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Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks -- William Shakespeare

It's fitting that the 200th poem on the Minstrels is by the greatest poet of
(Poem #200) Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's moulds, and germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!

[ FOOL:  O nuncle, court holy-water in a dry house is better than this
rain-water out o' door. Good nuncle, in, and ask thy daughters' blessing: here's
a night pities neither wise man nor fool. ]

Rumble thy bellyful! Spit, fire! Spout, rain!
Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters:
I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness;
I never gave you kingdom, call'd you children,
You owe me no subscription: then let fall
Your horrible pleasure: here I stand, your slave,
A poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man:
But yet I call you servile ministers,
That have with two pernicious daughters join'd
Your high engender'd battles 'gainst a head
So old and white as this. O! O! 'tis foul!
-- William Shakespeare
from 'King Lear'.

Othello might be a better play than Lear - tighter in its orchestration, more
clever in its construction, more intricate in its plotting. Hamlet is certainly
a better study of character - deep and insightful, each player's thoughts and
actions depicted to a nicety. Macbeth is more dramatic; the action soars and
plummets, the all-too-human characters move against a violently supernatural
backdrop. The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream are more lyrical, more
shimmeringly beautiful.

Indeed, compared with each of these, King Lear seems to be a failure - a mess of
contradictions, a rambling, incoherent narrative; powerful, perhaps, but not a
little bit disturbing; harsh, even wantonly cruel at times...

And yet...

If I had to choose Shakespeare's supreme creation, it would be Lear. Without a

When I think of King Lear, I think of it not as a play, but as something far
greater. Lear has a stark, epic grandeur that transcends the boundaries of the
playwright's craft, a raw power that demands it be placed upon the same pedestal
as the roof of the Sistine Chapel, or Mozart's final requiem mass - works that
seem, somehow, to be beyond the pale of ordinary judgement or classification:
exaltations of the human spirit, explorations of the human soul.

What stage could possibly do justice to a production of Lear? The storm
sequence, where the aged and forsaken King hurls his defiance at the world - ah,
what actor would be foolhardy enough to essay the role? The final scene, where
Lear, blind and half-mad with grief, dies with Cordelia's lifeless body in his
arms - what director could ever hope to capture the pity, the sheer pity of it?
Nay, the truth is this: Lear's proper place is in the realms of the imagination,
in the towering heights and endless depths of the mind. Look at it that way, and
the truth is apparent: King Lear may not be as 'good' a play as some others, but
it's certainly the greatest of them all.


PS. In previous mails I've talked about Shakespeare's lyricism, his dramatic
skill, his philosophical genius and his insight into character. This, though, is
where he puts it all together. And ooh, it sends shivers down my spine. Simply

PPS. Many of the ideas expressed in today's critical essay were rather
shamelessly filched from A. C. Bradley's definitive collection of essays,
'Shakespearean Tragedy', which I had the enormous good fortune to read in high
school. A highly recommended book.


Vaunt-couriers (line 5) - forerunners
spill (line 8) - destroy
germen (line 8) - germ, as in 'something that initiates development or serves as
an origin'.

66 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Rafaela Sartori said...

Hi Thomas,

I was thinking about King Lear last night, before
sleeping, on the bad, and it was a surprise for me
finding it here, this morning.

About king Lear, and the other Shakespearean
tragedies I've read, I could note such a fatalism
(the "fatum" or inexorability of destiny) that I
could only find in the old Greek tragedies. The
diference is in the cause: while, with the Greeks, the
cause was external (the humans had no fault but
suffered because the *destiny* - e.g: King Edipus),
with Shakespeare the characters did their faults and
suffered for it until the end of their lifes.

In the King Lear, the fatal mistakes are Lear's
complacence and Cordelia's "not acceptance" of her
father's complacence. I blame Cordelia for
that happened, because she was so honest but didn't
know that respecting her father's problems and
taking in account his good qualities was necessary.
She hurt her father so much with her honesty, while
she had her entire life to proove to her father that
he was wrong on believing more in words than in

If I am right telling this, then I think King Lear
is not a bit less beautiful and complicated than
other tragedies like Hamlet. In King Lear,
shows how so much honesty and rectitude can provoke
bad things, like in Hamlet he showed a man that lost
much time thinking of the death of his father and
condition of his mother, lost all his happiness and
hopes, and when he wakes up, it's too late: the
death is clearly his next step.

Please don't note all my mistakes with the English
neither my humble opinion. If you could give more of
yours, I would be glad.

Rafaela Sartori

Adam Seddon said...

[Subject] Shakespeare and the limits of human decency

Dear Sir,

Please immediately cease putting your moronic
blandishments on the internet - they make me want to
weep. The combination of intellectual arrogance,
poverty of expression and banality of thought make me
wish that your mother had had her 'organs of increase'
dried up before inflicting you upon an unready world.
It pains me to hear your 'thoughts' on the closest
thing we have to a secular God, and if you have any
sense of decency you will stop this enterprise
immediately. Oh, and if you EVER call a Shakespeare
play, character, or line 'shimmeringly beautiful'
again i'll...i'll...well just DON'T.


Adam Seddon
someone who has thought about Shakespeare rather than
regurgitated the blurb from a simplified version for
nursery children.

itsmebev said...

Lear's storm both heard and read reveals to us that language in all forms
but speech imbued with truth of our origins is only ontological machinery.
When a poet writes, the creation is only half done until it is heard.
Whether it rattles the air or echoes in our thoughts the creative force of
language moves the heart with sound. An utterance is a string words
gathering a spell; an event leaving in its wake the ruins of fate. Like a
flirtatious glance looses its mystery in this sentence, science knows that
what we bring to understanding is distorted by it. Understanding is exactly
that. Like a rabbit becoming game a hunter presents his wife for their
mutual nourishment, knowledge like a sail stretched for duty is useful but
the wind filling it is no longer wind. It is as if language flaunts on a
page Lear's storm so that if we ever hear its sound we at that moment in
that space share a thing that later reports of it are at their eloquent best
only epitaphs. Knowledge and utterance distinguish themselves in the record
of what both Cain and Abel brought as offerings. And knowledge does to
intent of speech what Cain did to his brother. And the answer to Cain is
"no, you are not nor could you be your brother's keeper".

Don Anderson

783 Whiteoak Cr

Kingston, Ontario K7P 1L6


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