Yesterday I opined that King Lear was all too relevant today, given how it shows chaos unleashed when social institutions are delegitimized. I forgot to mention, however, that the student who was exploring Shakespeare’s nihilistic vision (Trevor O’Connor) was examined different options for responding. Trevel was particularly drawn to Edgar. Trevor was particularly intrigued with the figure of Edgar.
Trevor prefers Edgar’s proactive response to Kent and Albany’s fatalism. By the end of the play, Kent and Albany appear ready to give up: Albany wants to hand his kingdom over to Kent and Edgar, and Kent wants to follow Lear into the grave (“My master calls me, I must not say no”).
I think Trevor is unnerved by how out of touch both men seem to be. Kent may be doggedly loyal to Lear but otherwise he is helpless. Meanwhile, although the stage is strewn with bodies, Albany laughably reassures everyone that justice will prevail. He sounds a bit like Republican Chairman Reince Priebus acting like everything is normal::
All friends shall taste
The wages of their virtue, and all foes
The cup of their deservings.
Shortly thereafter he abdicates. Trevor understandably wants a bit more spine.
He gets it in Edgar. Initially Edgar is caught off guard by his bastard brother’s plot against him and must flee for his life. He disguises himself as a madman and uses the occasion to survey the landscape. Eventually he supports his blind and penitent father and then challenges Edmund to a duel. By the end of the play, he’s the last man standing.
As I say, GOP moderates could take Edgar as a model. If they too feel unexpectedly driven out of their party by a usurper (yesterday I compared Trump to Edmund), they may well choose to lie low for a while. They may feel, like Gloucester, that Trump has gouged out their eyes, an image of emasculation. They may believe that
As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods.
They kill us for their sport.
If so, then Edgar provides them with some good lines with which they can articulate their depression, such as:
And worse I may be yet: the worst is not
So long as we can say ‘This is the worst.’
And, to console those whom Trump has mowed down:
What, in ill thoughts again? Men must endure
Their going hence, even as their coming hither;
Ripeness is all: come on.
But then–maybe after the convention, maybe after a Trump defeat–they can imagine riding heroically back to reclaim their party. Here’s Edgar challenging Edmund to mortal combat:
Maugre thy strength, youth, place, and eminence,
Despite thy victor sword and fire-new fortune,
Thy valor and thy heart, thou art a traitor;
False to thy gods, thy brother, and thy father;
Conspirant ‘gainst this high-illustrious prince;
And, from the extremest upward of thy head
To the descent and dust below thy foot,
A most toad-spotted traitor. Say thou ‘No,’
This sword, this arm, and my best spirits, are bent
To prove upon thy heart, whereto I speak,
When Edgar triumphs, he tells Edmund that “the gods are just,” and the dying Edmund acknowledges that Edgar “hast spoken right” and that “the wheel is come full circle.” Edgar is the logical choice to reunite the three kingdoms and restore order. He is in the tradition of Fortinbras, Macduff, and Augustus, the figure at the end of Shakespeare tragedies who comes in and picks up the pieces.
In other words, if the GOP is on the verge of saying, “This is the worst,” then there is nowhere to go after that but up.