Tag Archives: family

My 1000th Blog Post! – “King Lear” by William Shakespeare: An Exploration on Aging

Before I delve into my thoughts on Lear, I want to say thank you to all of you who have followed me, shared your comments, and encouraged me to continue with the blog. My goal is to keep writing for as long as there is interest.

Now, on to King Lear.

So I have read this play numerous times, and for me, it is right up there with Hamlet. There is so much depth in this text, and so much that could be explored. But considering that I am past middle age, the issues on aging were what struck me deepest during this reading.

In this play, both Lear and Gloucester suffer because they are old. There are two main forms of age-related suffering: suffering caused by bad decisions resulting from mental decline associated with old age, and suffering as a result of abuse from younger people who view the elderly as hindrances to their personal advancement.

Very early in the play, Lear’s daughters Regan and Goneril recognize that their father is exhibiting signs of senility.

Goneril:

You see how full of changes his age is; the
observation we have made of it hath not been
little: he always loved our sister most; and
with what poor judgment he hath now cast her off
appears too grossly.

Regan:

‘Tis the infirmity of his age: yet he hath ever
but slenderly known himself.

Goneril:

The best and soundest of his time hath been but
rash; then must we look to receive from his age,
not alone the imperfections of long-engraffed
condition, but therewithal the unruly waywardness
that infirm and choleric years bring with them.

(Act I. scene i)

There is the archetype of the wise old man, but as Lear’s fool rightly points out, not all people who are advanced in years possess wisdom. Wisdom is gained during your younger years; but if you fail to seek wisdom in your youth, then you become a foolish old man.

Fool:

If thou wert my fool, nuncle, I’ld have thee beaten
for being old before thy time.

King Lear:

How’s that?

Fool:

Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst
been wise.

(Act I, scene v)

Regan starts to show her resentment against having to care for her father. As is often the case, when a parent ages and begins to require assistance, all the baggage, resentment, and anger from the past begin to surface (note that Regan is an anagram for anger).

O, sir, you are old.
Nature in you stands on the very verge
Of her confine: you should be ruled and led
By some discretion, that discerns your state
Better than you yourself. Therefore, I pray you,
That to our sister you do make return;
Say you have wrong’d her, sir.

(Act II, scene iv)

One of the most powerful and symbolic scenes in the play is when Lear is cast out must face the storm.

Rumble thy bellyful! Spit, fire! spout, rain!
Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters:
I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness;
I never gave you kingdom, call’d you children,
You owe me no subscription: then let fall
Your horrible pleasure: here I stand, your slave,
A poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man:
But yet I call you servile ministers,
That have with two pernicious daughters join’d
Your high engender’d battles ‘gainst a head
So old and white as this. O! O! ’tis foul!

(Act III, scene ii)

The storm symbolizes Lear’s own inner turmoil, as well as the constant pounding of life’s challenges that eventually wear a person down. As he relives his mistakes, regret breeds a storm of chaos in his mind, which can no longer make sense of what is happening around him. He feels his last frail hold on sanity beginning to slip.

The tendency of the young to usurp power from the elderly is most clearly expressed through the character of Edmund, Gloucester’s bastard son.

This seems a fair deserving, and must draw me
That which my father loses; no less than all:
The younger rises when the old doth fall.

(Act III, scene iii)

This is still a part of our society. We all like to think we hold reverence for the elderly, but the fact is that neglect and abuse of the old is rampant. In addition, there is the subtle and insidious elder abuse which manifests as ageism in the workplace. Older workers are routinely passed over in favor of younger candidates, which only adds to the feelings of uselessness and despair that sadly accompany aging all too often.

When Lear is finally reunited with his Cordelia, his estranged daughter who he cast out, he realizes that he is nothing more than a foolish old man, and he humbles himself to ask forgiveness, because there is nothing worse than spending your last days bearing the weight of regret.

You must bear with me:
Pray you now, forget and forgive: I am old and foolish.

(Act IV, scene vii)

Finally, after his wits are restored, Lear gains the true wisdom that comes with age. He begins to understand what is truly important in life: family, relationships, and simple pleasures.

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 wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones,
That ebb and flow by the moon.

(Act V, scene iii)

The play concludes with some advice which all of us should heed.

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.

(Act V, scene iii)

We should never postpone speaking that which is in our hearts, especially to those who are dear to us. Because one day soon, before we expect it, we will be old, and the time to express our love for others will have passed. Do not allow fear or appearances to prevent you from telling someone how you feel. Missed opportunities are rarely retrieved.

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“Sonnet 30: When to the sessions of sweet silent thought” by William Shakespeare

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.

This poem is one of the “fair youth” sonnets. It essentially contrasts the emotional states associated with focusing on the past as opposed to the present.

The beginning of the sonnet is filled with the alliterative “s” sound, emulating the sound of a sigh, which is actually mentioned in the third line. The speaker is lost in thought about the past, obsessed with wasted time, failed endeavors, and lost loves. There is also a sense of mortality, as the person remembers the deaths of his friends and presumably contemplates his own. The focus on the past becomes so intense, that he is actually renewing and reliving his pain and loss. This is something I feel we have all experienced, at least I know for sure that I have. In my quiet times, it is easy for me to replay old tapes of the past and imagine what might have been, to mourn missed opportunities and lost friendships. This is exactly the feeling that Shakespeare is conveying in this poem.

But the last couplet provides a stark contrast to the prevailing mood of the sonnet. Here his focus shifts from the past to his current relationship with the fair youth, and you get the sense that the speaker is immediately able to let go of the past and appreciate what is truly important: the connection with people here and now.

We have a very limited time in our lives, and to waste that precious time obsessing about the past is a tragedy. To quote Ram Dass, we need to “Be Here Now.” We cannot change the past, and the future is uncertain. All we have is this moment. Take advantage of it and enjoy your connection with your friends and loved ones.

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Haunted Horror Tribute #22

hauntedhorror_22

I picked this up recently, figuring it would be fun to read and get me in the Halloween mood. It looked like something that was inspired by the old horror comics I read as a kid, but I was surprised to discover that it is actually a compilation of vignettes scanned and reprinted from the classic 1950’s horror comics. So this is NOT just an attempt to recapture the essence of the genre, this contains actual reprints of the original 1950’s tales. It’s all here—the vintage artwork, the cheesy narration, everything that I remember about these publications.

The collection is a nice size, containing eight tales of terror.

  • Robot Woman: The opening tale reminded me of “The Stepford Wives.” It explores the dark side of our culture’s obsession with physical beauty, while at the same time offering a critique of the 1950’s view of what a “perfect woman” is supposed to be.
  • Chef’s Delight: This is a story that addresses domestic violence, an issue that sadly still plagues our society today. In the end, though, the wife gets her revenge on her abusive husband.
  • Shadows of the Tomb: This is a story about a man who murders his wife to claim her inheritance. But in a twist reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, the wife is not really dead and exacts her revenge.
  • Guest of the Ghouls: This tale uses ghouls as a metaphor for individuals who violate the dead, who are like vultures feeding off the losses of the deceased. There is a great quote that warrants sharing: “We unburied the dead while we were living and stole what we wanted! You have robbed the dead of their only identity after death — their tombstones!”
  • I Killed Mary: Interesting vignette about a nerdy, dorky outcast. There was a scene about what was considered to be appropriate dinner table talk which I found to be a critique of the overly structured family life of the 50’s.
  • The Haunter: A piece about a greedy man who tries to scare his uncle to death in order to get his money.
  • The Choker: Probably my favorite in the collection. This is a very creative tale about a con job where a woman marries a man to get his money, then she and her lover kill the husband and stage it as a suicide. The brilliance of this piece is that it is written from the perspective of a necklace that the husband had given to the wife.
  • Night of Terror: The final story is about a man who stages a scenario intended to scare his wife so that he can prove himself to be brave in the face of danger, but as you can imagine, things go awry.

I really enjoyed this collection, and I am seriously considering getting more issues in the future. It is more than just a nostalgia piece; it’s a preservation of an artistic and literary genre that was a reflection of the anxiety, fear, and growing social tension that would later erupt into revolution in the 1960s. Highly recommended, even if you are not a horror buff.

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Doctor Who – Eleventh Doctor: Year Two – Issue 5

DoctorWho_2-05

While I’ve been following this arc since the beginning, I have not written about any installments in a while. That’s because, while entertaining, there hasn’t been anything that has jumped out at me as being worth expounding on. But this issue addresses a topic that interests me, which is fanaticism.

The problem, you see, is that mindless devotion to a cause is… well… it’s actually repulsively common. Sontarans… Cybermen… Daleks. The loss of the self, faceless efficiency, blah blah blah. Rank and file, back-and-forth, endless attrition. Potato people. That’s how wars are fought. But they’re won by madmen. Those happy to do the unthinkable in pursuit of victory—even if it means their own death.

As I read this, I could not help but think of fanatics in bellicose situations. Whether these individuals are labeled as heroes or terrorists really depends on which side of the conflict you are on. But the sad fact is the same—some people are so driven by the cause they believe in that they are willing to give their life or take the lives of others for an idea or a cause.

I’ve wondered, on occasion, whether there was a cause that I would be willing to sacrifice my life for. It’s a difficult question to answer honestly. I would like to say that for the greater good of humanity, I would sacrifice myself. But would I? I really can’t answer that, because I don’t know. Right now, there is no ideology that I feel so strongly about.

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Doctor Who – Eleventh Doctor: Issue 15

DoctorWho_15

This arc is winding down. I believe there is one more issue scheduled (though I may be mistaken). This issue wraps up the main story nicely and is frankly one of the better issues in this series. There is one quote from this installment that I want to share.

But we make new family. And everywhere we’ve been, and everywhere we’re going, there’s new family waiting. We can’t go backwards. We can’t be defined by where we came from. We go forward.

I liked this quote a lot because I related to it deeply. For a long time, I was tormented by the past, and as a result, was unable to move forward with my life. But once I learned that the past does not dictate my future, I was able to move forward and create a new and wonderful life for myself.

The past is valuable as a series of lessons, but the future holds infinite opportunity limited only by the restrictions we place upon ourselves. Don’t be afraid to face the future.

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“Odyssey” by Homer: Book VI – The Princess at the River

Painting by Michele Desubleo

Painting by Michele Desubleo

In this book, Odysseus awakens and encounters the princess Nausicaa and her handmaidens at the river. Nausicaa begins to fall in love with Odysseus and agrees to help him enter the city and gain an audience with her parents, the king and queen.

There are a few passages in this section that I found interesting and wanted to discuss. The first deals with beauty.

While Nausicaa is with her handmaidens, Athena bestows divine beauty upon her, “So one could tell the princess from the maids.” (Fitzgerald Translation: p. 102) The passage likens the differentiation between Nausicaa and the maids to the difference between Artemis and the nymphs. This made me think about the association between physical beauty and the divine. In fact, as Odysseus comes upon the young women, he asks Nausicaa: “Mistress: please: are you divine, or mortal?” (ibid: p. 103) It made me think that in this tale, beauty is in essence the divine made corporeal. And as I thought about this more, I began to wonder whether wisdom and courage are also divine qualities that manifest within certain individuals. Anyway, it’s certainly something I will keep in mind as I continue reading.

As Odysseus is coming upon the women, he makes a strange choice to rely upon words instead of actions to win their support.

In his swift reckoning, he thought it best
to trust in words to please her—and keep away;
he might anger the girl, touching her knees.
So he began, and let the soft words fall:

(ibid: p 103)

What struck me about this passage is the reliance on words. On one hand, words are tools of the Trickster, and Odysseus certainly embodies characteristics of this archetype. But words are also the tools of the poet, who uses words to express divine truth. It feels like there is a double entendre here, where words could be used both for expressing truth and deceit.

Odysseus concludes his supplication to Nausicaa by invoking the importance of family and home.

And may the gods accomplish your desire:
a home, a husband, and harmonious
converse with him—the best thing in the world
being a strong house held in serenity
where man and wife agree. Woe to their enemies,
joy to their friends! But all this they know best.

(ibid: p. 104)

This is worth considering because of Odysseus’ plight. He has been kept from his harmonious relationship with Penelope, and his strong house is being attacked by the suitors, who will no doubt become his enemies. One can sense the longing he must feel, to be reunited with the person who he loves, and to be back at home. It’s a very poignant image.

The last passage I want to discuss is when Odysseus bathes himself, away from the view of the women.

They left him, then, and went to tell the princess.
And now Odysseus, dousing in the river,
scrubbed the coat of brine from back and shoulders
and rinsed the clot of sea-spume from his hair;
got himself all rubbed down, from head to foot,
then he put on the clothes the princess gave him.
Athena lent a hand, making him seem
taller, and massive too, with crisping hair
in curls like petals of wild hyacinth,
but all red-golden. Think of gold infused
on silver by a craftsman, whose fine art
Hephaistos taught him, or Athena: one
whose work moves to delight: just so she lavished
beauty over Odysseus’ head and shoulders.
Then he went down to sit on the sea the beach
in his new splendor.

(ibid: pp 105 – 106)

I found this to be very symbolic. The bathing and anointing is a form of spiritual purification, where his soul is cleansed and he is again made holy. It seems very ritualistic in the description and the fact that he now appears in “new splendor” reinforces the image of Odysseus as a divine being. When we consider this in connection with the symbolic rebirth that Odysseus experiences in Book V, the symbolism becomes even more powerful, as the remnants of the past life are washed away and the newly resurrected hero appears in god-like glory.

So that’s all I have to say regarding Book VI. As always, please share any thoughts or comments. I’d love to hear from you. Check back soon for my thoughts on Book VII.

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“Sonnet 8: Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?” by William Shakespeare

"The Musicians" by Caravaggio

“The Musicians” by Caravaggio

Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:
Why lovest thou that which thou receivest not gladly,
Or else receivest with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tunèd sounds,
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering;
Resembling sire and child and happy mother,
Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee: “Thou single wilt prove none.”

As a musician, this poem really works for me. I connected with the musical metaphors used to convey familial harmony.

Shakespeare is again addressing the fair youth and asking why the songs (or poems) encouraging marriage and children make the youth sad. As with most youths, he likely views marriage as the loss of freedom and liberty. He does not want to be tied down to responsibility. But as Shakespeare points out, marriage is more than just responsibility and commitment; it is about the joy of being in harmony with other human beings.

If we look deeper at the metaphor of musical harmony as used to express marital happiness, we can see just how appropriate this is. In music theory, a basic chord is built on a triad, which is comprised of three notes: the root, the third, and the fifth. The traditional family structure is also based upon a triad: “sire and child and happy mother.” While each individual string can create a note, it is the combination, the strumming of multiple strings, the shared vibrations, which create rich chords. Likewise, it is the family, the shared love, which creates richness and harmony in life.

In music, the combination of the various parts creates something that transcends the individual elements. It is the same with a loving family. When humans bond and share their feelings, it creates something that surpasses the sum of the individuals, and this is what Shakespeare is encouraging the youth to discover.

Thanks for stopping by, and may your day be filled with joy, music, and harmony.

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