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.
MEETING OF THE SHAKSPERE SOCIETY OF PHILADELPHIA AT THE FRANKLIN INN CLUB, JANUARY 23, 2008:
Dean Wagner in the chair. Other members present: Ake, Bartlett, Binnion, Bornemann, Bovaird, Di Stefano, Fallon, Fisher, Griffin, Hopkinson, King, Mabry, Madeira, O'Malley, Peck, Pope, and Warden. We welcomed Mr. Madeira's guest Jacob Eden. Jacob was enthusiastic about his annual visits to the Oregon Shakspere Festival in Ashland (an appealing small town in the foothills of the mountains near the California border). The Secretary spent a week there with a lively Yale group last summer and strongly concurs with Jacob's praise of Ashland productions of plays both Bardish and contemporary.
Rudi has advised the Dean that the price of dinner must rise by three dollars a meal henceforth. It is our first increase in price in three years.
The April 23 annual meeting and dinner of the Society, hosted by Messrs. Cheston, Ingersoll and Wheeler, will be held at Guildford.
Professor Fallon recently was elected Milton Scholar of the Year for 2007 by the august Milton Society of America. Well done, thou good and faithful servant! The Vice Dean reported that the Modern Language Association, that huge confraternity of academic students of Eng. Lit., held a session during its annual meeting in late December entitled, in classic MLA style, "Epistemology of Crux." (Can't Letterman do something with that phrase?) It focused on subtle (tortured?) interpretations of Hamlet's confrontation with Gertrude in the Closet Scene, including discussions of flamboyant bedroom shenanigans in film versions.
Dr. Fallon reminded us of the Dean's long list of references to nature in King Lear. In Act Four, Lear shows himself more sensitive to the natural world. This affinity with nature is linked to the old man's demand for justice. Lear enters early in 4.6, after a long absence from the stage (at just about the same time in the dramatic action as Hamlet's extended absence after his departure for England). He is mentally unbalanced, and crowned with wildflowers. The Vice Dean thinks of Lear as talking truth, good sense, now that he is unhinged; his speech is "stripped of superficiality."
In 4.6, Lear raves at length about justice, his most frequent theme. The Vice Dean referred to the king's new compassion for the common man: the moral education of Lear continues. But Lear is also angry at the sexual corruption of judges, and (satirically?) denounces restrictions on the reign of riotous appetite, which, he proclaims, dominates all women. He is callous to the blinded Gloucester, but he speaks some of the play's most memorable phrases to the despairing duke: "Thou must be patient:/ We came crying hitherï¿½.When we are born, we cry that we are come/ To this great stage of fools." Then Lear fantasizes a jihad against his "son-in-laws": "Then kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!" And a minute later, he runs from the stage as if taking part in a children's game.
The Vice Dean wondered to what degree we now feel sympathy for Lear, still not exactly a warm, fuzzy fellow. A member was unmoved: the old autocrat caused his own problems, however villainous his enemies.
As if in echo of the king's bloodthirsty thoughts, Oswald now appears lusting for the blood of poor Gloucester, a murder that would win the servant reward from Goneril. Edgar confronts him, speaking like an unlettered West Country bumpkin; he is disdainfully cursed by the snobbish Oswald. Edgar then kills this tool of villainy and defends his vulnerable old father. We note the parallel and contrast with Cordelia's attempts to defend Lear.
The Vice Dean returned to the topic of justice in the play. Goneril and Regan have not broken the law, however strongly we condemn their callousness towards their father and their mutual hatred as they lust after Edmund. And then there are Edmund and Cornwall: BAD! Lear memorably pictures justice rendered in courts of law as a fraud, as judges eagerly seek money and sex in return for favorable verdicts. We recall Angelo's sexual demands on Isabella in order to save her randy brother's life. Lear's urge to condemn and even kill those he finds morally at fault reminded a member of the old man's horrifying attacks on Cordelia in the play's opening scenes. And we recall his later savage condemnations of his "unnatural" older daughters in later scenes.
Dr. Fallon emphasized the similar roles of Cordelia and Edgar in this fourth act. A Gentleman refers to Cordelia in religious terms: she "redeems nature from the general curse" of sinfulness so dramatically demonstrated in Lear's elder daughters. She of course is killed trying to defend her father. Edgar risks his life in combat with Oswald, as he has risked it in helping Gloucester after the duke's condemnation by Cornwall, Goneril, Regan and Edmund. Meanwhile Edmund hopes for his father's death and plays Goneril and Regan against each other.
WE MEET NEXT ON FEBRUARY 6, AND WILL RECOMMENCE OUR STUDY OF KING LEAR WITH DISCUSSION OF THE WONDERFUL SEVENTH SCENE OF ACT FOUR.
Respectfully submitted Robert G. Peck Secretary
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