King Lear speaks out for street people followed by remarks on my recent close brush with death

In my last blog I wrote about Shakespeare’s huge play, “King Lear.” Today I want to follow this up with a few more words about “King Lear” and then share with you my close brush with death a few days ago here in Puerto Vallarta.

It always amazes me how many social and psychological problems Shakespeare manages to write about so creatively. Living in our present times we are well aware of the extreme poverty that many people have to live in (I know, I know, some of them will never even look for a job.) It’s hard to ignore this extreme poverty in our own society. We see it every day that we drive downtown. People sleeping in doorways, maybe cuddled up with their faithful friend, their dog. People sleeping in cardboard boxes.

Shakespeare was well aware of the problem too, and he treats it hauntingly in “King Lear.” The play starts with Lear calling his three daughters to a meeting. He interviews them in front of some powerful people in his kingdom. The two older sisters, Goneril and Regan, lie to him about their love, making extravagant claims such as they love him more than sight itself. Lear falls for the flattery and grants them, effective immediately, large chunks of his kingdom. Then Lear questions the youngest, Cordelia, who replies that she loves him as she should a father, no more, no less. Lear is furious at her bluntness and exiles her. In the following scenes Lear visits Goneril and Regan. Neither of them will grant his requests, e.g., that he be allowed to retain a retinue of a hundred knights. Lear can do nothing about it. He has given them his power. Enraged and powerless he leaves his daughter’s castle and runs out into a wild winter storm. As he huddles around a fire he experiences, maybe for the first time in his life, what it must feel like to be wretched, with few clothes and no money. He speaks the following lines. I find them powerful. I hope you like them.

“Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.” (3,4,28-36)

Lear is discovering that he has done nothing for the wretches in his kingdom. He was too busy hunting with his retinue of knights, or eating banquet-style meals with lots of wine and ale. He is suffering and his suffering is making a better man of him. He is acquiring empathy and maybe a sense of fairness. “Take physic, pomp.” means, I seem to recall, “Oh, you proud rulers of nations, take your own medicine: find out what it’s really like to be without a dime.” Why am I thinking about Trump and his scant interest in medicare or Putin’s rockets blasting apart the dwellings of thousands of Ukrainians who have nothing much to protects them from the rockets?

Here are a few more lines from “King Lear.” I found them (and the commentary) on the Internet.

“…ever since thou madest thy
daughters thy mothers: for when thou gavest them
the rod, and put’st down thine own breeches,” (1.4.15)
Lear’s fool is explaining to him how bad of a mistake it was for him to divide his Kingdom between his daughters. He tells Lear that now his daughters have turned into his mother who can spank him whenever they please. By giving up his Kingdom he gave up all his power to his two evil daughters.

“As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ Gods;
They kill us for their sport.” (4,1,37-38) 
Gloucester states this quote when he is referring to his deceitful son Edmund. Similar to Gloucester, King Lear is used by his daughters for wealth and power. They are used as sport so their children will be satisfied. Edmund,Goneril,and Regan all use their fathers in order to gain wealth, and will not stop because they become more greedy as the play progresses. King Lear and Gloucester begin to realize they are only being used. 

Try going to Youtube and enter “King Lear”, Act One, scene one, and watch the opening of the play. You will hear the amazing statements of Goneril and Regan. It might whet your appetite for more.

I was going to write on my near death experience. Sorry, can’t do it. My computer is running out of juice and I want to post this before it does. I will tell you the story in my next blog.

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