bric-a-brac english

King Lear

In LITERATURE on November 23, 2012 at 12:19 pm

The BBC have a fantastic podcasts site where you can listen to and download oodles and noodles of programmes on just about anything: world news, business reports, drama, poetry, comedy, music, sports, you name it!

Here’s one from the series My Own Shakespeare, where “public figures from all walks of life talk about the piece of Shakespeare that inspires them most. The pieces are read by well known actors.” They are 2-3 minutes long.

This one is from King Lear, Act 5, Scene 3 (BBC podcast).

King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces and one of the greatest pieces of literature of all times. Harold Bloom, the celebrated American professor and critic, says that “[Hamlet and King Lear] show an apparent infinitude that perhaps transcends the limits of literature … [They] announce the beginning and the end of human nature and destiny”(!) What, still thinking about it? Go get your copy (or look it up on YouTube).

The play is about a King that is driven to madness by the consequences of his own arrogance, but is ultimately saved by coming to terms with human nature and destiny and by the loyalty of those who truly love him. Towards the end of the play (where the passage in the podcast is drawn from) he is captured by his enemies (among whom are two of his three daughters) along with his third daughter, Cordelia, banished by him early in the play but reconciled to him now. As they are taken away together, Lear addresses Cordelia:

No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison.
We two alone will sing like birds i’the cage;
When thou dost ask me blessing I’ll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness; so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too –
Who loses and who wins, who’s in, who’s out –
And take upon’s the mystery of things
As if we were God’s spies; and we’ll wear out,
In a walled prison, packs and sects of great ones
That ebb and flow* by the moon.

And here’s a modern English version, from No Fear Shakespeare

No, no, no, no! Come on, let’s go to prison.
The two of us together will sing like birds in a cage.
When you [thou] ask for my blessing, I’ll get down on my knees
and ask you [thee] to forgive me. That’s how we’ll live—
we’ll pray, we’ll sing, we’ll tell old stories, we’ll laugh
at pretentious courtiers
we’ll listen to nasty court gossip,
we’ll find out who’s losing and who’s winning, who’s in and who’s out.
We’ll think about the mysteries of the universe
as if we were God’s spies. In prison we’ll outlast
hordes of rulers
that will come and go as their fortunes change.

*ebb and flow is an expression to do with tides (the periodic rising and falling of the level of the sea, caused by the attraction of the moon and sun). The ebb is the flow of the sea away from the land (water level falls), when the tide goes out, and we still use this word today. The flow is the opposite movement of the waters (level rises).

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