Saturday, April 23, 2011

Which character from William Shakespeare's plays has most dramatically or lastingly shaped your thinking and actions? Why?

Thanks to Laura for posting this thought-provoking question. Many thoughts flew through my mind...Hamlet...Juliet...Portia...Desdemona...Hero...Horatio...Ophelia...all of whom I've loved and thought about over the years. And when my mind, like a whirring slot machine, clicked into place, even I was surprised by what it settled on:

King Lear.

It's been years since I read Lear, but I read it intensely in both high school and college. Poor Lear, foolish Lear, foolhardy Lear, too-powerful-to-see-his-own-power-until-it's-too-late Lear, who gives up the love of a good, true daughter because the selfish, shallow daughters stoke the fires of his vanity, and because Cordelia stings his pride.

As I ponder this, I also realize that Lear is the tragedy of a parent, and so it speaks to me in the place I am in my life: the parent of two young children. Lear's children turn on him, and what parent doesn't fear that down to the core? And his own foolish, selfish actions cause him to permanently damage his relationship with the remaining child, the one who continues to love him against all reason.

That fine, scary balance of love, influence, and coercion that all parents walk...the eternal question of nature vs. nurture...and the unspeakable tragedy of the loss of a child, either through death or emotional distance--this is why Lear speaks to me, why I can't think of that poor, misguided, blind, blinded man without tears.


Rachel Cotterill said...

Lear is one play I don't know well. I assumed my answer would come from Hamlet but I'm not actually sure that I can pick out a single character...

Laurie said...

Hmmm. Surprising.

My first thought: Lear. I never would have pegged you for a Lear.

My second thought: There is zero chance that your extraordinary children will turn out like Regan and Goneril. Zero. Not gonna happen.

The first Lear I could actually relate to was Albert Finney's in The Dresser. Talk about weeping...

I see that I think of him more as he's played than on the page. Wonder why.

Thanks for this, and for making me reconsider a character who's not often at the top of my list, but perhaps should be.