(See Trevor's review. I already have a Compete Shakespeare, but annotations are sweet. Actually, the in-text annotations done as footnotes can be really annoying, since I keep getting waylaid glancing down at them to see if there is something I'm missing, but after a lifetime of reading Shakespeare I'm comfortable with the lingo. So mostly they just yank me out of the flow of the language. Currently also a curse in my reading of Milton. But those introductions that provide historical background are great, and the criticisms and analyses that alert me to other ways of reading expand my neocortex in a very satisfying manner. Must buy an annotated copy of The Sonnets, and Trevor approves of The New Cambridge edition.)
While reading elsewhere on the subject of "The Myth of Pure Evil" (here, if you care) it occurred to me why Lear is my favorite of all the bard's play...moreWhile reading elsewhere on the subject of "The Myth of Pure Evil" (here, if you care) it occurred to me why Lear is my favorite of all the bard's plays.
It is simply that the characters of Goneril and Regan are not -- at least at first -- presented as inhumanly evil. Their initial flaws are easy to understand: their fawning manipulation for personal gain is more typically human than Cordelia's painful honesty, for example. Given how foolish Lear seems to be, it is understandable that his daughters would not be paragons of love and virtue, so the elder two's annoyance that their father wants his retirement to be a magnified reliving of the idylls of childhood is also fully comprehensible.
The only other villain in all of Shakespeare to get such fair treatment is Shylock, but Merchant of Venice doesn't have the slow dawning of bitter realization, and certainly has none of the pathos of Lear.
I've often wanted to see Hamlet played so that we feel sympathy for Claudius and Gertrude: imagine that old King Hamlet was a worse-than-mediocre king, that his refusal to see how "times are changing" was dooming Denmark to the new forces that Fortinbras respresents. Claudius is forced to commit tyrannicide for the good of the nation--like Brutus, he takes the burden of guilt and understands his doom is inevitable. Meanwhile, Gertrude could be cast as a child bride, one closer in age to her son than husband, and naturally drawn to the King's imaginative and lively younger brother.
This could be done with staging: showing Polonius and the other old advisors as isolated from a dynamic new court, where we see the comings-and-goings of merchants and inventors that are clearly invigorating the kingdom. Meanwhile Hamlet, even if he is cognizant of these improvements, is balancing them against the old feudal divinity of kings and his own filial responsibility of vengeance.
Because Lear is clearly shown as the sole author of his own Tragedy, it is the purest of these. In the end, Hamlet still wins due to the complexity of motivations and the deep philosophical explorations we witness the melancholy Dane undertaking. But as good has Hamlet is, the simplistic venality of Claudius hinders it.