«CHARACTER DUPLICATION AND EMULATION IN KING LEAR: A STUDY OF KING LEAR Maria Luisa Dañobeitia Universidad de Granada. Spain The precise idea of this ...»
CHARACTER DUPLICATION AND
EMULATION IN KING LEAR:
A STUDY OF KING LEAR
Maria Luisa Dañobeitia
Universidad de Granada. Spain
The precise idea of this paper is that of studying the process of
duplication and emulation which seems to govern the structural development
of King Lear. The general tendency is that of seeing Lear as a monolithic figure whose tragedy arises solely from some flaw in his character. Yet, it cannot be so. Lear is not alone and thus he cannot be the only one responsible for his misfortunes. In many ways Kent and Gloucester follow a pattern of behaviour that is similar to that of Lear. This prompts us to conjecture that Lear acts in such an idiosyncratic manner, wanting to know who loves him most, because he is sure that the test is going to work out to the satisfaction to his personal needs126. Lear's drama arises not only from his attitude towards kingship, but from that of his chancellors. Surely they must have had to obey him regardless of the nature of his orders, and surely they must have humoured him to the point of emulating him in both deed and language.
Bearing in mind the idea of emulation and duplication we propose to explore two things. One is the manner in which Kent emulates Lear's language during his confrontation with Oswald127. The other is the way in 126 Lear's personal motives have been explored in a paper written by this author,"Lear's 'You have some cause':A Study of King Lear,"Miscelánea, (Universidad de Zaragoza,Departamento de Filología Inglesa y Alemana, 1989) 10:17-45. We wish to refer the reader to this paper for the required bibliography.
127 As far as we are aware, a detailed analysis of the intriguing fact that, one way or other, all the characters act as a mirror of Lear, has not been made. Frances A.
Shirley in Swearing and Perjury in Shakespeare's Plays (London:George Allen & Unwin) 129, comments that Kent emulates Lear.
Thomas Shadwell's The Libertine (1675) which Shakespeare has manipulated the names of Lear's daughters in order to create a system of duplication, not to say inclusion. A system that makes it possible to contain, partially or completely, Lear's name in those of his daughters or vice-versa128. What is not contained yields similar phonetic patterns, which, in the case of Cordelia serve to express what she is going to signify in Lear's life, and in the nature of his drama through intriguing puns.
His tragedy has been duplicated in that of Gloucester and indirectly in the person of Kent, although in the latter case it is grounded in a psychological attitude rather than in physical acts. The system of duplication and emulation indicates several things: that Lear is not alone; that Gloucester functions as Lear's surrogate when it comes to matters related to sex and procreation129;
that Kent's becomes Lear's wrathful duplication of his verbal anger; and that his daughters are Lear's replicas, with the exception of Cordelia, and that in Cordelia's case what is not contained in Lear's name communicates what she must be in his life, that is, an ordeal.
128 In this case we can cannot argue in favour of coincidence because the names have been sufficiently altered for us to ponder the possibility of a deliberate alteration. Shakespeare has introduced a number of significant changes in his source,(if it was his source), The history of the Kings of Britain. The most important one is that of the kings' name. From Leir he has changed the king's name to Lear, so making possible the full inclusion of Cordelia's name in his. In addition the word-play that we are going to discuss would not make sense if Shakespeare had not changed the thematic development of the story. See Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain (London: Penguin Books, 1966), trans. Lewis Thorpe. Spenser in his Faerie Queene, Book II, Canto X, does not feel the need to change Lear's name, and thus years later, instead of Lear we find Leyr and instead Goneril, Gonorill and Cordelia, at times, is Cordeill. Only Regan's name has not been changed. In The True Chronicle History of King Leir, Lear's name is Leir and that of his daughters, Gonorill and Ragan and Cordella. In Holinshed's Lear is Leir, Regan is Regan, Cordelia is Cordeilla and Gonoril is Gonorilla. It is not always easy for the average reader to realise this because in some modern versions of Holinshed, published precisely for students of Shakespeare, the names have been changed to make them fit in with those of Shakespeare, See, Shakespeare's Holinshed, ed.
Richard Hosley (New York: Capricorn Books, 1968). In John Higgins, Lear is Leire, Goneril is Gonerell, Regan is Ragan and Cordelia is Cordell or Cordile.
129 For some critics King Lear is a play about sex. See Frank Kermode, Shakespeare, Spencer and Donne, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul) 178.
Gustav Ungerer Lear gives the impression of being a man bent on having his will since he has never experienced in his life a real and direct opposition even from those who love him well. On account of this blind obedience he knows little about either his own family or his counsellors. At his court he is not the only one who knows little about himself and others. Gloucester's tragedy, in part, derives from his inability to evaluate the worth of his children properly.
Gloucester is not only blind but irresponsible when he speaks to Kent about Edmund's birth and, very much like Lear, seems to know very little about the true nature of Edgard and Edmund.
Surely Gloucester's manifest lack of wisdom does not make him an ideal counsellor, because if he is not capable of seeing through the crude wiles of Edmund, how can we expect him to perceive the tricks of those who are not so close to him as his own children? In addition to this, he does not seem to have all that much tact or consideration towards the feelings of others, otherwise he would have not spoken as he did to Kent about Edmund's birth. The point is not, as some critics have stated, whether Edmund may or may not be close enough to hear him, but that he speaks slightingly of Edmund's conception, thus showing little consideration towards both love and procreation. The point could be taken a little further since we do not know whether he was a widower or not by the time of Edmund's procreation. What we do know is that Edgar is older than Edmund and thus the possibility of adultery exists.
Gloucester's flippant attitude towards the act of begetting children and probably towards adultery serves to indicate that he is irrational and irresponsible when it comes to sexual matters, and this fact induces the reader to question Lear's attitude when it comes to sex and procreation. When considering Lear's age and that of his daughters, one is forced to ponder the embarrassing fact that Lear has not taken procreation as a serious duty to the crown, because he must have married very late in life. Even if his wife was not all that young, Lear, by natural deduction, has to be much older. The fact that Lear must have had a young wife is an explanation in itself of his natural proclivity to think in terms of adultery as soon as one of his daughters does not please him130. When Cordelia does not gladden him he rejects his 130 K. Muir says, "The revulsion against sex, besides being a well-known symptom of a certain form of madness,is linked with Lear's earlier suspicion that the mother of Goneril and Regan must be an adulteress, with Gloucester's pleasant Thomas Shadwell's The Libertine (1675) paternity131. In doing so Lear is repudiating aspects of his daughter's character that he cannot acknowledge because in his mind they do not fit in with his preconceived idea of what his daughter must be and thus he becomes suspicious about his paternity.
With Cordelia's departure Lear's drama begins. At this point even his daughters are alarmed by his performance. After watching Lear's proceedings one is force to grant his two daughters a certain amount of commonsense, and specially when recalling the fact that there is no direct textual evidence to prompt us to conjecture that they hate Cordelia, or that they are elated with
Basically there is nothing wrong with what they say about Lear and Cordelia. The way in which they answer Cordelia is acceptable in view of her open and direct accusation, since it is not a trivial one;
vices which led to the birth of Edmund and ultimately to his own blinding." See "Madness in King Lear", ed.
Allardyce Nicoll, Shakespeare Survey, (London:
Cambridge University Press,1971) vol.13. 31. Perhaps Lear's anger at Kent's intercession must be understood as a manifestation of Lear's distrust regarding his paternity of Cordelia. What Lear screams at Kent, "avoid my sight," is very provocative.
131 According to David Sundelson, "King Lear contains Shakespeare's most terrible destruction of fathers, but it also contains the impulse to restore them." See Shakespeare's Restorations of the Father (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1964) 2.
132 King Lear, ed. Kenneth Muir (London:Methuen and Co. Ltd., 1973) 1.1. 286-90.
All quotations from this ed.
Gustav Ungerer This is a severe statement coming from a person as young as Cordelia.
Hearing her, one has the feeling that she is making a profession of her virtue, forgetting that she is about to leave Lear in their hands. The manner in which she answers her sisters serves to reveal one aspect of Cordelia's character that renders her similar to her father. She has a very strong character and can be as harsh as he is with those she does not like. Yet, what is contained of Lear's character in Cordelia's does not go beyond flaws that become serious only because she has been opposing a man who has the very same flaws. The confrontation of two strong wills makes it impossible for them to reach a sensible compromise because this must be on their own terms or nothing.
Lear cannot accept Cordelia except on his own terms, but Cordelia cannot accept Lear's terms and thus they must part.
To bring Cordelia's flaws to the audience's attention is not an easy task due to the emotional appeal of the events, yet it must be done. To achieve this the playwright has presented both sisters at this point using words that are characterized by a note of decorum, with the purpose of contrasting them with those of Cordelia. If both sisters would have been hard, unreasonable and cruel, the audience would have missed the point because of their preoccupation with Cordelia's fate.
Watching Cordelia's departure and a Lear rejecting his paternity, the audience can well expect something similar to this happening again. This fact is so much in the courtier's minds that as soon as something is not quite right they feel no qualms about staining their wives' good name seemingly for no other reason than their children's apparent conduct. On hearing Lear exclaim that "by the marks of sovereigty/ Knowledge and Reasons, I should be false persuaded I had daughters," (1.4.253-4), or calling Goneril "degenerate bastard," the inevitable reaction is to wonder why he is so lacking in faith when it comes to his wife's chastity133. Lear does not only reject his paternity 133 Hamlet is very sensitive when it comes to sex, but, there is a reason, his mother's untimely wedding. Othello is blind because of his insecurity caused by the colour of his skin, but, there is nothing in Lear to justify this except his attitude to sex when he was young and the fact that his wife must have been a very young woman and he, old. During the storm, Lear's attention is focused on lust and even though Roland M. Frye in his Shakespeare and the Christian Doctrine (New Jersey, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982) 255, comments that Shakespeare could have placed Lear, but does not, in a Dantesque or Miltonic Hell, he is mistaken because Lear is in hell and so are Kent and Gloucester, not Thomas Shadwell's The Libertine (1675) but in Goneril's case he curses her in a manner that cannot be accepted on moral grounds. He pleads to the gods to make her barren. His curse constitutes a very serious aggression against nature because by wishing her to be sterile he is hoping to deprive her of a natural function innate to her sex.
This hope relates to his obsession with illegal procreation whereby sterility becomes a desirable flaw in his daughter. Yet his curse makes sense only if we understand it as the product of mind that thinks that Goneril's issue cannot stem from his blood and that therefore it must be unlawful.
Goneril, like Lear, is not willing to accept a situation in which she is not in full command. She tries to be the only master of her castle, and although we cannot praise her attitude towards Lear, we cannot accept Lear's brutal reaction so easily because what she says does not merit Lear's unnatural curse. At this point we have not been presented with a sort of Lady Macbeth plotting to kill, but with a headstrong woman who wants at any cost to place her father where she feels he ought to be. In spite of his dreadful insults, Goneril is far more in control of herself than he is: she does not respond with violence to his affronts but insists on what she wants, which is to curb Lear's will. In her turn, Goneril is doing to Lear exactly the same thing as Lear did to Cordelia, that is, trying to impose her will on him.
If Goneril becomes a replica of Lear, so does Kent when Goneril acts towards Lear as hardheartedly as Lear did towards Cordelia. Kent, at this point, becomes not only a duplicate of Lear but a replica of the Fool. He
loves Lear and defends a cause that, according to the Fool, only a fool would:
a king who has not only banished him but has been on the point of killing him. The Fool makes some caustic comments about Kent's foolishness and the problem lies in the fact that we cannot dismiss his words as trifling talk134. The Fool tells Kent that only a fool would remain attached to Lear's
wheel when the wheel is rolling downhill:
to say the Fool. To grasp the fact that Lear is in Hell we need only bear in mind that in Dante's Hell, Canto V, the circle in which sins related to lust are punished, is described as a place where an everlasting tempest is raging so that whirling winds torment the sinners.