Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Shakspere Society of Philadelphia
Maybe not the first, but the oldest Shakespeare club in America or possibly even the world, has kept minutes for over a hundred fifty years.

Shakspere Society, January 9, 2008


Dean Wagner in the chair. Other members present Ake, Bartlett, Bornemann, Di Stefano, Dobson, Dunn, Dupee, Fallon, Fisher, Friedman, Green, Hopkinson, Ingersoll, King, Madeira, and Peck. We were happy to welcome Mr. Dunn's guest Celeste Di Nucci, a graduate student in English at Penn, and a winner of large sums on TV for her vast fund of general knowledge. Her dissertation studies the history of performance of Shakspere's plays. We also welcomed Mr. Madeira's guest Luigi Sottile, a local actor who will appear this spring in the Lantern Theater's eagerly awaited production of Othello, starring Pete Pryor as Iago and Frank X as the noble Moor. Frank was a remarkable Prospero in Lantern's Tempest a year or two ago; Pete was a riveting Richard III in a fine recent Lantern production.

The hosts for the annual meeting and dinner on Shakspere's birthday will be the same group who hosted our 1997 dinner: Messrs. Cheston, Ingersoll, and Wheeler. The venue will be announced shortly. Many thanks to these kind friends!

The Shakspere Festival of Philadelphia will stage Romeo and Juliet and Pericles in repertory from March till May of this year. This will be the first production of Pericles in our city in at least 150 years perhaps the first in Philadelphia history.

The Dean had a recent visit with our fellow member Spencer Ervin, a Maine resident who seldom has the chance to attend meetings, unhappily for all of us.

The Bartlett committee has met to discuss a plan for choosing a new Vice Dean; Dr. Fallon has urged the Society to find a successor for him in this post. We will try to identify likely academic candidates and invite them to lead some discussions next season.

The Vice Dean asked us how we respond to the "wringer/rollercoaster effect" of Lear's career in the tragedy that bears his name. Lear is absent from the stage from 3.6till 4.6. Meanwhile, in 4.2, the Bard underlines Albany's angry attack on his wife ("Thou changed and self-covered thing!")and her sister and brother in law for their savage treatment of the old king, out in the terrible storm, the gates shut on him and his few companions. His wife sneers: "Marry, your manhood, mew!" She privately expresses her lust for the macho bastard (in every sense) Edmund. Albany sees heavenly justice (a central concern of this play, the Vice Dean reminds us) in the killing of Cornwall by a servant after the nasty duke has gouged out Gloucester's eyes. Goneril denounces him for failing to form an army to attack the invading French. The Vice Dean suggested that many spectators in 1605 might have agreed with her! But the French come to protect the abused English king, not to take power from him.

4.3'Kent hears of Cordelia's landing in England with a French army to succor her father. He wonders how to explain the moral contrast between Cordelia and her vicious sisters: "The stars above us govern our conditions."

Lear feels "A sovereign shame" that "elbows him" because he had "stripped her from his benediction": a striking moral change for the better in the blustering autocrat of Act One.

4.4'Cordelia appears for the first time since Lear's denunciation of her in Act One; she says to herself, "O dear father, It is thy business that I go about": a striking reference, Dr. Fallon reminded us, to Christ's words in the Gospels. Is this loving daughter is a Christ figure? Surely not, he declared! Cordelia comes, not to sacrifice herself for others, but to win a military victory on her father's behalf!

Lear, we are told, has bedecked himself with wildflowers and weeds; as he becomes less rational, Dr. F. thinks, he becomes more sensitive to nature, and when he appears on stage so bedecked, he looks to us like a part of the natural world, the opposite of the vainglorious egotist obsessed with proclaiming his power in Act One. Madness is morally acute. We remember that the king has said when he first began to sympathize with the weak and poor, "See better, Lear; / Expose thyself to feel what others feel."

4.6---Edgar in disguise leads his father to the cliff's edge so that he may kill himself, and then assures the dazed old man that his life has been saved: "'the clearest gods'have preserved the'Bear free and patient thoughts." The Vice Dean reminded us how hard it is to make this episode palatable on stage, but it makes sense thematically: the son uses shock therapy to reconcile his father to life. Vigorous discussion ensued! Edgar robs dad of his dignity, said, one member. Another: The old man is reduced to an even more pitiable figure, even by the son who loves him.


Respectfully submitted Robert G. Peck Secretary

Originally published: Friday, January 25, 2008; most-recently modified: Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Wow, this is in every rpescet what I needed to know.
Posted by: Johnette   |   Jul 29, 2011 2:10 PM