous: