BookRags Literature Study Guide Lear by Edward Bond Copyright Information



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Act 1, Scenes 2, 3 and 4

Act 1, Scenes 2, 3 and 4 Summary

These three scenes define the battle for control of Lear's kingdom within the context of an exploration of the characters of the bloodthirsty Bodice and Fontanelle.

Scene 2 - As a parade of soldiers passes and as Lear salutes them, Warrington attempts to get him to abandon his war with Bodice and Fontanelle, saying he's an old man and could always ask to live in peace in the country. Lear refuses, saying his daughters can't be trusted. Warrington then reveals that Bodice and Fontanelle have each independently asked him (Warrington) to betray Lear, each offering him financial and military and sexual rewards if he does. Lear comments that they live in a fantasy world, and then tells Warrington that if he (Lear) is killed, he (Warrington) must finish the wall. Warrington tells him there's no chance he will be defeated.

Scene 3 - Bodice, Fontanelle, Cornwall, and North hold a council of war. Bodice knits busily as they discuss how Lear will attack and how to respond. Meanwhile, Fontanelle and Bodice each speak in independent, parallel asides of how sexually, physically, and militarily feeble their husbands are. Each also refers to her plans to lure Warrington to her camp, militarily crush the other sister, and rule the entire kingdom on her own. Cornwall and North finish their conversation, and each takes his wife to bed. As they go, Bodice and Fontanelle again each speak in aside of their disgust with their husbands.

Scene 4 - Bodice, Fontanelle, Cornwall, and North arrive on the field of battle after the first skirmish has concluded. Bodice and Fontanelle react with frustrated anger when they learn that Lear has escaped, and then react with caution when they learn that Warrington has been captured. Again, they each speak in parallel asides, each revealing her awareness that the other sister can't be trusted, and each referring to her fear of being betrayed by Warrington. As Fontanelle reveals to the others that she had Warrington's tongue cut out, North and Cornwall go out to thank their armies, and Bodice orders a group of soldiers to bring Warrington to her. She knits as Warrington is brought in, the soldiers argue about the best way to kill him, and Fontanelle shouts at them to get on with it, becoming more and more deranged at each increasingly violent thought she voices. She and the soldiers beat Warrington as Bodice calmly continues knitting, but then she too joins in the violence, sticking her knitting needles in Warrington's ears.

Fontanelle wants to torture him further, but Bodice decides that he's to be released into the public as a warning to the people of what can and will happen if they support Lear. She and Fontanelle taunt each other, and then go out to see what their husbands are up to. The soldiers take Warrington out, with one of them commenting that if things had gone another way their situations could have been reversed, and adds that Warrington will live if he wants to.

Act 1, Scenes 2, 3 and 4 Analysis

In terms of the parallels between Shakespeare's Lear and Bond's Lear, the two sisters in both plays are equally devious, equally hungry for both power and good sex, and equally ruthless when it comes to their treatment of Lear's allies. Also in both plays, one of the sisters is more bloodthirsty than the other - in Shakespeare's Lear, it's Regan, and in Bond's Lear, it's Fontanelle. There are also similarities between the two plays in the power games and manipulations entered into by the two sisters and their husbands, and in the character of Warrington, who embodies traits of two characters from Shakespeare's Lear: the loyal advisors Gloucester and Kent. He gives Bond's Lear the best advice he can, in the way Gloucester and Kent do, and is ignored in the same way as they are. Finally, the torture Warrington endures at the hands of Bodice and Fontanelle has clear echoes of the torture Gloucester endures at the hands of Lear's daughter Regan and her husband. Meanwhile, a significant difference between the two plays is that an important sub-plot in Shakespeare's Lear involving the rivalry of Gloucester's two sons has no parallel in Bond's Lear.

In terms of the play's exploration of violence, it manifests in several ways in these three scenes. Most obvious is the previously referenced torture endured by Warrington. Other manifestations include the sexual/emotional violence Bodice and Fontanelle do to their husbands and Lear's respectful celebration of his troops (who are, after all, marching off to engage in the violence of war).

The play's most important symbol, the wall, is mentioned in passing only once, as Lear exhorts Warrington to ensure that the wall is built. This represents the way Lear is still determined to run his kingdom his way, to allow no perspective but his own to affect his judgment. The fact that two scenes later Warrington is rendered completely incapable of fulfilling Lear's orders, combined with the fact that Bodice and Fontanelle are determined to destroy their father, suggests that on some level Lear was right - sometimes walls are necessary for protection. On a deeper level, however, the story of the play, which is, after all, that of Lear's redemption, suggests that sometimes the pain and confusion associated with the breakdown of false conceptions (like Lear's about the love of his daughters and his own infallibility) is necessary to experience if it leads to redemption, openness, and spiritual freedom.

The asides spoken by Bodice and Fontanelle are examples of a common theatrical device in which the inner thoughts, feelings, and considerations of characters are revealed to an audience. The difference between an aside and a soliloquy, which performs a similar function (and which also is used in this play), is that asides are used when there are other characters onstage with the character speaking who do not hear what the character making the aside is saying. Soliloquies are spoken when a character is alone onstage. Asides are most often used as they are here, to convey a sense of irony - that characters in scenes with speakers of asides have no idea what those speakers are planning.

There is a subtle piece of foreshadowing here, when Bodice talks about using Warrington as a warning to members of the public who support Lear. Later in the play, when Lear has become something of a prophet, the leaders of the army that freed the country from the corruptive influence of Bodice and Fontanelle punish Lear's "disciples" as a warning to both Lear and his supporters as a warning of what will happen if Lear continues to teach and his followers continue to support him.
Act 1, Scenes 5 and 6

Act 1, Scenes 5 and 6 Summary

These scenes tell of Lear's flight from the field of battle and from his daughters, and of the sanctuary he finds at a farmhouse.

Scene 5 - Lear, wandering through the forest, discovers a dropped piece of bread and devours it hungrily. As he eats, Warrington appears and stealthily sneaks up on him as Lear muses aloud on how his daughters are torturing him. Warrington sees someone coming and runs off. The Gravedigger's Son comes, carrying bread and water. He explains, after being questioned by Lear, that it's for a wild man roaming the forest. Lear offers to buy it, but the Son says he can have it for free, and then offers to take Lear home with him. Lear asks whether the Son has any daughters, the Son says no, and Lear accepts the offer.

Scene 6 - As he guides Lear through the forest and as they arrive at his farm, the Son explains how he came to settle there. He refers specifically to having discovered water and dug a well, which he offers to show Lear. Meanwhile, when the Son's Wife brings soup, she sits down with Lear and the Son, and they eat. Lear mutters what sounds like poetic nonsense to himself, and the Wife looks at him curiously. Meanwhile, the Son offers Lear a place to stay. He refuses initially, again speaking in what sounds like nonsense, but then goes into the house with the Son.

A moment later Warrington, who has evidently been watching, appears. He ducks into the shadows as the Wife comes out, but she sees him and tries to chase him away. She runs into the house for a weapon, he hides in the well, she comes back out and finds him gone, and then sits and weeps. The Son comes in, followed by Lear. The Wife cries out that the "wild man" he went looking for (Scene 5) has come. The Son calms her, and then lies down to sleep beside her. Lear also lies down, apart from the other two, and after again speaking in strange, poetic language, falls asleep.

The Wife cries again and the Son attempts to comfort her but the Wife tells him she's afraid because he's always bringing strangers home, and comments that she saw blood on Lear's hand. The Son, who seems to have lost patience with her, tells her to go to sleep for the child's sake - apparently, the Wife is pregnant. The Son, the Wife, and Lear all sleep. Warrington emerges from the well and jumps on Lear, who shouts. The Son wakes up and chases Warrington off. Lear calls him a ghost, becoming upset almost to the point of hysteria. The Son and the Wife take him into the house as he insists that the appearance of the ghost means he's going to die.

Act 1, Scenes 5 and 6 Analysis

Parallels between the action of these scenes and the action of similar scenes in Shakespeare's Lear are quite basic - in both plays, Lear flees the war being waged on him by his daughters and takes refuge in a farmhouse. Also in both plays, his mind becomes increasingly unhinged and he takes psychic refuge from reality in poetically voiced imaginative flights of fantasy.

The main difference between the two plays is the transformation of Warrington. In his pursuit and turning on Lear, he becomes unlike the characters of Gloucester and Kent in Shakespeare's Lear. Here he manifests as a symbolic embodiment of Lear's self-righteousness and close-mindedness, which nearly destroys Lear in the same way as Warrington does. It's important to note here that Warrington has himself been essentially destroyed by the self-righteousness of Lear's daughters, an aspect to the play that can be seen as one of its secondary themes - self-righteousness is ultimately self-injurious. Meanwhile, Warrington's attack on Lear is the only notable manifestation of violence in this section, the more general gentle lyricism of which serves as an effectively contrasting counterpoint to the violence of the scenes before and after it, and of the play as a whole. Finally, the appearances of the Son and the Wife here foreshadow the important parallels to characters in Shakespeare's Lear that they eventually become, a process that begins in the following scene.

In terms of the wall and its symbolic meaning, there is no literal reference to the wall in this section. What there is, however, is a thematically relevant illumination of what can happen when walls between people break down. Specifically, the immediate openness of the relationship between Lear and the Son, the easy and open intimacy between the Son and the Wife, and the Wife's burgeoning acceptance of Lear are all examples of the safety and trust possible when walls of suspicion and fear are transcended.
Act 1, Scene 7

Act 1, Scene 7 Summary

Scene 7 - The following day, the Son and the Wife are discussing the situation with Lear when a Carpenter appears with a cradle. The Son goes out to see to his pigs. The Carpenter asks the Wife whether there are any odd jobs to be done, and the Wife tells him a door needs repairing. As they make small talk, Lear appears and almost sits on the cradle. The Son returns and greets him. The Carpenter goes out to fix the door, the Wife goes into the house with the cradle, and the Son tells Lear not to worry, the Carpenter is always hanging around because he's in love with the Wife. Lear expresses his gratitude for how well the Son has treated him, speaking more coherently and wondering aloud where he's to go next. The Son offers him a place to stay, and after expressing a few doubts, Lear reveals his belief that he'll be happy there and accepts. The Son assures him the soldiers are too busy looking for the king to worry about him, says the wall is being pulled down, and tells angrily graphic stories of what life as a laborer on the wall was like. He then changes the subject, assuring Lear that the Wife will warm up to him eventually. He explains that she's afraid that their life will be disrupted by the strangers he keeps welcoming, and so wants to put a fence "round us and shut everyone else out."

The Wife appears and strings a clothesline as Lear recalls a dream he had of a giant fountain emptied by a storm to reveal a desert within which a king found a helmet and a sword. The Son comments that a clown told that story of the fair. The Wife comes out to finish her washing, but says the well water is dirty (this can be understood to be the result of Warrington having been in the well). The Boy climbs down to clean the well. Lear helps the wife hang her freshly washed sheets on the clothesline, saying the Son has offered him a place to stay. The Wife doesn't like the idea, she and Lear argue, and he compares her to his daughters.

As the argument continues, a squad of soldiers comes in. Two of them go into the house and search it while others watch Lear and the Wife, who try to leave but are restrained. The soldiers come out of the house, saying it's empty. The Wife tells them the man they're looking for is gone, one of the soldiers comments that no man would leave a lovely little woman like her on her own, and another reveals that they're looking for the Son. At that moment, the Son cries out from the well that Warrington's body is there, his neck apparently having been broken when he jumped in. As two soldiers take the Wife behind the sheets, other soldiers haul the Son and Warrington's body to the surface. The Son realizes that the Wife is being raped and calls out her name - Cordelia. He tries to rescue her but the soldiers shoot him and drop his body into the well, as well as Warrington's. Meanwhile, one soldier takes the Wife (Cordelia) into the house to finish what he started. Lear shouts out that since the soldiers have destroyed the people who live there the soldiers should also destroy the house - his daughters would expect it! Two soldiers take Lear out. The last remaining soldier comments ironically that now he's got something to put into a letter to his mother. The Carpenter returns, armed with a chisel. He kills the soldier, takes his gun, goes into the house, and fires three shots.

Act 1, Scene 7 Analysis

The most significant parallel in this scene between Bond's Lear and Shakespeare's Lear is the character of Cordelia. This is the name of Shakespeare's Lear's third and youngest daughter - the loving one, the honest one, and the only member of the family with any integrity. In King Lear Cordelia struggles to rescue her father and his kingdom - in short, she fights for what she believes to be morally and spiritually right. The Cordelia in this play, as the result of crimes perpetrated upon her and upon her home in this scene, fights the same fight. This is the most obvious similarity between the two characters, but there is another, perhaps less obvious one. In Shakespeare's Lear, an officer of the army, determined to overthrow her father, murders Cordelia. In Bond's Lear, Cordelia survives the attack on her in this scene and eventually becomes the leader of the rebellion against the forces of Bodice and Fontanelle. She eventually defeats those forces, but as the play reveals, ultimately performs the same repressive acts of ethical violence on Lear as Bodice and Fontanelle did. In other words, she ends up morally dead.

Another parallel between the two plays begins to emerge in this scene through the relationship Lear enters into with the Son. In Shakespeare's Lear, the character of The Fool is the one character with whom Lear appears consistently saner than at most other times throughout the play, and is the one character with whom he feels safe and in whom he feels he can confide. The Fool shares this characteristic with Edgar, Gloucester's son in Shakespeare's Lear, in whom Lear confides when he (Lear) believes him (Edgar) to be a poor beggar man. The functions of both the Fool and Edgar are echoed here in the function of the Son, a function that becomes even more similar when the Son returns as a ghost in the following scenes and haunts Lear throughout the play.

There is a vivid contribution to the play's exploration of violence in this scene - the attack of the soldiers that results in the death of the Son, the rape of Cordelia, and the arrest of Lear. The play's thematic point about how violence begets more violence is dramatized in the actions of the Carpenter, when he kills one of the soldiers with his chisel and apparently shoots another. The seeds for further dramatization of this point are also sown in this scene, growing into the increasing moral, military, and spiritual violence that Cordelia and the Carpenter perpetrate on Lear and others throughout the latter two acts of the play. In structural terms, meanwhile, the attack of the soldiers defines the climax of the act, and of the play to this point.

The symbolic value of the wall is reiterated and deepened through the Son's comments in this scene. In suggesting that working on the wall causes suffering for those constructing it, he is metaphorically suggesting that those who construct walls between themselves and other people, as well as between themselves and broader perspectives, are causing themselves suffering. This thesis is born out by the evident damage being done to Lear as the result of his having insisted that the wall be built in the first place and by building an emotional wall between him and his daughters. The idea is also supported by the contrasting openness between Lear and the Son, whose mutual respect, honesty, and trust trigger peace and rationality in Lear's soul. Meanwhile, echoes of the wall's symbolic value can be found in the Son's passing comments about the Wife wanting to build a wall between them and the world. These comments also foreshadow Cordelia's later actions as she constructs several more walls. These include Lear's literal, physical wall, a moral wall between what she believes to be right action and the misbehavior of those she is trying to control, and a spiritual wall between what she believes to be the reasons for building that wall and Lear's reasons such a wall should never exist.

The oppressive and repressive nature of the wall is contrasted with the appearance of the cradle, which represents new life and faith in the future. On one level, this applies to the new humility, restraint, and openness beginning to appear in Lear. On another level, the image also applies to the freedom fought for by Cordelia later in the play. This, in turn, means there is irony inherent in this image, since the war fought by Cordelia eventually turns into the same kind of tyranny she experiences at the hands of the soldiers. Once again, here is the theme of violence begets violence - as she is raped, she turns around and morally rapes Lear at the end of the play.
Act 2, Scene 1

Act 2, Scene 1 Summary

As a court convenes, North and Cornwall discuss what Bodice and Fontanelle will want to do with Lear, commenting that they shouldn't be allowed to have their way too often. Meanwhile, Bodice instructs the Judge as to what his course of action and his verdict should be - let him condemn himself by babbling in the way he does, and then pass down the judgment that he (Lear) cannot be allowed to live. As Bodice and Fontanelle sit, Lear recognizes the Judge, but denies that he has any daughters.

A series of witnesses takes the stand. Fontanelle testifies to what a bad father Lear was. An Old Sailor testifies that he taught Lear to sail and reminds him that he's got two daughters, adding that his own daughter takes good care of him. An Old Councillor testifies that he helped Lear escape the battle, but fled when he realized Lear was mad. Lear shouts out that he (the Councillor) betrayed him. At that point, Bodice shows Lear her mirror, whispering to the Judge that madmen are afraid of themselves. Lear looks at his face in the mirror and says that what he sees there is not the king, but a caged animal. He speaks at increasingly excitable length about the cruel torture the animal is enduring. Bodice takes the mirror away as he cries out for the animal to be killed and its suffering ended, and that monsters have taken his daughters' places in the world. Bodice and Fontanelle cry out that Lear is mad; he cries out that they're cruel, and the Judge adjourns the court. Lear is taken away as Bodice and the Judge congratulate each other.

As the court clears, Bodice and Fontanelle discuss a revolution against their authority that seems to be brewing, which Fontanelle describes as being led by Cordelia. Bodice comments in an aside on how much Fontanelle thinks she knows, but because she (Bodice) has spies in Fontanelle's camp they know exactly the same things. She goes with Fontanelle to make plans to quash the revolution, commenting, "victory is bad for soldiers, it lowers their morale".

Act 2, Scene 1 Analysis

This scene contains little in terms of obvious parallels with Shakespeare's Lear, although in that play Lear imagines a trial in which his daughters face judgment for their betrayal of him. This scene can be interpreted as a reverse of that scene, with Lear being tried by his daughters. Meanwhile, the play's focus on violence plays out in this scene in terms of the legal violence done to Lear's right to a fair hearing, and the emotional violence done to Lear by Bodice and Fontanelle. In addition, Lear's story about the caged animal can be seen as a metaphoric explanation of the spiritual violence he's experiencing as the result of his daughters' actions. It's possible to see here what Lear is going through as a manifestation of the play's secondary theme relating to the way violence begets violence - he may not be suffering the way he is if he had not insisted upon building the wall and shooting the innocent laborer (Act 1 Scene 1). On the other hand, Lear's experiences can also be seen as necessary in order to get him to the point he reaches in Act 3, having realized the dangers to his own soul and those of others by perpetrating violence. In other words, if he hadn't experienced it he'd never be able to condemn it.
Act 2, Scene 2

Act 2, Scene 2 Summary

The Ghost of the gravedigger's son visits Lear in prison. Lear speaks to him with mad poeticism about the animal trapped in a cage, and cries out to see his daughters. The Ghost conjures images of Bodice and Fontanelle as children. They bicker girlishly about their clothes, sit playfully on Lear's knee, disobey him when he tells them to not wear their dead mother's dress, and seek comfort from him when they realize they're in a prison and become frightened. He assures them their suffering will pass, saying the animal will slip out of its cage, return to nature, and live happily. The images of Bodice and Fontanelle remain as three soldiers come in, conduct a routine search of Lear's cell, and go back out. After they've gone, the images also leave. Lear tries to restrain them but the Ghost insists they can't be stopped.

An Old Orderly comes in to collect the tray on which Lear was fed his dinner. When he sees Lear has eaten nothing, the Orderly leaves the tray and becomes chatty, telling how all the young prisoners are being sent to fight against the rebels, how he's been in prison so long he can't remember the crime he committed to get there, and how he'll never be able to know because the records have been lost. He sees that Lear has no interest in food, takes the tray, and goes out.

Lear, still speaking with mad poeticism, berates himself for having looked at "the animal". The Ghost offers to stay with him, saying that after he died his body shriveled and began to rot, and that as a result he's afraid. Lear says he can stay, offers to hold him, and says they can take turns crying as they watch each other sleep.



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