SYMPHONIC STRUCTURE IS IMAGERY
Imagery is subtext. Through these Shakespeare is establishing relationships and character. They come to crescendo in mad scene.
First premise: This is an order over the universe -- a core. To violate that law and disrupt it brings about catastrophe. The job now is to make the audience sense that order. The faith in this order is drifting today.
Nature has a normal functioning. In nature theme is justice, kindness, gratitude, and love. Life resolves itself into alternatives. Lear’s error lets room for Edmund’s people and his drives. Man is also animal, outside of order.
Age has certain prerogatives. In Edmund’s world, age is obsolete -- it’s to be used for profit -- lust -- unnatural, bestial. Ingratitude is a violation of nature’s order. It’s not a small thing -- this is expressed in images (hideous animal images). Only Lear’s last “We will sing like birds” is a pleasant one. Dog-images equal domestic chaos. Goneril and Reagan are almost pure animals -- finally serpents. Lear is animal with his rags and passion.
Sex images are many -- they’re used to show the descent of man into bestiality -- yielding to animal appetites. Lust image end of Act III. they’re prevalent and meaningful. They show violation of man’s order. Sisters know only lust not love.
Images of smell are in very frank language. Point these! These symbolize stench of corruption: “civet,” “hand smells of mortality,” “smell way to Dover.” They form a theme that runs through the play. Learn to play with that theme.
Whole play is about sight and insight. Blinding theme can be pure melodrama unless we build this entire sight theme. It’s ironic that the mad Lear becomes poet. Madmen know more, see more and sense more than regular people. Edmund is blind to moral values. Man’s way of looking at the world is important. (How shall world be understood without seeing Edmond and Edgar. We don’t see. Lear should have seen. Cordelia should have seen more than she does.)
Clothes images are tied up with problems of identity. Pattern of identity: “Do you know me?” Irony is Gloucester’s death when he finally knows Edgar. Physical disguises of Edgar serve. Psychological disguises are used by Edmund. Therefore the audience must see behind the lines that appearances rule the world. Irony -- why should better natures have to be disguised?
Lear keeps asking “what is reality?” In order to find it, he must part from it, and enter into madness. Nakedness is a defense. He deprives himself to gain something. Nakedness is key to understanding. In Act I he takes off a crown, Act II bareheaded, Act III wears a mock-crown.
Edgar’s change in dress mirrors his changes, end in kingship. Pray you undo this button.” At height of madness -- “Pull off my boots!” (This is again why we must use props all the way through rehearsals.) Kent says to Oswald “a tailor made thee!”
Images of age -- stress on age is one of ways of emphasizing violence of age. Symbol of order -- the way things ought to be. Play is clash of old versus new. Edmund, Regan have contempt for age, no sense of moral responsibility to it. They think only of its effect on them. This theme comes to climax “these white hairs had challenged pit” (Cordelia over body).
Justice theme -- reason in madness is part of structural theme. Lear is official dispenser of justice. Albany respects it. To Cornwall it is a formality. Trail-scene in hovel brings this theme to a crescendo.
Prayer theme -- at first prayers of revenge and wind up with a kneeling at Cordelia’s feet. Thunder is supernatural, super-rational, supernatural. It’s part of Chaos -- yet part of order in Lear’s world. It presents us with alternatives. In storm as in any conflict you shed exterior and show littleness. It’s in the storm that Lear begins his rehabilitation. On heath it’s only Lear that measures himself with thunder. It is an agent to annihilate a corrupt world. This rumble is one of the reasons why the play is hard to produce.
SPEAKING OF VERSE:
Sound is more important than the literal words. Learn to be aware of vowels (long, hiss, whisper). Second syllable stress. Caesura in middle. The word that ends the iambic line is important. Shakespeare finds value in using the word with s special significance at the end of lines. even the prose has an elevation that the other plays (i.e. the nurse in “Romeo and Juliet”) doesn’t have.