Monday, November 19, 2018

Kingdom of imagination …

… 'King Lear,' Our Contemporary - Commentary. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Those commentators who argue that Shakespeare is best understood as a Christian artist find it hard to grapple with King Lear, whose “message” is more likely to strike today’s viewers as all but nihilistic. Yet it is in this very aspect that the play’s deepest appeal is to be found. For just as all of us fear that we will die with our minds occluded by senility, so are even the most steadfast of religious believers—Dr. Johnson among them—beset by periodic pangs of doubt. The genius of King Lear is that it stares down this doubt, even broaching the possibility that human life, far from being directed by what Shakespeare elsewhere calls “a divinity that shapes our ends,” is in fact entirely meaningless. As John Simon has written of Lear: “The point of Shakespeare’s work is not that everyone is equally dreary and culpable but, clearly, that some are deserving and even noble, while others are bad and even vicious, yet in the short run the bad may actually have a better time of it. An awe-inspiring vision, startling for its—or any—time.”

In the paper I wrote for my college Shakespeare course — for which I received an A+ — I argued that Lear was the most classical of Shakespeare's tragedies because it compressed into one play the whole range of the Greek dramatic trilogies, from tragic fall through suffering to redemption, which seems pretty Christian to me. Of course, I went to a Jesuit college. But I think I marshal my texts persuasively (the paper was a textual analysis). Obviously, my professor thought so.

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