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Purple Book Scene Commentary Notes

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Act 1 Scene 1

19/02/2015

-Shakespeare uses verse during Lear's entrance, engaged on ritual ceremonial abdication
-Love Test- doubtless symbol of Lear's vanity and contains an element of cruelty- he has already decided 'a third more opulent' should go to Cordelia
-Cordelia could have humoured her father, but she is honest and true unlike her materialistic sisters, which becomes clear through the imagery they use to describe their love for Lear- 'dearer', 'rich' 'rare'
-Just as Cordelia says the first 'nothing', Shakespeare introduces the idea of sight, in Goneril's claim that her father is 'dearer than eyesight'
-Regan introduces the words 'true' and 'sense'- which is ironicRegan is a creature of appetite, governed by her base senses
-Cordelia cannot say she loves her father all as she is on the brink of marriage, according 'to my bond', the normal love and honour accorded to parents
-Lear is bitterly disappointed, saying he intended to spend his last years with her- 'rest/On her kind nursery'- the imagery also suggests a 'second childhood', a premonition of what happens in the later acts
-Lears curse reveals the play is set in a pagan world 'Jupiter' 'Apollo'- Shakespeare does this in order to give himself greater freedom in dealing with controversial religious issues
-Kent is a model of plain speaking honesty. His farewell speech is in rhymed couplets, the formality ringing the importance of their choric function
-France's rhymed verse also has a choric function

-Shakespeare reverts to prose when Goneril and Regan are alone on stage. Goneril emerges as the dominant character- Regan for a moment merely agrees- The lack of filial affection prepares us for the rest of the play

Act 1 Scene 2:
-The 'Nature' that Edmund addresses is different to Lear's 'dear goddess'
-Jon Danby- argues that the evil characters regard nature as a mere justification for their unscrupulous impulses- Shakespeare's characters do tend to deride their influences from the stars (Cassius is told by Brutus the fault is not in the stars- Julius Caesar)
-However, nature merely exists, the good are not rewarded for believing in it as a just force, nor are the evil punished for seeing it as a conduit to channel their own impulses
-Edmunds soliloquy makes it clear he is determined to rise in this world- his love affairs will even become subordinate to his ambition
-Edmunds manipulation of Gloucester can become comic on stageIt is entirely Shakespeare's own and more contemporary than the main plot
-'If it be nothing I shall not need spectacles'- reminds us of the frequent imagery used with sight
-Dominant nature of Edmunds character is drummed home by the alliterative repetitions of 'd'- 'death' 'dearth', 'dissolutions', 'divisions'
-The story made up my Edmund about Edgar would not have been completely random to a Shakespearean audience- Michel de Montaigne in his Essays (1580)- 'A father overburdened with years… ought willingly to distribute'

Act 1 Scene 4:

-We are given a glimpse into Lear's allegedly wild nature- an active octogenarian, he is even now outhunting)- we are intrigued to see whether he will behave erratically upon his next appearance
-At this point, neither sister wants to kill their father- Unlike Edmund, who chooses his mode of behavious according to his free will, Goneril and Regan will gravitate slowly into a sort of depravity, which arguably becomes sicker than Edmunds Act 1 Scene 4:

1- Lear's employment of Kent shows both men at their best- Kent the personification of loyalty, determined to support Lear
-Equally Lear behaves with initial constraint in the face of provocation- 'I have perceived a most faint neglect of late'
-Physical violence of the play begin to develop, with Lear striking and Kent tipping Oswald over- it also the first overt denial of Lear's roal authority so far 2- The Fool in a sense acts as Cordelia's representative- he is the 'wise fool'- he expresses Lear's treatment of Cordelia in savage attacks, songs, doggerel rhymes and biting sarcasm
-His function is to hold up a metaphoric mirror to Lear's follies
-The critic Tolstoy states the fool simply leaves us 'listening to jokes which are not witty'- but he misses the subtlety of the fool
-The Fool also reminds Lear he has inverted the natural order -thou mad'st thy daughters thy mothers' and continues with savage animal imagery 'The hedge sparrow fed the cuckoo so long/That it's had it head bit off by it young'
-The Fool also introduces the idea of Lear's identity- which had Lear asking 'Who is it that can tell me who I am'

-'Lear's shadow' underlines how Lear is growing smaller and less significant
-Lear asks 'where are his eyes'- once again linking sight to moral blindness
-The Fool's comedy is darkly intellectual 3-Lear and Goneril's fight is sparked off by her treatment of the 'alllicensed fool'- Lear recognises the Fools freedom to criticise (the relationship mirroring the relationship of Henry VIII and Will Somers)
-Goneril's lack of sense of humour is a sign of her egotism and her attack on the behaviour of Lear's knights is delivered as a Puritan might deplor the behaviour of actors
-Lear's curse on Goneril is disturbing- 'Into her womb convey sterility'- perhaps her later treatment of Lear is due to the severity of his curse
-Tolstoy calls Lear's rage 'strange and unnatural'- In Lear's mind Goneril is an animal
-Lear's faculties- shown through the verse structure- are beginning to fragment
-Goneril scorns Albany's 'milky gentleness'- accusing him of being effeminate

Act 1 Scene 5:
-Shakespeare is fusing the two plots so that Gloucester and Lear's fates mirror eachothers

-The word 'mad' reverberates 3 times in two lines- grimly prophesising Lear's fate- audiences will now identify with Lear's situation and sympathise with his fear
-Impending civil war as a symbol of the breakdown in law, order and well-managed civilised relationships
-Edmund's address to Edgar is battered with a barrage of warnings, instructions, commands and questions. Bewildered, he only manages one sentence in a half-line
-His readiness to belief his illegitimate son is credulity beyond belief, his rashness mirrors Lear's behaviour in the main plot and so brings a pleasing artistic imagery to the play
-Medieval morality plays and quasi-religious belief that hypocrisy and lying are undetectable, made good characters believing evil ones a common stage convention
-'O madam, my old heart is cracked, it's cracked'- is a mournful lament and a reminder of the imagery of cracking, breaking and shattering, which infiltrates the entire play
-Painful irony in Edmunds description of Edgar as 'unnatural' and also in Cornwall's description of Edmund's 'child-like office', Gloucester also praises Edmund as his 'loyal and natural boy'- bitterly ironic Act 2 Scene 2:
-Kent's invective against Oswald is a serious dramatic momentmetaphorical and literal blow against the forces of darkness
-Oswald is bettered by a loyal man- old fashioned virtues under threat in this world of increasing madness and selfishness
-Cornwall's true nature emerges in supporting Oswald- Dark shades also emerge in Regan's character as she doubles Kent's punishment

-Gloucester has been coarse and gullible up until now, but here we warm to him through his sympathetic treatment of Kent and are heartened by his attempts to intercede with Cornwall
-Edgar's speech is frenetic and urgent- he is in a manhunt but also the audience see him for the first time on his own- acting rather than reacting
-His disguise as a mad beggar also gives scope for dramatic potentials later in the play- crazy prophecies, demented ravings etc.
-Introduction of unaccomodated man- Edgar is exposed and vulnerable- his disguised madness prepares us for Lear's genuine madness
-'Edgar I nothing am'- 'nothing' again but this time in relation to the destruction of self-image and old identity
-The Fools critique here begins to encompass the selfishness of humanity at large, he suggests children are kind to their parents only out of self-interest
-The Fool does not take his own advice, he chooses loyalty- showing scope to his character

-The scene prepares us for Lear's madness
-Dover, is established as a symbol of new hope and redemption
-The storm will show man battling the elements- there is something majestic in Lear's defiance

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