BookRags Literature Study Guide Lear by Edward Bond Copyright Information



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Act 2, Scene 2 Analysis

As previously discussed (Act 1 Scene 7), the Ghost functions as a parallel to two characters in Shakespeare's Lear, the Fool and Edgar - in both plays, these characters are confidantes, allies, and the embodiment of Lear's conscience. This latter is particularly noteworthy, in that the Ghost is acting on Lear in much the same way as Warrington did in Act 1 Scenes 5 and 6 - as a manifestation of the way acts of violence haunt Lear. The Ghost would not be a ghost if it hadn't been for Lear's presence in his home and the soldiers coming to look for him. The explanation for why the Ghost haunts him, aside from the play's necessity for a confidante for Lear, is similar to the explanation of why Lear is tortured in Act 2 Scene 1 - he must become aware of the full effects of violence before he can justifiably and believably instruct others, including Cordelia, of its dangers.

The one aspect to the Ghost that doesn't have a parallel in the other play is his apparent mysticism, manifested here in his conjuring of the Bodice and Fontanelle spirits. This can also be seen as an example of what Lear must learn. As the result of his insistence on building the wall, both the physical wall and the wall between himself and his daughters, the once open, innocent, and loving relationship he shared with them has itself been violently destroyed. He must learn to recapture that openness in order to be redeemed. The Ghost supplies a memory of that openness in order for Lear to know what he's looking for.

The essential function of the Old Orderly is twofold. The first is to provide information that Cordelia's rebellion is proceeding on its course. The second is to foreshadow the way Lear's past eventually slips away from him and he's able to live in a new present.
Act 2, Scenes 3 and 4

Act 2, Scenes 3 and 4 Summary

These scenes detail the circumstances of Cordelia's war against Bodice and Fontanelle.

Scene 3 - As rebel fighters treat their wounded and stand guard over a Captured Soldier, the Carpenter brings news to Cordelia of a scouting party of soldiers that wants to join them. Cordelia says they'll pick them up as she and the other rebels advance, and then interrogates the Captured Soldier, who tells them about the army's movements, and then confesses that he'd rather be fighting with them. The Carpenter urges Cordelia to accept him, but she says he'll fight with whoever has the advantage, adding that to fight like the rebels, people have to hate, otherwise they're no use. As she, the Carpenter, and the other rebel fighters prepare to move on, a Wounded Rebel urges them to not worry about them and to fight on - he does wonder, though, who'll tell his wife he's dead. Cordelia, the Carpenter, and the other rebels leave, taking with them the Captured Soldier. The Wounded Soldier, alone and dying, counts the stars.

Scene 4 - A napping Bodice is wakened by the arrival of a frantic Fontanelle, who is worried that their husbands have deserted them. Bodice tells her she's had them captured and brought back, saying she and Fontanelle need their armies to win the war. They bicker about whether their husbands are of any use, and then Bodice passes her a sheaf of documents, including Lear's death warrant. As Fontanelle signs them, Bodice tells her Lear and a group of other prisoners are being brought to headquarters, since the prisons had to be evacuated (presumably because the rebels were about to gain control over them). The captured Cornwall and North are brought in. Fontanelle wants to execute them immediately, but Bodice tells her to be quiet and then tells the men that from now on their function is to be purely ornamental - to escort her and Fontanelle in public and nothing more. She then dismisses Cornwall and North, they go out, and Bodice sends Fontanelle to bed. As Fontanelle goes she passes one of Bodice's aides, to whom Bodice gives the warrants. After the aide has left, Bodice speaks in soliloquy of how she's trapped by the circumstances of the war, her sister's foolishness, and their husbands' weakness. She recalls how, as a child, she always dreamed of having power, but now that she has it, she realizes that it's made her a slave.

Act 2, Scenes 3 and 4 Analysis

On one level, these two scenes are straightforward depictions of war; interestingly, from the points of view of the opposing sides. What's important to note here is that Cordelia on the one side, and Bodice and Fontanelle on the other, essentially do exactly the same thing - act ruthlessly in order to consolidate their power, to be seen as acting from a position of strength and determination. Yes, Cordelia expresses a degree of concern about the Wounded Rebel, but ultimately it means nothing - she leaves him to die so she can continue to fulfill her mission. This, in turn, means that Bodice's soliloquy at the end of Scene 4 can be interpreted as referring to both her and Cordelia - both have become slaves to the power they're pursuing. This is another aspect of the play's thematic condemnation of violence - in this context, the statement is that those who pursue violence become consumed by it, eventually losing touch with their fuller humanity. In this context, it's interesting to note that in Scene 4, Bodice doesn't knit.
Act 2, Scene 5

Act 2, Scene 5 Summary

Three irritable soldiers lead Lear and four other prisoners, all bound, down a rough road. The prisoners are allowed to rest while one soldier reconnoiters the road ahead, and they pass a nearly empty canteen around as the soldiers study an outdated map and debate whether to desert and join the rebels. When the soldier sent down the road is late returning, the other soldiers wonder whether he's already done it. At the sound of gunfire the soldiers begin to become fearful, and Lear wonders where the Ghost is, calling out loud for him. The soldiers and prisoners, fearful that he'll attract gunfire, struggle to make him be quiet, eventually gagging him. A few moments later, the soldier who went out earlier is brought back in, having been captured by the Carpenter and other rebel soldiers. The rebels capture the other soldiers, and the Carpenter explains that their headquarters has been captured, and orders that they be tied together. When one of the prisoners asks to be untied, the Carpenter says they have to wait until they've been interviewed. Fontanelle, having been captured, is brought in by a rebel soldier.. While she's being tied to the other soldiers, Lear asks to be freed. Fontanelle weeps with humiliation. Lear tries to comfort her but doesn't recognize her. Fontanelle, who does recognize him, calls him a fool, and Lear tells her that no one listens to shouting. The Carpenter says he's seen Lear before, but doesn't recognize him. The rebels lead their two sets of prisoners off. Fontanelle pleads to be set free, but Lear tells her to behave and she'll be treated well. The Carpenter tells the rebels to watch Lear, saying he's a troublemaker. Lear says as he goes out that he needs to look for the Ghost, referring to how he was so kind to him and how he (Lear) is desperate to return the favor.

Act 2, Scene 5 Analysis

Once again, the play defines the experience of war, this time from the perspective of its victims - those who suffer as the result of combat. In short, the scene relates to the play's thematic exploration of violence by dramatizing at least some of its consequences. This is done through its depictions of suspicion and fear (in the soldiers and the prisoners), through Fontanelle's ill treatment by the rebels, and through the way the Carpenter doesn't recognize Lear (which suggests that those who pursue violence, like the Carpenter, lose the ability to see clearly and honestly).

It's interesting that this character is given no name but is referred to only as a carpenter - which was, after all, the profession of Jesus Christ before he accepted his destiny as a prophet. On one level, the fight the Carpenter enters into can be seen as symbolic of Christ's struggle to lead his people to spiritual freedom. On another level, the Carpenter's name can be seen as an ironic commentary on the peaceful nature of Christ's struggle - the Carpenter is a war lover, whereas the carpenter (Jesus) was the so-called Prince of Peace. It's even possible that the name functions on both levels - the Carpenter initially fights for freedom but eventually becomes corrupted by the appeal of violence as a means of gaining and maintaining power.
Act 2, Scene 6

Act 2, Scene 6 Summary

Lear, Fontanelle, and the other Prisoners sit in darkness, jumping with fear as they hear gunfire. The Ghost comes in. He and Lear explain to each other where they've been, and Lear comments that he wishes he had been the Ghost's father, saying he would have taken good care of him. After a Commandant and three other rebels take the other prisoners out, Fontanelle pleads with Lear to use his influence to get them a trial, saying that if she goes free she'll convince Bodice to be merciful to him, adding that she's been stupid and that she loves him. Lear, however, is lost in his madness and doesn't appear to hear her. The Commandant returns with the Carpenter, one of the Prisoners from Lear's chain gang (Act 2 Scene 5), and more rebels. The Carpenter reveals that Bodice has been captured and is about to be brought in. Fontanelle begs to die rather than be humiliated further, and the Carpenter obliges - he shoots her in the back and she falls dead. The Carpenter and Commandant go out.

The Prisoner orders the rebel soldiers to put Fontanelle's body on a nearby table. As the Ghost fearfully warns Lear of impending evil, the Prisoner reveals that he is in fact a Doctor, and that he's about to perform an autopsy on Fontanelle. Lear watches as the Prisoner cuts her open. As the Prisoner points out her various internal organs, Lear repeatedly questions whether she is who he says she is. As the Prisoner is becoming more impatient with him, Lear comments on how beautiful Fontanelle is inside, adding that if he'd known how beautiful she was he'd have loved her more. As the Ghost weeps, Lear asks, "Did I make this - and destroy it?"

Bodice is brought in by rebel soldiers, asking for assurance that a letter she wrote has been delivered to someone in authority and taking the fact that she's imprisoned with Lear as a good sign. She asks what's going on at the table. Lear tells her it's Fontanelle, adding that he destroyed her. Bodice protests that she and her sister did what they had to do, but Lear dips his hands into her guts, holds them up covered in blood and organs, and shouts that he killed her and now has to begin his life again. The Commandant rushes in, ordering the rebels to get the scene under control. As the Carpenter also runs in, Bodice tries to convince the Commandant that Fontanelle was behind both the fighting and Lear's madness. The Carpenter tells her she's been sentenced to death, but Bodice insists upon justice, saying the Carpenter has become cruel after having had a taste of power. She falls to her knees and begs for mercy, rebels move to restrain her, she fights, soldiers stab her with bayonets, and she dies. Soldiers remove her and Fontanelle's bodies.

The Commandant struggles to convince the Carpenter to execute Lear, but the Carpenter refuses, saying his wife knows him. From this it can be understood that the Carpenter has married Cordelia. The Prisoner (Doctor), meanwhile, overhears their conversation and suggests that he knows a way to neutralize Lear's influence. The Commandant tells him to go ahead, and then he and the Carpenter go out. The Doctor puts Lear into a straightjacket, sits him down, pulls out what he says is a scientific device, and plucks out Lear's eyes, commenting on what's happening anatomically and scientifically as he does so. Lear writhes in agony as the Doctor and the other soldiers leave.

Lear cries out to the Ghost to free him and let him kill himself. The Ghost assures him that people will be kind to him now and unties him. Lear begs the Ghost to tell him the pain will stop. The Ghost tells him it will, that sometimes it will come back, and that he will learn to bear it. He helps Lear out, saying they can go back to the house in the forest where they will find peace. Lear begs to be taken somewhere to die.

Act 2, Scene 6 Analysis

Aside from the emotionally intimate and mutually vulnerable relationship between Lear and the Ghost, which, as mentioned, parallels the relationship between Lear and both his Fool and Edgar in King Lear, the most notable parallel in this scene with Shakespeare's Lear is the moment at which the Prisoner/Doctor cuts out Lear's eyeballs. There is, however, a significant difference between the incident in this play and the one in the original. In Shakespeare's version, the loyal Gloucester has his eyes plucked out by the husband of the more bloodthirsty of Lear's daughters. A significant thematic point is made by the difference. Lear, to this point, has essentially been metaphorically blind to the role that his tendency towards violence has played in creating the hell in which he now lives. As the remaining action of the play suggests, now that he's physically blind he's able to spiritually see the consequences of what he's done. This is not to suggest that he's not on the road to understanding. What he does with Fontanelle's entrails is a graphic and gory dramatization of what he's coming to realize is the consequence of his insistence on walls, both literal and emotional. Lives are destroyed. People's guts, their hearts and souls, are ripped from their bodies. Their very beings are torn apart.

Other manifestations of violence in this scene are much less graphic than those experienced by Lear, by Fontanelle, and by Bodice, but are no less thematically relevant. These include the violence done to the truth by Bodice and Fontanelle in the moments before their deaths. Desperate to save themselves and preserve what they see as their hard won power, they lie, manipulate, and dissemble with increasing desperation until they, like Lear, are forced to confront the consequences of their actions.

Lear's comments about the beauty of Fontanelle's inner organs can be interpreted as manifestations of his realization that the human spirit, what's "inside", is a truer and deeper manifestation of human value than by defining oneself by the violence one is able to perpetrate on others, and by the control one gains as the result of that violence.
Act 2, Scene 7

Act 2, Scene 7 Summary

Near Lear's wall, Lear and the Ghost encounter a Farmer, his Wife, and their Boy. Lear begs for some money but the family refuses, saying they're poor. The Farmer explains that after the king went mad, work stopped on the wall and farmers moved onto the land and began to make homes. Now that the government's changed, soldiers are turning farmers like him off their land, construction on the wall is continuing, and sons like his son are being turned into soldiers. Lear expresses fear that the boy will be killed, but the Farmer's Wife says they have to hope he won't.

As the Farmer and his family go out, Lear comments that he could endure anything but the death of another boy. He falls to his knees crying out in agony, saying he's the king, saying he built the wall, and urging the farm family to run. The Farmer and his Wife help him to stand as the Boy goes off to the army camp. They debate what to do with him, and eventually decide to leave him to his freedom in the fields. Lear stands, saying that Cordelia's soldiers are being abused and crying out in agony yet again - the crying has opened the wounds in his eyes. He goes out in the company of the Ghost, saying he has to stop Cordelia before he dies.

Act 2, Scene 7 Analysis

There are three essential purposes to this brief scene. The first is to foreshadow the appearance of the Farmer's Boy at the end of the play, at which point he shoots and kills Lear. The second is to define what's happened to Cordelia and the rebellion she's leading - that she's turning into the same kind of tyrant as Lear was. The third main purpose of the scene is related to the second, in that it yet again defines the darkly symbolic value of the wall. Specifically, the Farmer's story of how its land was used for an essentially life affirming purpose (providing homes and space for food to be grown) once Lear's determination to build it was ended, again defines the wall as repressive and life-destroying. The story therefore defines Cordelia's intent in continuing to build the wall as equally repressive and destructive.

Lear's crying out in pain is the climax of the act, simultaneously denoting a key point of his journey of transformation and reiterating a key thematic point. In this moment, Lear viscerally and painfully realizes that violence begets violence - his spiritual blindness is ended now that his physical blindness is complete. The pain of that spiritual blindness manifests in the pain he experiences in his eyes, and as a result of actually feeling that long-suppressed pain for the first time he realizes what he must do. The action of Act 3 is defined by his choices because of that realization.

At this point in the play, it's possible to see a parallel between this play and another classical piece of theatre - the Greek tragedy of Oedipus, who was also blinded (albeit by his own hand) shortly after he "sees" the truth of his life. Like Lear, Oedipus' life is also transformed by this truth, specifically the truth of his guilt. Unlike Oedipus, however, Lear was not an innocent victim of fate - when he killed the laborer in Act 1 Scene 1 he knew what he was doing. Oedipus killed, but as far as he knew, it was in self-defense and he definitely did not know he was killing his father. It's this additional layer to Lear's knowledge, that on some level he knew he was doing wrong but self-righteously justified it, that makes his suffering so great and so thematically essential. Both he and Oedipus, however, are essentially staggering into their futures unaided and at the same time unencumbered by lies. They are both free.
Act 3, Scene 1

Act 3, Scene 1 Summary

This scene takes place in the setting for Act 1, Scenes 6 and 7 - the home of the Ghost when he was still alive, when he was still the Gravedigger's son. Thomas comes on, and is greeted by Susan and an anxious Lear, eager to learn whether there's any response to his letter to Cordelia. Thomas tells him there's no word, calming Lear before he can get any more upset. Susan goes out to prepare the evening meal. A Small Man comes in, asks for water, and explains that Lear knew him when they were both soldiers. Lear says he remembers him and invites him to stay for dinner. Thomas shows the Small Man into the house, but then turns back and tells Lear there isn't enough food. Lear says he'll tell the Small Man he can't stay. Thomas goes into the house. The Ghost appears and tells Lear the Small Man is a deserter from Cordelia's army; that he's been wandering through the countryside asking everyone he meets where Lear is, and that Lear will be lucky if the rebels searching for him don't find him.

The Small Man comes out and makes small talk with Lear about how comfortable the place is and how welcoming Susan and Thomas are. Lear comments that they saved his life, and asks the Small Man to tell him his story. The Small Man says there's not much to tell, but then when Thomas comes out, he (the Small Man) says he's been wandering the world ever since his wife died but is down and out because he got attacked and beaten up. Lear and Thomas accuse him of lying and at first he protests, but then admits he's a deserter from the wall, that he left because he was ill, and that everybody in the work camps at the wall is afraid. Lear asks why, and the Small Man explains that everyone believes Lear is going to get rid of the army, blow up the wall, and free all the prisoners (these being the soldiers from the armies of Bodice and Fontanelle who created such pain and suffering when they were in control).

A neighbor, John, appears with news of soldiers approaching. Lear tells Thomas to take the Small Man into the woods and to tell Susan that he (the Small Man) was never here. Thomas takes the Small Man out and Lear sits with John. An Officer and three soldiers come in. Lear greets them and gives them permission to look around. As the soldiers search the place, Susan comes out of the house and listens as the Officer tells Lear someone in the village was looking for him. Lear promises to let him know if anyone comes by. The soldiers finish their search, having found nothing. The Officer comments that from now on, the farm will be watched closely, then he and the soldiers leave. John sees them off, Susan says she'll give the Small Man some food and send him on his way, then Thomas appears and comments that the Small Man must be gotten rid of quickly.

A Young Man who says he attended Lear in prison comes looking for Lear and saying that soldiers "put [him] on the wall" as a punishment for serving bad food. At this point, it's understood that the wall is now being used as a means of torture and punishment. Lear offers the Young Man refuge, but Thomas refuses, saying if they get caught, they'll all be punished. Lear tells him he came to the farm and wasn't turned away; therefore, no one who comes to the farm with a good cause will be turned away. He promises to write Cordelia again, and leads everyone into the house. As he goes in, the Small Man comments that they'll have to be careful whom they let in from now on.

Act 3, Scene 1 Analysis

The parallels between this play and Shakespeare's Lear are relatively slight at this point. In both plays, Lear becomes dependent upon the kindness of others, and in both plays, Cordelia takes on an increasingly important role. That's about the extent of the similarities. What's more interesting to note is the differences. First, in Shakespeare's play, opposition and conflict continue to be embodied in the characters of Regan and Goneril, Lear's older daughters. With their counterparts in this play, Bodice and Fontanelle, out of commission, opposition and conflict are provided by the revised character of Cordelia, who, as previously discussed, embodies the play's secondary thematic point about the corruptive nature of violence and power. The contrast here is stark - Lear has rejected violence and found peace, while Cordelia who earlier had wanted only peace has espoused violence and as a result destroyed lives, including the potentially valuable life of the revised Lear.

The symbolic value of the wall is stated with stark clarity in this scene. The Young Man's admittedly somewhat oblique reference to its being used as an instrument of torture is a verbalization of what's been a sub-textual thematic point all along. In other words, every time the wall appears or is spoken of to this point, it seems to have caused pain - pain of separation, jealousy, conflict, falseness, smallness of perspective, and more. Only now is that value specifically defined - those manifestations of the wall's power are torturous to humanity. This idea is reinforced by the story of the Small Man, whose experience of working on the wall is defined further in the following section. His comments about the fears of those working on the wall, meanwhile, represent the reason why people build walls of all sorts: emotional, physical, spiritual, and moral - they're afraid suffering will result if such walls aren't present.

Other than serving as an additional means of defining the wall, the key purpose of the Small Man, for whom there is no clear counterpart in Shakespeare's Lear, seems to be to serve as a vehicle by which Lear's newly found humanity and compassion are defined. Specifically, Lear's attitude towards him puts into practice what he theorizes poetically about in the following scene - that no being should be imprisoned, or "walled up" by what other people perceive him to have done.


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