Metaphysical roots of the drama; Unaccommodated Man in King Lear
From Cincinnati we present the fifth in the 1968 series of six Frank L. Y O Institute lectures delivered at the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion. The lecture is Dr. Robert Bruce Dean Dean of the Yale School of Drama who is general topic is the metaphysical roots of the drama. These lectures are released through the University of Cincinnati station WG you see the title of this program is an accommodated man in King Lear. Here is Dr. Robert Greenstein. Can I do a play that will you tell me what. A player that has rarely achieved any monumental success in its stage presentations. But which is nevertheless. The opinion of a growing number of scholars and laymen. One of the greatest works of art ever created or produced.
In my opinion it may be the greatest work of art in any field literature of sculpture art or otherwise. Certainly it's the play of Shakespeare's that seems at the present time to sum up most completely. Our modern dilemmas. Plays like Hamlet. And the. And Othello are much less untidy as dramatic works. Much more easily producible but they still belong to what we might. For shorthand purposes call the romantic Shakespeare Shakespeare dear to the 19th century Shakespeare who believed in the sensually sound and hoarded world a world that suffered tragedy but that nevertheless. Could still be organized after the bodies had been piled on the stage. A world that could come back to itself.
That still managed to exist in some form or other. But King Lear seems to be a glimpse into some sort of monstrous. Pit. Some sort of monstrous abyss. The author Shakespeare is still trying. Almost vainly to affirm certain religious and humanist values. But he doesn't seem to believe in them very much. And the longer. What I'm really trying to say is that Lear is probably a great pagan play. It which deals with the universe that is ultimately frozen cold and friendless. A universe that gives us a sense. Very much of science fiction of planets whirling through space having lost their direction. Planets whirling around this second rate star which is our. Our own sun. Now the friendless environment of the play recalls the
world of Samuel Beckett. And modern commentators have certainly seen resemblance as the beginning to see this play through those for a long time. King Lear was a great favor the initial stage as you might know. And it was invariably approached to the great enjoyment of the audiences as a story of a man with ungrateful children brought them up and they don't come and visit him anymore. And you can see I think the response of the purely familial family aspects of this play they're strong and they're real and they're authentic. But lately we've begun to see the more metaphysical aspects of play. And there is now of course and now a famous essay by the author of Shakespeare our contemporary. A book which tries to make Shakespeare more immediate more relevant in a political and the philosophical way to modern audiences.
And in this book he writes an essay called King Lear or endgame where he does as it were interpret the play through the eyes of Samuel Beckett's. An essay that had a tremendous influence on Peter Brook in his recent production with the Royal Shakespeare Company of a King Lear that starred Paul Scofield and where we saw our play revolving around static almost prehistoric figures in combat like very kooky figures pushing each other to the earth. The costumes were made of primitive leather which looked as though they'd been worn for hundreds of years or burlap just falling apart on the bodies of the actors. And the setting was composed of three huge geometric sheets of metal. The ship during the storm scene. The battles took place as it were behind the scenes as glass to set on the stage dazed impotent paralyzed the very image of the paralysis that
the producers are overtaking the universe itself. So there is an understandable temptation on the part of modern producers to interpret this play as about impotent old man. Signalling through the flames. A play about waiting patiently. Ordeal a play about a friendless universe. But while the environment of the drama is undoubtedly barren. And stare aisle. The central figure of the play king Leo himself. Rescues it from total bleakness. There is to put it bluntly a great man at the center of this work. And because. This man functions as. Pivot as a solid rock around which all the other fragments revolve. The play remains still a humanist document though it's a
document that shows humanism in extremis almost at its last gasp. Coming to conclusions seeing its own as. The central figure prevents the author's sense of the complete monstrosity of this world from being unbearable to an audience of players unbearable enough Heaven knows. But the figure of the mad leader himself his presence. Somehow palliate and mitigates the awfulness of what Shakespeare is showing us. The universe of the plain fact makes us look around rather desperately for some form of redeeming action redeeming characters to make us feel better after we've had this. Awful experience which is getting there. Because in this play goodness flickers. Like a candle and is quickly snuffed out by evil and even worse than evil by accident. Because we're now in an almost fortuitous universe. The
characters are being persistently offered up as it were on the altar of a of a nature gone wild and nature gun mad nature out of control. Now it's ironic. That all of these mad enemies these malevolent. Doing. I set in motion by King Lear himself. The initial action of the play belongs to the central figure and the fact the first action of the play is Lears only action. After that he never acts again. He later claims as you remember to be a man more sinned against than sinning and this is perfectly true. He is not active enough to be a real sinner. He's only done one thing he's divided his kingdom. He's been a passive sufferer. But that initial division of the kingdom is what brings upon him all the cares of all those terrors of atrocities that are perpetrated in the course of this drama. He has decided as you know to slough off the cares of kingship
and to go bird rumors. To his grave to grow old to do the seemly thing for an old man and grow old gracefully. But it is the dividing of the kingdom the sloughing off a king of kingship that brings on all these and suing powers. King Lear has reigned all his life without opposition. He doesn't understand the will to power. He doesn't understand the lustful man that is going to destroy him and so many other characters in the play. Power has always come easily. He's in there and if you never have to fight for it he doesn't understand much at all in fact he's an extraordinarily innocent figure. And some of the characters in the play tell us he has grown old. Without ever having grown in my eyes he has and short no self knowledge have ever but slenderly known themselves as one of his daughters. In fact. Very soon when the his daughters
show their true colors there is own sense of identity disintegrates it's weakened he doesn't know who he is and it is a process of learning what it is and who he is that is to occupy him for the rest of the play. You notice how on certain ears there was identity even though this is ironic. It is a adequate indication of how uncertain his identity is that any here know me he says this is not clear. The real walk thus speak thus. Where are his eyes. I did his notion we can see his discerning XA lethargy waking is not so. Who is it that can tell me who I am. And the fool says liers shadow. Well all we have of him at this moment is a shadow and that shadow. Will link. But lose ignorance of his real identity is something that's common to all mankind.
All men all of us assume illusions. In order to avoid facing the horrors of reality. And it is the passing of these illusions the piercing of them to the reality which will be the progress of this play. Oh clearly as a king Lears illusions come with his job being a king means being protected from the truth. A common fact. He has never experienced the commonality of fact he has never experienced reality there's been something between him and reality for 80 years of his life. And filial in gratitude that he experiences from his two daughters and as he thinks from his third daughter in the very beginning. It is his first brush with the real world. It's the first time he is experiencing something that is not organized according to a set pattern of ceremonies. Now the polarities of this play. Which continually crop up on
the one hand ceremony on the other hand nature. And these are in conflict. One obscures the other. And the assumption of the play is that the more royal The personage. The more cut off ears from nature by Sara. And. Reed for ceremony flattery. The sugar tongue. Illusion itself. Lose development in the course of the play is from blindness to vision. Until at last he glimpses the true monstrous heart of nature. Now as soon as he envisions this this vision makes him worthy of being a tragic protagonist. At the beginning of the play he was unworthy of this role. He was one of the few Shakespearean characters who must prove themselves a hero in the course of the play they don't begin with a row of qualities.
They must create their heroic qualities as they go along. And he must become worthy of tragedy as the play proceeds. Because as you can see clear from the very beginning responds only to sorrow he responds only to the shock at the tongue he cannot see for example the plain speaking chord Delia is more loving than the flattering review and court Delia and Goneril Regan and Goneril tell him he's everything. Delia refuses to tell him anything more than what he is and he responds instinctually inevitably to outsides whatever they whatever form they may take which is to say he responds to ceremony rather than to make sure. That he's forced enough to think that he can still be a king without having a kingdom. He's foolish enough to give his kingdom away and think that he's still a king simply by maintaining the name of royalty. Now this is why his knights are so important.
His knights. His hundred knights are the symbols of his love of ceremony and they function for him like superfluous Raymond does for the ladies of the play off for hours while he is going to retain the outsides of kingship as embodied in these hundred men. I sell my monthly cause with reservation seven hundred nights by you to be a sustained show our abode make with you by DO terms. Only we still retain the name and all the additions to a king. The sway prevent execution of the rest beloved sons be yours which to confirm this current park to twixt you. Well as soon as it gives a crown away and says party between you immediately the audience will shuttle you know to divide crowds that start civil war and of course they will be immediately aware of his ignorance in thinking he can give
the crown away and still be a king by virtue of a hundred knights. Now the development of this play is the gradual stripping away of everything that surrounds Lear in the form of ceremony. It is a gradual stripping away of the accommodation and that word is very important in this play. These nights I call his accommodations they accommodate him. Because the stripping away of the accommodations represents a stripping away down to externals. Now I spoke of a conflict between art and nature as being the very essence of Stuart Brown the last time and the very essence of this play as well. The simple contrast of course in the course of the play is between CAN'T The Plaindealer blunt plain speech will not flatter. As Delia will not flatter she too was a Plain Dealer and I was balled the fuck out of the play. And. Kant's language as you remember it is rude indirect whereas I was was language
is. Full of circumlocution full of elaborate a language of Latinate words and phrases of flattery and sugar speaking and can't as how does two hours Rick does a parody of speech. Such smiling rogues as these he says talking about Oswald like rats off like the holy cards of Twain which are too intense to lose. Smoothe every passion that in the natures of their Lord rebel. Carmel says about this is some fellow having been praised the bluntness of the fact the source of the roughness and constrains the God from his nature he cannot flatter and honest man and plain he must speak truth and they will take it if not so plain. These kind of names I know which in this plane this harbor more craft and more corrupt Arends the twenty silly ducking observance the stretch their duties nicely. Now here's what Kant does his satire sir in good faith in sincere Verity under the allowance of
your great a specter whose influence like the wreath of radiant fire on flickering Phoebus front. What means this. What means by this as carnal threw out of my dialect which you just commend so much as can. I know sir I am no flatiron do in a plain accent was a plain knave which for my part I will not be. Though I should win your displeasure to entreat me to it. So here we have a very simple contract which is not unlike the contrast you have in earlier Shakespearean plays I said it's in Hamlet on a number of other plays besides. But Shakespeare has to get much more complicated about its contrast and plainness and nature as opposed to ceremony and the assumption of externals is to be seen in a much more elaborate and intricate way. Here then in any previous play. What Lear first learns is that losing the crown. Is losing the king. Goneril this card is impertinent to him. When he asks Who am I.
Asa ball says you are my lady's father. You're no longer a king. You're simply the father of the lady who now has power and whom I serve. And that along with the fool's constant painful jibing of King Lear I soon to make him wonder whether ceremony is intrinsic to his nature whether it comes naturally to him simply by being who he is. He will very quickly repent his error in regard to Delia early on the first that he already knows he's done wrong by. But even late in the play we still find him measuring less by those. Who will say most. We see him measuring love by the multiplication table. We see him measuring by quantities and outward shows as for example. Goneril wants to cut his nights down to 50. Reagan will cut them down to 25. For Goneril is superior to Reagan because she allows him more man. In fact she loves him twice as
much. I'll go with the by 50 yet the double five and twenty and thought twice her love. Well this is a man who hasn't learned yet. This is a man who still is functioning arithmetically rather than instinctually and did his famous reason not to need speech demonstrates his growing awareness. Of his own love superfluity his own love of externals his own need for something beyond the natural. The reason that the need. Basis thank you's are in the poorest thing superfluous. Nature Mother Nature needs a man's life as cheap as beasts. Thou art a lady. If only to go along with gorgeous by nature needs not with that gorgeous West which scarcely keeps the warm. But for true need and then he goes on to call the patients.
In other words. Nature doesn't need anything more than to keep you warm and yet you were good as Raymond. Which doesn't even keep you warm. So if you start questioning my need for a hundred nights I will start questioning your need for the kind of clothes you're wearing. And this is the beginning of a questioning which will go deeper and deeper to the point where you'll begin to wonder why men need speech why he needs clothes at all what he is beneath all of this superfluous Raymond. Now there's a fish story which is famous in the east in the West very closely related to lear of an emperor who went swimming. And he laid his clothes on the side of the lake and someone stole it. And he came out naked. And went back to his powers. And tried to enter but was kept out. Claimed he was the Emperor and was arrested.
For impersonating royalty. No one could recognize him because he where he wasn't wearing the clothes of an emperor. Indeed the Empire resided in the closed. Course is closely related to the story of the emperor's new clothes as well. Well this is what Lear is learning that his ship was in his clothes. It was not intrinsic in himself. And this starts him on a voyage of discovery where he will land that ceremony has not only blinded him to what made him a king. But blinded him to reality in the shape of justice. That there isn't justice in his own kingdom and he has taken no steps to put an end to that. Injustice. Poor naked wretches wheresoe'er you are he says the bide the pelting of this pitiless storm how sure your house was heads and unfed sides your looped and windowed Regulus the fan you are from season such as these.
Oh I've taken too little care of this. Take physic pump. Expose myself to feel what wretches feel. The Dharma shake the super flux to them and show the heavens. More just. Be like other wretches. Expose yourself to their suffering. And then the heavens might be more just. By your identification your royal identification. With Sarah. So if you were blind before he is gradually now developing the vision of a saint. Who sees all and suffers all. And by the end of the play he will count ceremony nothing a mere vanity. And a striving after wind. And that is the meaning of the speech. When he and I have been captured. By the opposing forces of God and Cornwall and Reagan and it doesn't bother him a whit. Because he has
learned for all time now that there is nothing for him in life but simply to be alone in the love of God Delia. Come let's away to prison. We two alone will sing like birds in the cage and the artist asked me blessing I leave it all down and ask of the forgiveness so will live and pray and sing and tell old tales and laugh the gilded butterflies and hear poor rogues talk of court mules and we'll talk with them too. Who loses and who wins. Who's in. Who's out and take upon us. The mystery of things as if we were gods spies and we all wear out in a walled prison packed Sensex of great one of great ones that and flung them all. It's all nonsense this court and you who's in who's out who's rising who's falling. We'll be God spies taking upon us the mystery of
things which is the knowledge that the pure as it were a monastic existence in each other's arms. It is more than anything you can gain at court through the will to power. But this makes us understand the importance of accommodations in the play. The word act Komodo which is played with in quite a different way and Shakespeare's As You Like It. Means to fit to put on. And by extension it means to wear. Now Leary must understand what I'm accommodated man the unfitted man the man without clothes really is. And here we see him seeing men not just with out nights. Man not just with his own accommodations these hundred men men not just without ceremony but men without clothing without language even without his five wits. And meeting port Tom who is as you know Edgar in the skies. Lear begins to
discover what he himself is what all mankind is underneath their trappings underneath their illusions of humanity. Leader has gone from the Powerless to the heart in the storm. He's got about as low as you can go. He's gone from the Sun from a sunny time to a stormy tide he's subject to the pelting rain. And now he must strip down to nothing before he can become something. Tom he sees as the thing itself. Man as man walked the earth and most primitive times men as the poor of their forked animal. Man as nature originally intended him before he began to assume the trappings. Of illusion. As men no more than this. Consider him well. Oh it's the worm no silk the beast no high the sheep no
wool cap no perf you. Here's three on a saw sophisticated now OP the thing itself on accommodated man is no more but such a forked animal as thou art off off human beings. COME ON button here. And he tears off his clothes tearing off his lending. Tearing off his accommodation. Tearing off anything that covers the thing itself. The poor bear forked animal which is that mad man in the corner who can't even speak. A straight. English sentence. Now. He is natural man. Previous story of mad. Real man. And. The very notion of nature is a very tricky one throughout the play. The word nature in fact or unnatural.
Is something that appears on almost every page of this play Shakespeare seems obsessed with the word and the word seems very central to the interpretation of the play. We've already seen Edmund the villain of the play look on nature as his goddess. And we must remember that this. This villain is the natural son of Gloucester. He is the Son by nature the illegitimate son of Gloucester. That's our nature art my goddess to sign or my services are bound. Wherefore should I stand in the pledge of custom and permit the curiosity of nations to deprive me. For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshine slag of a brother. Why Basta wherefore base when my dimensions are as well compact. My mind is generous and my shape is true as honest Madame's issue by brand the US with face with baseness bastid a base base who when the last is stealth of nature take more composition and
- Unaccommodated Man in King Lear
- Producing Organization
- University of Cincinnati
- WGUC (Radio station : Cincinnati, Ohio)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Producing Organization: University of Cincinnati
Producing Organization: WGUC (Radio station : Cincinnati, Ohio)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-44-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “Metaphysical roots of the drama; Unaccommodated Man in King Lear.” 1968-12-16. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 16, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-dj58hz76>.
- APA: Metaphysical roots of the drama; Unaccommodated Man in King Lear. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-dj58hz76