Friday, 1 June 2018
A Play for All Seasons
I watched the BBC adaptation of King Lear the other night. I don't know if you are familiar with the plot, but a man incapable of running his fiefdom and more interested in status and baubles than hard work decides to hold a restructuring exercise based on incoherent whims, demonstrating along the way that he doesn't understand his vassals' duties or personalities, eventually finding out that bad management shares some qualities with the boomerang.
Meantime we shall express our darker purpose.
Give me the map there. Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom: and 'tis our fast intent
To shake all cares and business from our age;
Conferring them on younger strengths, while we
Unburthen'd crawl toward death.
Since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state,--
Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge.
Only Cordelia, who points out that instigating a round of currying favour is no way to achieve success or to run a complex organisation, fails to join in the greedy, desperate grovelling and in-fighting that ensues:
You have begot me, bred me, loved me: I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honour you.
Why have my sisters husbands, if they say
They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty:
Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all.
Despite the sensible interjections of Kent:
Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least;
Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sound
Reverbs no hollowness.
Cordelia's intransigence is felt not to fit with the kingdom's new mission statement or values and she and Kent are made redundant without even a notice period or compensation.
…take thy reward.
Five days we do allot thee, for provision
To shield thee from diseases of the world;
And on the sixth to turn thy hated back
Upon our kingdom: if, on the tenth day following,
Thy banish'd trunk be found in our dominions,
The moment is thy death.
Cordelia reluctantly heads off to a neighbouring institution which recognises her qualities, while Lear
sets off for a tour of his kingdom's new subsidiary units and finds himself neither welcomed nor treated in the manner to which he believes he is entitled. His new executives have their own priorities, and feeding a load of superfluous layabouts isn't amongst them:
your disorder'd rabble
Make servants of their betters.
despite Lear's claim that his management team are pushing the envelope of entrepreneurial skill:
My train are men of choice and rarest parts,
That all particulars of duty know,
And in the most exact regard support
The worships of their name.
And as for those trying to do their best, but for a few who flee to France, their only solution is to speak in riddles and lay low:
No port is free; no place,
That guard, and most unusual vigilance,
Does not attend my taking. Whiles I may 'scape,
I will preserve myself: and am bethought
To take the basest and most poorest shape
That ever penury, in contempt of man,
Brought near to beast: my face I'll grime with filth;
Blanket my loins: elf all my hair in knots;
And with presented nakedness out-face
The winds and persecutions of the sky.
Or else stand witness to folly, and bear the cost, as the Fool suggests:
That sir which serves and seeks for gain,
And follows but for form,
Will pack when it begins to rain,
And leave thee in the storm,
But I will tarry; the fool will stay,
It does not, need I say, end well for Lear or anybody else.
He eventually realises the error of his ways, having relied on the flattery of his closest confidantes
me like a dog; and told me I had white hairs in my
beard ere the black ones were there. To say 'ay'
and 'no' to every thing that I said!--'Ay' and 'no'
too was no good divinity. When the rain came to
wet me once, and the wind to make me chatter; when
the thunder would not peace at my bidding; there I
found 'em, there I smelt 'em out. Go to, they are
not men o' their words: they told me I was every
thing; 'tis a lie, I am not ague-proof.
but culpable or innocent, most of the senior protagonists are soon departed, leaving behind a shattered wasteland and a shell-shocked population with - no doubt - a somewhat jaundiced view of top-down strategy, given that there's not much chance of this occurring:
When we our betters see bearing our woes,
We scarcely think our miseries our foes.
There's a vague hint of happier times ahead under new management, but it seems distinctly unlikely. Lear, though he saw the error of his ways, is not much missed:
O, let him pass! he hates him much
That would upon the rack of this tough world
Stretch him out longer.
The wonder is, he hath endured so long:
He but usurp'd his life.
and we bid farewell to this wretched place sadder, wiser, yet not empowered.
The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.
And if you're wondering why I've treated you to this whistle-stop tour of high-handed ignorance and selfishness, why yes, it is an allegory. Have a good weekend. Tom's a-cold.