«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 ...»
72 Gilles Monsarrat, Light from the Porch: Stoicism and English Renaissance Literature (Paris: Didier Erudition, 1984), 146.
74 The Jacobean audience would have attributed a broader range of meaning to this word 'passion' than is current now. OED definitions include the suffering of pain especially martyrdom; a painful affection or disorder of the body including a violent attack of pain; the fact or condition of being acted upon or affected by external agency; a poem, literary composition, or passage marked by deep or strong emotion.
Monsarrat argues that neither King Lear nor any other Shakespearean play offers a representative' Stoic as found in the work of Chapman, Marston, Massinger and Ford. 75 From this conclusion he argues that there is 'little to be said about Stoicism in Shakespeare'. 76 On the contrary, I would suggest that the very fact of Stoicism's inconsistency in King Lear hints at a central paradox within the play: man's need for Stoic self-sufficiency in a world of pain, conflicting with his desire for companionship and love.
Perhaps the most important Stoic concept for the play is that of the microcosm, the kingdom of the mind. In his own De Constantia, Lipsius renders this inner world as an alternative to external reality, using a topographical metaphor. Like Hunter, Charles Langius proposes that the outcast will find contentment by introspection and solitude. Stoicism fundamentally rejects 'reality', proposing instead that man commune with nature and try to understand his place in the world. By reducing mankind down to its essence, 'the thing itself, he may abandon the facile dreams and fantasies that keep him vulnerable to Fortune and her caprices.
Yet Stoicism also encourages fantasy in that it reduces life to the limits of the individual.
Lear's dream of prison life with Cordelia is partly a Stoic microcosm. The King rejects any 75 This distinction is based on Monsarrat's criterion that the character is clearly recognised by himself or by others as a Stoic though within this framework he may be inconsistent and fall from his philosophical height as occurs famously in Marston's Antonio's Revenge. Monsarrat refers to Shakespeare's 'Stoicism' as lacking this essential self-consciousness. What might be called Stoic virtues are 'not related to Stoicism as a deliberately assumed philosophy'. 137. It seems at least perverse to suggest that Shakespeare cannot be seen to be influenced by the popular revival of neo-Stoicism unless he produces a stereotypical Stoic character. For a more detailed refutation of Monsarrat's requirements of the Stoic see Geoffrey Miles' study, Shakespeare and the Constant Romans, 4 n.8.
76 Light from the Porch, 137.
integration with the world, or any identity it might offer, save that which Cordelia provides.
Their imagined detachment, looking down upon the world as God's spies, supposedly places them beyond the reach of Fortune. It is an image of permanence in a state of flux, one of
Stoicism's central aspirations (if the Stoic can be said to aspire):
And yet Lear's permanence depends not only upon his reinterpretation of imprisonment as philosophy, leisure, love, but on the source of all these, the life of his daughter, Cordelia. 77 Lear's Stoic microcosm is in fact the lover's conventional displacement of the world for his beloved as microcosm. The self-sufficiency of living only in another's eyes is often a tragic
enslavement to capricious Fortune. In 2 Henry VI, the banished Suffolk tells Margaret:
This passage anticipates Lear in a number of ways. Suffolk's reference to 'every several pleasure in the world' may remind us of the declarations made by Gonoril and Regan that all pleasures were incomparable to Lear's love. What they express as policy, however, is for Kent perfect truth. Suffolk's passion anticipates the quality of Kent's devotion as he travels into the 'wilderness' with Lear. Finally, these lines evoke the foundation of Lear's vision of happiness. Where the king of 1.1 insisted upon himself as an alternative landscape, Lear has 77 See also Joseph S. M. J. Chang who recognises Lear's prison speech as a Stoic failure in '"Of Mighty Opposites": Stoicism and Machiavellianism', Ren. D. 9 (1966), 37-58, 51-2.
now deposed himself to replace that world by one created in and through his daughter.
Cordelia's death reveals the fundamental flaw in Lear's microcosm from a Stoic perspective.
Invulnerability depends upon renunciation but Lear has dared to love and to hope. To my knowledge, no critic has perceived such a moral in Cordelia's death and I would suggest rightly so. 78 To remain unmoved and righteous in the face of the tragedy is to be susceptible to Lear's general condemnation of the Stoic: 'O, you are men of stones' (24.253). Not only in the perverted isolation of Edmund, Gonoril and Regan, but in the death of Cordelia, the Stoic is banished from the play's tragic cosmos.
Yet if the Stoic consolation for exile, glimpsed in the prison speech, is thus dispatched, Cordelia's death also destroys pastoral consolations. Exile cannot be redeemed by selfsufficiency without man turning monstrous but neither will the banished man in King Lear find the pastoral closure of recognition and reintegration. G. K. Hunter's critique is partly based on a pastoral reading of the play. He brings Lear out of the wilderness to reconciliation with Cordelia and the promise of a new world. The tragedy that follows does not affect Hunter's conclusions about the kind of exile Lear experiences. If the play ended after scene 21, Hunter would have his tragi-comedy. Cordelia greets Lear at Dover, 'How does my royal lord? How fares your majesty0 ' (21.42). To know Cordelia is for Lear to recognise himself, as was clear from the first scene of the play. Yet this recognition scene is premature. It will be 78 O. J. Campbell perhaps comes closest to this, suggesting that Lear's Stoic failure as revealed in the death of Cordelia becomes a Christian triumph. He describes Lear as one who 'has not arrived at utter indifference to external events, at that complete freedom from emotion, the disease of the intellect, which produces true stoic content. On the contrary Lear finds his peace in an active emotion - in all absorbing love. That it is which at last renders him independent of circumstance', 'The Salvation of Lear', ELH 15 (1948), 93-109, 106.1 can see no evidence in the play for such Christian detachment any more than for the invulnerability of the Stoic.
enacted later as tragedy. 79 Lear's emergence from exile is aborted by the death of Cordelia.
Our expectations about the journey's end of the other exiles are also betrayed. On the heath, the Fool, Poor Tom, Kent and Lear seemed to regroup into an alternative society, marked by impoverishment and madness, but also by sympathy for one another. The pastoral undertones of this experience, the idea of human society recrystallising in the greenwood, might have led us to expect that they would all return to civilisation together. It is not so. The disappearance of the Fool is the most obvious example of the play's failure to achieve such closure, to draw all its fools back into a circle.
At the end of the trial scene, Gloucester enters with news that the King's life is in danger. He urges Kent to assist him in getting Lear into the waiting litter that will take him to safety at Dover (13.83-5). After the heath, Dover, where Cordelia and the French army await, might represent that return to civilisation which we expect to follow the pastoral sojourn. There is still a battle to be fought, as in Rosalynde, but this is the final deferral of the moment when the characters take up their positions in a newly-ordered state. But if the battle in King Lear does not go 'according to plan', neither does the return to Dover. Before Kent and the sleeping King leave the stage, the former turns to the Fool, 'Come, help to bear thy master./ Thou must not stay behind' (13.93-4). This remark stresses the Fool's continuing importance in the Quarto play. Kent still accords him a place in Lear's court and perhaps recognises some personal connection remaining between master and servant. Nevertheless, the Fool's exit with Kent is his last. We never see him at Dover nor is there any communication between himself and Cordelia though we were told that he had pined since she left the court (4.70-1).
79 See Yourm. The Heart's Forest, 88-93, and Mack's King Lear in Our Time, 63-6, on the play's defiance of audience expectation.
The possible doubling of the parts of Cordelia and the Fool is a convenient way of accounting tor this disappearance though it does not explain why Shakespeare omits to give the Fool any kind of exit line. Even when he does so in the Folio, the Fool's abandonment of Lear remains a riddle. 80 I would suggest that this absence, whether an oversight on Shakespeare's part or the casual dismissal of one who had served his purpose, contributes to the uneasy sense of continued alienation which the Dover reunion might have been expected to dispel. Although an audience may only become aware that the Fool is 'lost' at the very end of the play, his last exit takes place before the explicit departure of another character from Lear's retinue, that of Poor Tom.
It is noticeable that Kent does not extend the same invitation to Poor Tom as he does to the Fool in scene 13, though Lear had expressed a powerful desire to keep the 'philosopher' with him. 81 In any case, Poor Tom seems voluntarily to part company with Lear. He has practical
reasons for doing so:
80 In the Folio, the Fool's last line is 'And I'll go to bed at noone'. John Kerrigan refers to the flower called Goat's beard or 'Go to bedde at noone', which closed its petals at midday with the decline of the sun. He concludes that 'The Fool sees the lineaments of Lear's tragedy only too well. And he sees that he can do nothing to help his master, now far beyond the reach of a jest. So he resolves to call it a day at 'noone', to abandon the action at its mid-point, to absent himself from half the story', 229. Not only the absence of any such line but also the continued attachment between Lear and the Fool, as confirmed at the last by Kent negates such a reading for the Quarto. See 'Revision, Adaptation, and the Fool in King Lear', 229. James Calderwood argues that the Fool disappears because he has become redundant, 'Creative Uncreation in King Leaf, Sh. Q. 37 (1986), 5-19, 9-10.
Curiously, King James I's fool, Archie Armstrong, was to be banished from the court of Charles I for general slanders and particularly words spoken against the Archbishop of Canterbury. See the DNB, 562, and Archy 's Dream, Sometime Jester to his Maiestie: but Exiled the Court by Canterburies Malice (1641) in The Old Book Collector's Miscellany, vol. 3, no. 16.
81 There is perhaps no reason why Kent should see a place for Poor Tom in the king's retinue whether Lear is mad or sane. Nevertheless, the fact that the Earl ignores Poor Tom here may be an expression of a personal animosity towards the outcast which the latter notes at 24.206-7, a detail which serves to undermine the rosy view of a brotherhood of suffering on the heath.
The appeal of Dover as a place for the exile's recognition and reconciliation is resisted. It is neither the time nor the place for casting off disguises. At Dover, Kent also refuses Cordelia's
request that he resume his former shape:
Both Edgar and Kent deliberately delay the revelation of their true identities to the men they serve. Like Rosalind, who retains her disguise until she has orchestrated her matrimonial coup de theatre, both men have grand finales in mind.
Edgar suffers pangs of conscience concerning his theatricality in the midst of genuine madness and grief. He refers to his part as 'counterfeiting' (13.55-6), as playing the fool (15.37-8), and declares 'I cannot dance it farther' (50). At Dover, Edgar defends his most daring set piece, 'Why I do trifle thus with his despair/ Is done to cure it' (20.33-4, italics mine). Nevertheless, whilst he denigrates his own playing. Edgar is clearly empowered by his disguise. He uses it to prove his loyalty to Gloucester, to save his life, to win back his father's earldom and to punish Edmund. Such is the faith that Edgar places in his power that he fears Gloucester may die from his fictional fall by wishing for death and because the fiction is so credible (42-44). But the necessity for Edgar to maintain his disguise is unclear. Why should he need anonymity to defeat his brother in battle and claim the earldom? Edgar cannot help dramatising his outcast state. Just as Poor Tom allowed him to externalise his suffering and perhaps to win back some self-esteem, Edgar enjoys his performance as the Unknown Knight. He appears at the tournament: 'O, know my name is lost,/ By treason's tooth baregnawn and canker-bit' (24.118-9). Edgar performs the banishment and restoration of his name. By defeating the usurper, he wins it for himself and also regains thus the identity of the legitimate and loyal son.
Kent's disguise too has practical applications. It allows him a position in Lear's service and preserves his life which would otherwise be forfeit under the terms of his banishment. There is, however, some deeper intent behind Kent's disguise. 82 At first this seems to be the gathering of information on Lear and the newly divided kingdom. In the stocks, Kent reads a letter from Cordelia who has now been informed of his 'obscured course' and is on her way to Albion (7.162). In the following scene, Kent instructs a Gentleman to go to Dover and report to the French Queen, 'Of how unnatural and bemadding sorrow/ The King hath cause to plain' (8.29-30). Even when Kent has brought Cordelia with her army and Lear together, he is still plotting some greater triumph, hence his refusal to cast off his disguise. But this plot is dependent upon the outcome of the battle (21.93-4). When that is lost, Kent reappears only to wish Lear a final farewell.