«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 ...»
Both Edgar and Kent withhold the moment of self-revelation in pursuance of greater theatrical effects. Perhaps in a world so devoid of divine providence there is a need to stage such dramatic revelations, to substitute a deus ex machina for divine intervention. 83 Yet neither recognition scene comes off as hoped. Edgar defeats Edmund and wins general admiration when he reveals his true identity. It is a double victory over his brother.
82 See 4.1-4, 17.52-5 and 21.6-11.
83 See Greenblatt's 'Shakespeare and the Exorcists' on the emptying out of the meaning of rituals and beliefs in the play.
Unfortunately, the effect upon Gloucester is also akin to victory. Edgar tells how he served
his father in disguise:
On the assumption that he might be killed in the combat, Edgar has enlightened his father perhaps earlier than he would have liked. Yet it is still far too late. Edgar finally gets the recognition he desired from Gloucester but kills him by withholding the same. 84 Edgar's performance of the wretched outcast who forgives his enemy and saves that enemy's life is cruel. He justifies himself at the expense of Gloucester who cannot sustain the burden of guilt, not merely that of his original misjudgement of his son, but the guilt Edgar has imposed through his subsequent actions.
Nevertheless, Edgar's emergence from anonymity has still been a success. His father has recognised, admired and blessed his son. When Edgar reveals himself to Edmund and Albany, he is similarly met with a mixture of surprise and admiration (24.171-4). The final scene of Kent's exile is very different although there have been glimpses of a happy 84 Cavell describes the avoidance of recognition in this play as cruel and even murderous. He suggests that Edgar's complicity in Edmund's scheme inspires in him a sense of shame which prevents him from revealing his identity to Gloucester. Cavell considers the putting out of eyes in the play in conjunction with the villains' horror of being seen. Gloucester apostrophises an imagined Edgar in his son's presence, 'Might I but live to see thee in my touch/ I'd say I had eyes again' (15.21-2) but Edgar fails to respond thus repeating the original
blinding, Disowning Knowledge, 54-5. In response to Cavell see Harry Berger Jnr, 'Text Against Performance:
The Gloucester Family Romance' in Shakespeare's "Rough Magic": Renaissance Essm-s in Honor ofC. L.
Barber ed. by Peter Erickson and Coppelia Kahn (London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1985), 210-29.
conclusion. In scene 8, Kent assures a messenger that he is a 'gentleman of blood and breeding' (31-3). When the Gentleman gives Cordelia a particular ring, she will tell him the identity of the mysterious figure whose message he delivers. Kent assumes a curiosity in others about himself. He anticipates his own discovery and others' responses to it again at 17.52-5. Finally, in his meeting with Cordelia, Kent is recognised by name and by his virtues.
Cordelia greets him, 'O thou good Kent' (21.1). Yet the power to act in disguise and then to reveal oneself is finally lost by Kent, not only when the battle ruins his hopes but when Edgar reveals his identity. 85 In the final scene, Edgar narrates his meeting on the heath with a man he does not name. This man described Lear s sufferings 'which in recounting/ His grief grew puissant and the strings of life/ Began to crack' (24.212-4). This account bridges the gap between Kent's optimism at the end of scene 21 and his entrance after the defeat. Once his plans, whatever they were, are ruined, his position as observer, which perhaps fortified him against too powerful an emotional involvement with Lear's fate, is lost. Here, Edgar presents the Earl as mortally wounded by what he has witnessed. At this point Albany asks the identity of the man. Edgar
Edgar has made the narrative dramatic and is doubtless met by exclamations of surprise.
There had been rumours that both Edgar and Kent were in Germany (21.87-9). But Edgar 85 Hugh Maclean contrasts Edgar's dynamism with Kent's relative ineffectiveness. He argues that the Earl adopts too passive a role, one that he cannot maintain consistently, and that he finally becomes too enamoured of disguise to judge the right time for disclosure. See 'Disguise in King Lear: Kent and Edgar', Sh. Q. \ 1 (1960). 49-54.
seems once again to have told a story at another's expense. The revelation of Kent's identity is surely Kent's and a crucial part of the exile's readmission into society. Edgar's revelation, this time of another's secrets, once again serves his own purposes.
Yet the bathos which greets Kent's entrance is only partly Edgar's fault. Kent has been immediately preceded by the Second Gentleman carrying a bloody knife, who thus announced the deaths of Gonoril and Regan. Albany is still trying to absorb this news and has just sent for the bodies to be brought in when Kent's entrance is announced. Albany regrets the reception the Earl must receive, 'the time will not allow/ The compliment that very manners urges' (24.228-9). When Kent does appear and asks to see the King he throws his audience into greater paroxysms with Albany's 'Great thing of us forgot!' (232). Next, Edmund reveals the plot to kill Cordelia and a messenger is dispatched in panic to countermand these orders. Then Lear enters with Cordelia in his arms. Kent's appearance in this scene is not that of a man who seeks to perform his self-revelation before the court. He does not expect to inspire wonder here. It is to King Lear that he must finally reveal himself and be known. Yet the anti-climactic nature of his reception expresses how irrelevant to the tragedy he has become as other dramas upstage his own transformation from Caius to Kent. 86 His irrelevance to Lear and Cordelia is painfully apparent. He has brought them together only so that the army should be defeated and Cordelia murdered. It is one of the play's ironies that the most valuable service Kent could perform for Lear finally comes too late. At the beginning of scene 24, Albany had asked Edmund for the prisoners but was refused. Only when Kent enters some 180 lines later and asks for Lear does Albany recall his question. By this point Cordelia is dead and Lear once more distracted and near death. Nevertheless. Kent 86 On Shakespeare's failure to exploit the potential of Kent's disguise see Bertrand Evans who concludes.
'Shakespeare never brought a major practice to a lamer conclusion', Shakespeare's Tragic Practice (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1979), 147-80, 166.
must still attempt to make himself known to Lear:
LEAR: You're welcome hither. (24.277-84) So Kent goes on his journey to death unrecognised, uncalled by his master.
Lear too is plunged back into isolation and despair by Cordelia's death. The reconciliation of scene 21 is replayed here as tragedy. Now it is Lear who bends over the unconscious form of his daughter. In that scene, Cordelia kissed him, believing that she might thus bring him to
Where she had previously revived him with a kiss, in the Quarto text Lear acknowledges that he has no power to restore her to life (24.300-3). Cordelia's death leads at once to Lear's disorientation and his final detachment from the world. Albany says 'He knows not what he sees; and vain it is/ That we present us to him' (288-9). Her loss is the destruction of that world he had imagined in the prison cell. It is the final expulsion of Lear from love and centrality back into nothingness, an exile he will not survive.
For Edgar, the experience of exile has been one of suffering and of self-loss but it has ended with a semi-pastoral conclusion. Through his use of disguise and his own creative powers he has constructed an ending for himself which promises rewards beyond those he could have imagined, namely the inheritance of a kingdom. In this sense, he combines the creativity of Rosalind with the ambition of Orlando. Yet for the other exiles of the play, Kent, Cordelia, Lear, Gloucester, exile is a tragic alienation from others and from the self from which there is no return. For Cordelia and Kent, the hopes of reconciliation with King Lear and restoration to society are dashed. The excesses of alienation in this play mean that, even when recognition is possible, the character may be too 'flawed' to survive it.
In King Lear, the King's fictional world is destroyed when he discovers that nothing on the map in his head corresponds to reality. Coriolanus is also the inheritor of an institutional fiction that defines his identity. Just as the King is the embodiment of his kingdom, so every Roman supposedly finds Romanitas within himself and, through the performance of these virtues, identifies himself increasingly with an idealised and mythical Rome. Both ideologies ensure the centrality of Lear and Coriolanus in their worlds. Banishment, therefore, is not only an expulsion from the physical manifestation of that world, it is an expulsion from ideology and its proffered roles. On the heath, Lear is no longer a king, a father, a nobleman, even a man. Outside Rome, Coriolanus becomes 'a kind of nothing'. Thus, banishment explodes the myths by which they have lived. It becomes clear that no one else believed in the King's Two Bodies or Romanitas with their conviction and hence that their fulfilment of those roles was judged superficially, as a performance from which the actor walks away unchanged.
In Coriolanus, Shakespeare explores the inevitable chasm that opens up between the ideal city and its embodiment. He dramatises the dilemma of a character whose commitment to the myth is stronger than his commitment to reality. For the ruling class, Romanitas is politically expedient, promoting the valour, loyalty and self-immolation of the people for the sake of the city. 1 For the plebeians, it is an inspiring fable, a fantasy of valour and fame, extraneous to ' J. L. Simmons identifies pragmatic concerns as the raison d'etre of the myth. He writes: 'The practical need to defend, expand, and maintain the Earthly City had been successfully idealized into an ethos designed to secure Rome truly as the Eternal City'. See Shakespeare's Pagan World: The Roman Tragedies (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1974), 19.
everyday life. Until exile, Coriolanus fails to recognise that Rome is a political illusion, a place that only truly exists in his mind. His idealism is not only not appreciated by Rome but is declared dangerous. Loyalty to this ideal renders him profoundly anti-social.
From the beginning of the play it is clear that the word 'Rome' has become severed from a shared and stable meaning. 2 The Republic has only recently been established. Caius Martius fought against the tyrant, Tarquin, in his first battle and was hence one of the defenders of the Republic (2.2.87-9, 94-5). In the First Act we hear of the creation of the tribunes. Rome is in transition and as the political structure of the city changes, so 'Rome' alters semantically. 3 The question of what Rome is and of who represents it, is forced into the marketplace for debate. The plebeians begin the play with a challenge to the economic and hermeneutic hegemony of Rome. The threat of starvation leads them to rebel, not merely in demand for food but as revenge upon the patricians who hoard grain. That one class should starve whilst the other enjoys a surplus leads the First Citizen to certain conclusions about the relationship between plebeians and patricians: 'The leanness that afflicts us, the object of our misery, is as an inventory to particularize their abundance; our sufferance is a gain to them' (1.1.18-23).
He proposes a body politic in which the stomach's happiness and its identity depend upon the impoverishment and subordination of the other members. The patricians' superiority is created from the inferiority of the plebeians: 'We are accounted poor citizens, the patricians good' (14-5). The storming of the Capitol is an attempt to appropriate the centre of patrician 2 For a general discussion of the instability of language in the play, see James L.
Wordless Meanings and Meaningless Words', SEL 6 (1966), 211-24.
3 Gail Kern Paster makes a similar division between the historical city of Rome and its abstraction, - a symbol of human possibility', and discusses the play's conflicting definitions of Rome. See 'To Starve with Feeding: The City in Coriolanus 1, Sh. St. 11 (1978), 123-44. 125.
power. The plebeians are to move from an ideologically marginal position to the centrality represented by this edifice, to assert their Roman status. The empowering of their voices through the creation of four tribunes4 realises the Roman aspirations of the plebeians. One of the tribunes urges the question 'What is the city but the people?' (3.1.199), and in the course of the play the plebeians try to fulfil this role.
The patricians have their own view of the relation between the classes and it is a paternalistic one. Menenius stresses the utter dependency of the plebeians upon the elite with no sense of a reciprocal relationship (147-52). Their rebellion cannot hope to affect the state whose 'course will on/ The way it takes, cracking ten thousand curbs/ Of more strong link asunder than can ever/ Appear in your impediment' (67-70). Rome is as far from the reach of their staves as heaven (1.1.66-7). 5 Menenius concedes the plebeians a part in the state sufficient to allow them into his body politic metaphor. Yet his rhetoric against rebellion is utterly inappropriate.
He attempts to defend the patricians through their identification as the stomach, sending food all round the body. One meaning of the fable is that each body part must perform its allotted function but this is exactly what the patricians as stomach, as fathers and as guardians have failed to do. Hence the plebeians starve. 6 Despite constitutional changes, the patricians retain a fixed, conservative conception of Rome based on the ideals of Romanitas, an aristocratic and martial code. The 'enfranchisement" of 4 The tribunes' definition of Rome further complicates the matter since it is entirely self-serving and thus continually vacillating.