It's fitting that the 200th poem on the Minstrels is by the greatest poet of all...
(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!
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 doubt. 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. thomas. 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 glorious. 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. [Glossary] Vaunt-couriers (line 5) - forerunners spill (line 8) - destroy germen (line 8) - germ, as in 'something that initiates development or serves as an origin'.