A Peasant Stand Up Thus

I felt compelled recently to re-read Shakespeare’s King Lear. This play, together with Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” always come to mind when I am paused to realize that now, for the first time in my life, my government is not a passive organizing element in my life, but rather an intruding, ideological menace.

For those not familiar with King Lear: the play opens with the old King Lear calling his three daughters. He asks each to declare their love to him. He will then use these virtue signals to assign to each a portion of the kingdom. The eldest two daughters immediately take a knee and declare their love in prosaic flattery.

But the youngest daughter cannot bring herself to such empty virtue signaling. She feels her merit has always been visible in her actions toward her father. When asked what she has to say to receive a part of the kingdom more opulent than that given to the other two, Cordelia answers: “Nothing, my lord.” She cannot bring herself to give false flattery for the sake of material gain.

King Lear then loses the plot, so to speak. He casts out Cordelia and, with her, the Earl of Kent who tried to bring Lear to his senses. The kingdom is divided and chaos ensues. The two eldest daughters act horribly toward their father, and several evil plots interweave to cause war and destruction.

The play ends when the forces of evil have been largely destroyed, but the price has been terrible. The last words are spoken by Edgar. He is the son of the Earl of Gloucester (who had been deliberately blinded, on stage, by one of the villains). Edgar’s final words are:

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. [Exeunt, with a dead march.]

In his incisive discussion of the play, Prof Lionel Trilling says that – compared to similar literary achievements – King Lear is the only one that “seems to issue in hopelessness.”

Reading it in 2021, I cannot help but find correspondence between the play and our current world situation. Knowing my limitations, I will let Prof Trilling’s beautiful commentary speak for itself and let you, my reader, draw your own parallels:

No play has ever had so many villains. Four of the leading characters, Edmund, Goneril, Regan, Cornwall, are evil almost beyond belief, and they are appropriately served by the contemptible Oswald and the brutal captain who murders Cordelia.

Lionel Trilling [The Experience of Literature]

One of the most shocking scenes in King Lear is one in which the eyes of the old loyal Earl of Gloucester are taken out by the Duke of Cornwall. With one eye already taken out, a shocked servant tries to prevent the act by standing up against the Duke, but he is stabbed from behind by Lear’s daughter Regan. With the resistance now subdued, Cornwall takes out the other eye while saying: “Lest it see more, prevent it. Out, vile jelly! Where is thy lustre now?”

Here is Lionel Trilling’s commentary on this horrible scene of injustice. Note specifically what he has to say about the loyal servant’s action of standing up against authority:

Cornwall’s blinding of Gloucester is an unnatural act, and an especially moving moment of the play represent the natural response of the monstrosity of this deed: one of Cornwall’s servants cannot endure it and, knowing he risks his life, draws his sword to prevent it. To Shakespeare’s contemporary audience, this action must have been even more momentous than it is to us, for to the Elizabethans the idea of a servant confronting his master with a show of force would have been shocking, even unnatural. The Elizabethan judgement is underscored by Cornwall’s crying out amazed, “My villain!”…and by Regan’s exclamation, “A peasant stand up thus!”

Shakespeare quite shared the opinion of his time; he believed that the deference given to superiors was in the order of nature. But in this instance his sympathy is given to the peasant who flares up into hopeless rebellion at the hideous deed, who, though he breaks the “natural” bonds of society, does so because he recognizes a claim yet more natural, that of his humanity, of justice and mercy.

Lionel Trilling [The Experience of Literature] (my emphasis)

I love everything Trilling wrote, and I have to restrain myself from quoting his entire essay. In his reading of Lear, he weighs different critical viewpoints. One of those viewpoints interpret King Lear as suggesting the meaninglessness of the universe, or of “the absolute”.

In this reading, the tragedy of King Lear suggests that “reason may be thought of as an attribute of man but not of the absolute”. Thus, in this view the play signals the absurdity of a universe that is neither good nor evil, it is simply “stronger”. And it is this that authentic man must endure with courage and dignity.

But Trilling clarifies that this is only one of two ways of looking at the play:

…the incompatibility between rational man and an absurd universe is only one of the two explanations of human suffering suggested in King Lear. The other holds man himself accountable for his pain, either through his self deception or through the cruelty of other members of the race.

But at the quiet heart of the whirling speculations about the universe or the absolute there lies the idea of human justice and human mercy. [At the end, King Lear] is filled with disgust at those human traits that stand in the way of its being done – greed, lust, pride, and the hypocrisy that masks them.

and with the new consciousness of justice goes a new sense of the need for caritas, which is not “charity” in our usual modern sense, but “caring,” the solicitude of loving-kindness.

Lionel Trilling [The Experience of Literature]

For those of my readers who managed to get this far, and who are oppressed and worried about the strange change that has come over our world in the past 18 months, it will hopefully not be difficult to draw some parallels between King Lear (and with it Trilling’s commentary) and our current situation in which out of control governments are able to invade the privacy of citizens right down to what they inject into their bodies.

But in my recent reading of Prof Trilling’s commentary, the aspect that struck me most was the discussion about King Lear’s division of his kingdom. It is this division of society that causes all of the injustices and horrors that follow. The parallel between what is being done in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, all in the name of “keeping you safe”, and the following commentary, is hard to miss:

An awareness of the Elizabethan feeling about the naturalness of the social order will lead us to a more accurate judgement of the act out of which all the horrors and misfortunes arose, Lear’s division of his kingdom. To this no Elizabethan, and surely not Shakespeare himself, would have responded with indifference. Again and again in his plays, Shakespeare speaks in praise of unity, of the organic interrelation of the parts of a polity. To divide a kingdom, to treat a realm as if it were not a living organism, was worse than imprudent, it was unnatural. It may have been unavoidable in view of Lear’s failing strength and the lack of a male heir, but still it went against nature; its consequences could only be bad.

Lionel Trilling [The Experience of Literature]

For anyone about to lose their job or security because of vaccine mandates, please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you. I am not yet severely affected by these mandates, but I think of your plight continuously. As someone who has started two successful businesses from scratch I can assure you that an experienced employee is the hardest of all things in a business to replace. Do not underestimate the damage you can do to those who wish to violate your rights and freedom by standing firm on your principles and depriving them of your scarce and valuable expertise and work ethic. It is probably the best way to fight the globalist takeover. If enough of us do it, the tide has to turn.

But also know that your mental and physical health is the most important asset you have. Weigh your risks carefully, stay informed and choose your battles. If you have to take the injection in order to stay mentally balanced and be able to fight another day, then my advice would be that you do so. This is only the first battle in a new World War. There will be others to follow…

Please share my blog as widely as you feel comfortable to do. I do not want to sound alarmist, as is the habit of the mainstream media, but I really do believe we are in a battle in which technocrats and political ideologues are attempting to force a centralized, dehumanized and atheist-scientific-materialist way of life on us.

Also have a look at my Resources Page for useful videos to make you understand what is going on, and to find support groups to make you feel less alone and crazy.

Subscribe to my blog to get email notifications whenever I post something.

Thanks for visiting!