Posts Tagged ‘King Lear’
April 21, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
PEDICULARE, the lousie disease, that is when the bodie is pestred and full of lice and nits.
—Iohn Florio, A Worlde of Wordes, or Most Copious, and Exact Dictionarie in Italian and English
Think of the above as an indirect nod to Shakespeare’s birthday: living as he did in a particularly pestilential period of London’s history, the bard had reason to reference “the lousie disease” with some regularity. The plague of 1593 famously shuttered all of London’s theaters; ten thousand people died in this outbreak alone. Even in nonplague years, typhus was a major killer. And at the best of times, lice were a quotidian nuisance and a marker of hygiene.
Indeed, lice of various kinds come up in Titus Andronicus and King Lear, and that’s just for starters. The reason I am not quoting them is because most of these references are very lascivious and vile indeed. The only context in which Shakespeare uses lice is as an insult: always insulting someone’s cleanliness to sexual hygiene. (Which seems harsh in a time when vermin of all kinds must have been fairly rampant.) Surely not only slatterns and villains were prone to the pestilence! What about Thomas of Beckett, with his hair shirt running with lice? Shakespeare was most definitely a part of the problem.
And the shame and stigma in the modern classroom are alive and well, even in places well-fortified with antibiotics and running water. To wit: On a downtown subway platform, I heard one little girl in a Catholic school uniform—maybe six—turn to her friend and say, “Pinkie swear you’ve never had lice. Pinkie swear.” Duly sworn in, the two then walked down the platform and approached a third little girl, standing alone.
“Have you ever had lice?” they demanded sternly. The loner looked around in a panicked sort of way. “N-no... ” she said uncertainly.
“Will you pinkie swear?” demanded the ringleader.
I have! I wanted to tell her. It doesn’t make you dirty or weird, even if you happen to be sort of weird and lonely! And maybe dirty! Anyone can get it! And those nit combs and that horribly painful shampoo are punishment enough! And then one day you’ll just be a grown-up on the platform and no one will even check if you wash your hair! It will be okay!
And blessedly, then the train pulled in.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.
April 17, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Though thousands of tweeting bibliophiles would have you believe there’s no such thing as too many books, there may be, in fact, a book surfeit: “It’s hard not to feel that we are in an era of massive overproduction. Just when we were already overwhelmed with paper books, often setting them aside after only a few pages in anxious search of something more satisfying, along came the Internet and the e-book … The idea is hardly new. In the Dunciad, 1742, responding to what he already saw as a deafening chorus of incompetent poets, Alexander Pope spoke of ‘snows of paper’ providing space for the ever more widespread publication of the ‘uncreating word.’ ”
- Elizabeth Bishop and Thom Gunn were fast friends—“I’ve met some of the poets—and the only one I still really like is Thom Gunn,” she wrote in a letter to Robert Lowell—but their first meeting was inauspicious. “I answered the phone one day and there was a very nice man I didn’t know … who asked me to come and have drinks with him and Elizabeth Bishop,” Gunn wrote. “Elizabeth had just moved to San Francisco. So I went over and … Elizabeth was drunk out of her mind. We made polite conversation all evening while Elizabeth occasionally grunted out a monosyllable.”
- On “the syntax and scansion of insanity” in King Lear: “This horrible, tragic figure is built up from a series of syllables set on the page … his rage and sorrow change dramatically from the first act to the last. The character is the language, and what we see over the course of the play is the utter destruction of that character.”
- On the poet Nathaniel Mackey’s pursuit of “the long song,” an antidote to the age of brevity: “Mackey seeks moments that defy ordinary time. He admires jazz improvisers who stretch a song’s boundaries as they perform … He happily remembers a John Coltrane show that consisted of one long song … ‘The long song, whether in music or in poetry, increasingly appeals to me … it creates what I call fugitive time—time that really is a flight away from the ordinary, from quotidian time, profane time.’ ”
- Ariana Reines talks to a beautiful old woman. Ariana Reines goes through a Charles Bowden phase. Ariana Reines is afraid: “For a week I’ve been wondering, how will I write for The Poetry Foundation, I said I would write for The Poetry Foundation, & with all that I do write the thought of putting anything on the internet ever again still fills my mouth with ash. I’ve lost all desire to publish & even more, all desire to perform.”
July 4, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Edmund Wilson on the Fourth of July circa 1925: “The last random pops and shots of the Fourth—the effortful spluttering and chugging up a hill—the last wild ride with hilarious yells on its way back to New York. Then the long even silence of summer that stretches darkness from sun to sun.”
- And here’s a handbook for firework design from 1785. (Note: The Paris Review does not endorse the unsupervised construction or detonation of homemade pyrotechnical devices from any era, past or present—unless you’re reasonably sure you know what you’re doing, in which case, have at it.)
- Forget King Lear with people—that’s old-fashioned. What you want is King Lear with Sheep. “The actors are actually incapable of acting or even recognizing that something is expected of them.” (Because they’re sheep.)
- “Here’s the problem for someone trying to give Pride and Prejudice a contemporary twist … Jane and Lizzy Bennet are twenty-two and twenty years old, respectively. This means that, in the novel’s world, the two are pretty much teetering on the edge of spinsterhood. The whole twenty-three-year-old-spinster idea will not resonate, of course, with contemporary readers.”
- Is Moby-Dick something of a roman à clef?
May 9, 2014 | by The Paris Review
I don’t usually go in for collections of letters; it’s hard to imagine sitting down and reading one cover to cover. But I couldn’t resist picking up a volume of love letters between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, in large part because it’s titled The Animals. It sounded sweetly romantic, and it is. Isherwood, some thirty years older than Bachardy, is Dobbin, an old workhorse; Bachardy is Kitty. Though they discuss all manner of subjects in the body of the letters—dinners, friends, business, and art—they are topped and tailed (no pun intended) with joyful, intimate love: “I feel a need to tell Kitty today how dearly Dobbin loves him and how faithfully he waits and guards the stable until Kitty’s return. Dub has been quite off his feed since Kitty hasn’t been there to tempt him with morsels held by those pure paws.” Bachardy sometimes even includes cutouts of fluffy white kittens in his missives. Apart from the adorableness, there is, of course, other great stuff here: not least, Isherwood’s coining of the word psychofiesta. —Nicole Rudick
“You’re eighty-two years old. You’ve shrunk six centimeters, you only weigh forty-five kilos yet you’re still beautiful, graceful and desirable. We’ve lived together now for fifty-eight years and I love you more than ever. I once more feel a gnawing emptiness in the hollow of my chest that is only filled when your body is pressed next to mine.” That’s the beginning of philosopher André Gorz’s Letter to D, written to his dying wife. A year later, the couple took their own lives, together. The book itself is slim—as the friend who sent it to me wrote, you can read it on the crosstown bus—but it contains a fully realized true love story. —Sadie Stein
Nothing grates like a self-mythologizing coffee-table book, but in the case of the Jesus Lizard’s new tome—called, simply, The Jesus Lizard Book—you can forgive any aura of congratulation. These guys deserve to pat themselves on the back. One of the finest, most primal rock bands of the nineties, they drew a cult following in that they seemed to be, in fact, a cult, with David Yow the deranged high priest and David Wm. Sims his brooding voodoo-deacon. If the spectacular photography in The Jesus Lizard Book is to be believed, their shows resembled nothing more than that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where some poor dude has his still-beating heart removed in an elaborate ritual. (In the world of the Jesus Lizard, everyone is in the Black Sleep of Kali Ma.) Granted, Yow could be an oblique shock-jock—“I had a tendency to pull my balls out and hold them glistening up to the microphone,” he says—but at his best, he was as compelling a frontman and lyricist as anyone in music. In, say, “Karpis” (“Alvin’s feelin’ restless, cellblock H / A carton of smokes for ten minutes of pleasure”) his lyrics have a gritty economy, telling an unmistakably terrifying story without having to spell anything out. —Dan Piepenbring
While reading through an interview—blind item!—that’s running in our upcoming issue, I was led by a series of Google searches to a would-be epitaph written by Malcolm Lowry:
Late of the Bowery
His prose was flowery
And often glowery
He lived, nightly, and drank, daily,
And died playing the ukulele
The “Death by Misadventure” tag in his coroner’s report calls the ukulele bit into question (or does it?)—and Lowry’s actual tombstone, it turns out, isn’t quite so literarily engraved—but the verse did remind me of another of my favorite would-be epitaphs, that of W. C. Fields. When asked by Vanity Fair, in 1925, to contribute to a piece called, fittingly, “A Group of Artists Write Their Own Epitaphs,” he came up with this, a riff on his running (and playful) disdain for the City of Brotherly Love: “Here lies W. C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia.” —Stephen Hiltner
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February 6, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Last night I saw Angus Jackson’s King Lear, now at BAM, with a spry, sturdy Frank Langella in the title role. Langella was astonishing—he does high dudgeon, he does piss and vinegar, he does grief, perplexity, and weariness. His rimy, bellowing voice belies a surprising range, especially in the later acts. Lear dodders around, benighted, mad, machinating and fulminating to no one.
I haven’t read Lear in a while, and I’d forgotten that it has some tremendous insults in it—as befits a play about a graying, cantankerous head of state. I have a thing for archaic insults. They carry all the rancor of their modern-day counterparts, and with the added advantage of unfamiliarity—you called me what? The result is pure, clean-burning rage. It’s not unlike seeing someone mouth off in a country where you don’t speak the language.
Shakespeare, being Shakespeare, really knows how to deliver a good tongue-lashing—the theater has always been an ideal venue to see people go off on one another, and accordingly his plays are zested with putdowns. These are, I think, great fun to try on your friends. (And then, later, once you’ve mastered them, on your enemies.) Read More »
July 11, 2013 | by Tara Clancy
Squatting behind a bookshelf with a stolen cup of coffee, I tilted my head like a dog at a shadow. Ear to shoulder, eyebrow raised, I mouthed the title of a book I’d never seen before.
Huh. Must be some Knights of the Round Table type-a-thing, I figured.
Typically, when I cut classes, I was stealing away for a smoke, not Shakespeare. At sixteen, I was already a pack-a-day smoker. My brand was Marlboro Menthol, as opposed to Newport, that likely being the subconscious way Queens white girls differentiated themselves from Queens black girls—a thought I had much later in life. But on this day my caffeine addiction must have trumped my nicotine addiction, because I skipped the smoke, took a cup of coffee from the teacher’s lounge, and hid in an empty classroom to drink it.
Straightaway I pulled the book from the shelf and split it in half, a gesture that tells me now I was not looking to read it, but to perform an autopsy. Maybe there would be pictures, or some chivalric bit of nonsense to help me pass the time. But there on the page was line after line of language as beautiful as it was bizarre, and I was mesmerized. I threw myself back, falling from my feet to my haunches, crossed my legs on the cold linoleum and turned to the beginning. Act 1. Scene 1. I had never read a book on my own. But I kept on, in a fury, cutting one class after the next after the next, until I was done. Read More »