Thursday, May 21, 2009

King Lear Assignment - Nothing

*This is also a first draft on my ideas about 'Nothing' in King Lear. After class today, I'd like to revise a couple of ideas. Also, in class, there was an interesting question brought up that I'll address later: Why is it that the 'mad' men of this play are the only ones who speak the straightforward truth and reason? At one point, Tom of Bedlam is considered a philosopher by King Lear (who goes crazy, but that's part of the point, and I'll explain later).

Follow the metaphor of “Nothing” in the play. What comes of nothing that begins this play? How does it affect the development of one of the major themes within the play: madness, blindness, epideictic language of praise, authority, or identity?

            In the early Young Man sonnets, Shakespeare writes purely epideictic and praises his love object, to the point of idealizing and turning a blind eye towards any flaws love object may contain. As Shakespeare writes more sonnets, there is a progression from the idealized and flowery language of the early Young Man, into the more honest and brutal language of the Dark Lady sonnets. The turning point is in Sonnet 130—“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”—when Shakespeare has abandoned the purely epideictic language of praise, in exchange for a more honest approach. Shakespeare also begins to appear in his own work, as the subjectivity of the poet is included in these later sonnets. This is illustrated in Sonnet 130, because the quality of confessing and revealing the true appearance of his love object, Shakespeare is also revealing his non-traditional, yet realistic relationship to the object—Gone are the platonic boundaries of Petrarchian love poetry.

            The development of epideictic language of praise in “King Lear” is expanded upon, but it is mostly criticized in this play. The main critique is that it is ultimately a flowery way of saying “Nothing”. In the play, King Lear wants to leave his kingdom to his daughters, but in exchange, he wants to be eulogized with epideictic language. Of his three daughters, two of them, Regan and Goneril, don’t really have love for King Lear, but they have no problem exclaiming such love for him:

Goneril:            “Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;

                        Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty.

                        Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare,

                        No less than life; with grace, health, beauty, honour” (1.1.53-56)

Here, Goneril speaks of a love that cannot be described by the normal senses, of a love that cannot be put into words—mainly because the love she has for her father doesn’t exist—her flowery language is thus a fancy way of saying nothing. As opposed to the way Cordelia describes her love for her father: “What shall Cordelia speak? Love and be silent.” (1.1.59) Perhaps Cordelia lacks a way with words, and clearly her tacit ways are some of the cause of the great tragedy in King Lear, but it is because Cordelia—whether she knows it or not—wants to prove a point to King Lear that he is foolish to want validation for a love that doesn’t exist. Only God can Present, to make something come from nothing – the problem of representation, being an imperfect form of presentation. King Lear performs blasphemy when he demands that something come out of nothing, as only God can create. He cannot demand that something materialize if it does not exist, the love of his daughters. Words don’t mean anything, and this is a lesson Lear must learn.

            He rejects Cordelia’s straightforward answer by saying “Nothing will come of nothing, speak again” (1.1.90), and this is true, but it is also false. It is true in that a declaration of love will NOT magically manifest itself when there was no love to begin with, i.e. the absent love of Regan, Goneril, and even Edmond in regards to Gloucester. It is false as well, and Cordelia needs to prove this to her father, that something can come from nothing, and that is in her attempt at teaching Lear a lesson, by giving him a non-answer—a denial—when he seeks validation/eulogy/epideictic language he expects from his daughters. Cordelia is proving that something can indeed stem from nothing, and this is tragedy and catharsis.

            Another aspect of the play that is developed is madness, as well as blindness. When Edgar becomes Tom o’ Bedlam, he loses his rational thought in exchange for nothingness—“Enforce their charity. ‘Poor Tuelygod, Poor Tom.’ That’s something yet, Edgar I nothing am.” (3.3.177). By claiming to have nothing, he is able to descend to the level of madness that King Lear embraces and Gloucester flirts with. Blindness is explored, when Gloucester is blind to the sincerity of Edgar, who joins him in poverty as Tom, and blind to the manipulation of his bastard son Edmond. It is only when Gloucester is literally and ironically blinded, that he does become ‘unblinded’ to the fact that his son Edmond has betrayed him, and that Edgar is the truly honorable one. 

Merchant of Venice - Rough Draft on Question #3

How is Shylock used as a scapegoat for the plot of this play? That is, how does Shylock allow for the comic end of this play?

            The play is centered around contracts, deals, bonds, agreements, legal matters. The problem here is that nobody wants to take responsibility for their actions. The solution is absolution through the law, selfishness prevails, being acquitted. The problem with the law is that it is not real justice—it is corruptible by man. The winner is he who has the quickest wit to see and make loopholes, a woman???

            Portia doesn’t want to reject her suitors, because she wants to remain polite, and so the test works out in her favor—She gets lucky and doesn’t have to reject anybody. Once her limits are gone, however, she gets to show how she is smarter than men! Without her father’s rules, she proves to be more capable of saving Antonio and out-witting Shylock.

            The test of a true Christian: virtue to be humble, to give all –“to hazard all he hath” (LEAD)—rather than pride, arrogance (SILVER), self-doubt, and giving in to desire (GOLD).

            Antonio and Bassanio don’t want to repay, or never planned on repaying Shylock. They end up getting off on a technicality. Bassanio takes advantage of Antonio’s love for him, and uses him to gain “fortune” to woo Portia in style.

            Shylock who is determined to hell that he will make them pay, that he will FINALLY get people to take responsibility for their actions backfires in his exploitation. He is guilty of trying to usurp God’s power, rather than to be a true Jew and to show faith in his endurance of grievances.

            Shylock is likened to THE DEVIL in this play

Shylock, who has made a seemingly concrete deal, is defeated by a loophole, a technicality. Read the fine print, basically.

Shylock who represents trying to exploit the law for revenge, or justice, taking advantage of the legal system of men to usurp God’s privilege of vengeance, is punished.

Shylock is the Debbie Downer. He is defeated by a technicality.


“If you repay me not on such a day,

In such a place, such sum or sums as are

Expressed in the condition, let the forfeit

Be nominated for an equal pound

Of your fair flesh to be cut off and taken

In what part of your body pleaseth me”

He was too caught up in vengeance, and his adherence to law (which is on his side) that his downfall was on a legal technicality. A loophole was the deux ex machina that allowed for such a villainous character to fall.

A woman has outsmarted the villain—a man. But only by claiming to be a Man.

A woman has command over the law, over he who had claimed authority and revenge over man. By attempting to usurp God’s privilege of vengeance, a woman has usurped man’s command over law and reason.

Christian’s blame Jews for the death of Jesus. Anti-Semitism is condoned, Shylock is a complete villain, save for pieces of humanity—3.1.49-55 “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions . . . ? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?”/ his ring for his wife—but is too enamored by revenge. It’s NOT greed!

Antonio is a symbol of all who have done Shylock wrong, as he is an Anti-Semite, he wants revenge on everybody. If Shylock succeeds, it sends a clear message to Christians.

A scapegoat – got off on a technicality, just like Portia’s suitors—she trusted in the rules, and all men who chose wrong, followed the rules:


“Besides, the lott’ry of my destiny

Bars me the right of voluntary choosing.

But if my father had not scanted me,

And hedged me by his wit to yield myself

His wife who wins me by that means I told you,

Yourself, renowned Prince, then stood as fair

As any comer I have looked on yet

For my affection.”



“Portia adieu. I have too grieved a heart

To take a tedious leave. Thus losers part.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

King Lear & Cordelia (In Progress)

*I'm not finished with my thoughts on this matter, but I wanted to get something out about this subject. I'll come back when I have more insight. 
  Is it better to try to please somebody and to compliment, to border on "lie", or is it better to remain honest, but run the risk of sounding insulting? The ultimate choice of Cordelia is much the same that Shakespeare made when writing his sonnets. At first, he wrote epideictic language to flatter and to idealize his love object in the poetry. Much like King Lear in the beginning of the play, he is "blinded". Later on he decides to be more honest, evident in Sonnet 130--"My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun"--at the risk of sounding insulting, but it reveals that he cares more, because he is more honest and he's done with lying.
          But in this story, it IS better to try to please somebody, rather than to be purely honest and tactless. If Cordelia's answer is seemingly the cause of the tragedy in King Lear, then the question is WHY????
"Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty
According to my bond, no more no less."

"You have begot me, bred me, love me.
I return those duties back as are right fit--
Obey you, love you, and most honour you. 
Why have my sisters husbands if they say
They love you all? Haply when I shall wed
That lord whose had must take my plight shal carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty.
Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters..."

Here, Edgar echoes Cordelia's conundrum:
"Yet better thus and known to be contemned
Than still contemned and flattered. To be worst,
The low'st and most dejected thing of fortune,
Stands still in esperance, lives not in fear."