Shakespeare’s King Lear: King Liar and the tyranny of ‘elsewhere conscious presence’
Shakespeare’s King Lear: King Liar and the tyranny of ‘elsewhere conscious presence’
King Lear (c. 1605-6), Shakespeare’s comprehensive and epic tragedy, is unsparing in its presentation of the horror of everyday human cruelty, maliciousness and foolishness, and the untold misery and devastation that is wreaked in the wake of our adopted way of relating and living.
The play is likewise relentless in its revealing that amongst the ruins and unquellable anguish of this disgraceful model for a society, there nevertheless remains a few who will hold the steady and unquenchable flame of the Soul’s fiery Love – a Love that unceasingly beholds, observes and endures – the only true medicine for the seriously ill society that we have created and ignorantly accepted as our natural way of being. In the opening scenes of the play when Lear falls into a rage and throws out those delivering truth, the Duke of Gloucester correctly diagnoses Lear’s affliction, warning him that he is insisting on killing the truth-delivering ‘physician’ and bestowing the fee ‘Upon the foul disease’ of the lie that his life has become [1.1.164]
Interestingly, the majority of critics commenting on King Lear express – with eyebrows raised – that King Lear’s society is unusual. In other words, they find a society in which abuse, murder, treachery and slander are the ‘normal’ everyday activities, somewhat ‘unusual’. The editor of the Arden edition of King Lear comments that the kingdom of King Lear appears to be a world ’in which gratuitous violence seems to be the norm’ – as if somehow gratuitous violence isn’t the norm of our society, as if we were free of this abusive behaviour, this utter lovelessness and violence in our world. In fact abuse, duplicity and corruption are ordinary everyday life in the societal model for our world. Lear’s poignant comment to the Earl of Gloucester towards the end of the play that ‘When we are born we cry that we are come/ To this great stage of fools’ [4.6. 178-9], is ignored by one and all.
The play opens with the aging King Lear gathering his royal family around him: his daughters, Goneril and husband, Duke of Albany; Regan and husband, Duke of Cornwall; and Lear’s youngest, most treasured daughter Cordelia, with her suitors the King of France and Duke of Burgundy. Present also is Lear’s loyal follower and right-hand man, the Earl of Kent. Lear announces that he has divided his kingdom into three to bestow upon each member of his young family so that he may ‘Unburdened crawl towards death’ [1.1.40] He says: ‘Tell me, my daughters – / Since now we will divest us both of rule, / Interest of territory, cares of state – which of you shall we say doth love us most, / That we our largest bounty may extend/ . . . Goneril/ Our eldest born, speak first’ [1.1.48-54].
Both Goneril and Regan respond with a rally of competition for Lear’s favour, protesting that each loves him the most, spewing forth a stream of appalling flattery – later aptly called by Cordelia – that ‘glib and oily art/ To speak and purpose not’ [1.1.226-7]. Cordelia, observing what is going on, reveals her response in an aside to the audience ‘What shall Cordelia speak? Love and be silent’ [1.1.62]. This shared aside alerts the audience to become the observer, to see what Cordelia is seeing.
Lear then addresses Cordelia, his youngest and favourite: ‘But now our joy. Although our last and least . . . what can you say to draw/ A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak’.
In the face of such a request what else can Cordelia answer but ’Nothing, my lord’. How can she begin to respond to a request laced with competition, greed, pandering and self-interest? She says nothing and in her wisdom leaves her father to come to another cycle later in his life to arrive at an understanding of the lie he is presently consenting to. When she replies ‘Nothing’, Lear, in shock, asks, ‘Nothing?’ and Cordelia again replies ‘Nothing’. Lear commands her to ‘mend your speech’ and attempt to give a different answer (the answer he wants), but Cordelia says: ’Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave/ My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty/ According to my bond, no more nor less.’ (‘bond’ here referring to the bond of natural affection between child and parent) [1.1.87-109].
Lear, stunned, comes back with ‘So young and untender?’ and Cordelia responds: ‘So young, my lord, and true’. She stands, does not falter no matter how ‘unhappy’ it may make her to have to speak thus to her father. In a fit of fury the King replies, ‘Well, let it be so. Thy truth then be thy dower’. So saying he curses her, casts her out of his heart, casts her out of the family, cuts her off without a penny – no ‘dower’ but the dowry of truth: ‘Here I disclaim all my paternal care./ Propinquity and property of blood,/ and as a stranger to my heart and me/ Hold thee from this for ever’. And commands her to ‘Hence and avoid my sight’. Ironically, in imagining that he is cursing Cordelia and depriving her of his ‘love’, revenue and property, in saying that ‘truth’ will be her only dowry he is actually highlighting the only truly valuable jewel she, or any of us, has that is worth the having – her truth and integrity – something that no one can ever take away. Further, this casting of Cordelia out of his ‘sight’ is the first reference to the powerful motif of ‘blindness’ and ‘sight’ that runs through the play – referring to the deliberately adopted ‘blindness’ which enables humanity to live a lie, to live a far reduced version of their original magnificence. In a fatal stroke of calculated, elected blindness and arrogance, Lear not only turns his back on his beloved daughter Cordelia because she will not flatter him, but he turns his back on truth itself – refuses to see it when it is standing, embodied, right before his eyes.
When the clear-seeing Earl of Kent steps in to counsel Lear on the consequences that will follow ‘When power to flattery bows’ and ‘majesty falls to folly’, adding that Lear is mad to be falling for lies of the hollow, ‘empty-hearted’ sisters while casting out true Cordelia, Lear once again, in ungovernable fury, commands Kent to get ‘Out of my sight’ to which Kent, piercing through the force coming at him, warns the King: ‘See better Lear’. Kent will not give up or bow down to Lear’s raging bullying, he will not be a silent enabler and let this perpetrator get away with it: ‘I’ll tell thee thou dost evil’; and as mentioned above, points out that Lear is absurdly killing the ‘physician’ of truth and paying the foul disease’ which is the lie. Clearly things in King Lear’s created world make no sense and are completely topsy turvy – the opposite of what is true. When Lear banishes Kent on pain of death from the kingdom for speaking up, Kent says that banishment for him would actually be to have to live in Lear’s kingdom, freedom would be available outside of this kingdom. [1.1.147-182]
These opening scenes clearly expose the illusion of a family (and also courtly) consciousness in which members profess to ‘love’ each other above all else yet, in a single moment, will abuse or banish a loved one from their life forever – a not uncommon occurrence in the family as generally lived in our society. Can this ‘family’ love ever have been true love? As the King of France so wisely queries Lear re his banishment of Cordelia: ‘This is most strange,/ That she who even but now was . . . [the] balm of your age,/ The best, the dearest, should in this trice of time/ Commit a thing so monstrous, to dismantle/ So many folds of favour?’ [1.1.214-19]. The King of France is pointing to the absurdity and madness of King Lear’s behaviour to Cordelia. Lear thinks he can be as wrathful and callous as he likes because Cordelia hasn’t lived up to his held image of the dutiful daughter to flatter and please his arrogant self. He shouts at her: ‘Go to, go to, better that thou/ Hadst not been born than not to have pleased me better’. Lear completely shuts down on Cordelia – she must leave ‘Without our grace, our love, our benison’ [1.1.267] The kingdom is now divided.
Lear cannot handle Cordelia’s refusal to ‘heave her heart’ into her mouth, he cannot handle her refusal to engage in flattering him, or her unwillingness to be in competition with her sisters; her simple, powerful response that there is ‘nothing’ to be said in answer to such a request brings too much truth – a vibration he cannot countenance – because if he allows himself to register it, this truth will expose his false position of so-called paternal power and so-called royal rule. It will break the false image of the family relationship of father and daughter, as well as the pseudo-regal image of ruler and subject – both abject and warped ‘copies’ of divine relationship – images that he has to constantly conjure and entertain to maintain his specious individuality.
A ‘source’ of destructive consciousness is driving the King to constantly assert the lie in order to shut out the anguish and regret of being separated from the true love he innately and deeply knows. What Lear, at this point, thinks he ‘loves’ is the lip-service Goneril and Regan give to family machinations, to this dynastic arrangement of lies. Lear goes through all the motions of family life without one ounce of evolutionary love or true spark in relationship - he lives a shadow existence. Later, out on the stormy heath, the wise Fool responds in answer to Lear’s question ‘Who is it that can tell me who am I?’ – with, you are ‘Lear’s shadow’. This shadow-self that Lear hangs onto, bereft of the true love of the Soul, will in fact cold-heartedly destroy everything that is dear to him in order to save his created ‘life’ – and, the incessant drive to maintain individuality by this ‘self’ (known by the Ageless Wisdom as the ‘etheric spirit’ acts as a stronger and more desperate ‘must’ than any so-called family ‘love’. In most cases this reckless driving force actually runs family life and makes the Mafioso rules that underpin all its liaisons. As Lear’s scene with Cordelia exposes, there exists no history of ‘love’ or ‘family’ when the vibrational truth of the ‘loved’ one threatens the validity of the falsely adopted self. Sustaining an individuality that takes no account of the way it lives, nor the detrimental effect it has upon the all, means more to Lear than any human being does, even his precious daughter. You are out on your ear my dear!
Now that King Lear has disinherited Cordelia, the self-interested Duke of Burgundy refuses her hand in marriage, but the wise King of France willingly accepts her hand, and responds to Burgundy’s calculating attitude with, ‘She is herself a dowry’; and in a series of beautiful, tender paradoxes expresses his love and his infinite valuing of this ‘unprized, precious maid’:
"Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich being poor,/ Most choice forsaken and most loved despised,/ Thee and thy virtues here I seize upon."[1.1. 240-261]
He lovingly but in no uncertain terms clarifies the insanity of Lear’s position.
The Stormy Heath
Lear’s folly and irresponsibility in handing over his power to his manipulative daughters, and in his creation of a mega family drama including the atrocious behaviour towards Cordelia and Kent, is not without dire consequences upon both himself, his family and his kingdom. The next thing we know, Goneril and Regan and their husbands Albany and Cornwall, now in possession of the territory, the revenue, and kingly rule, decide, in typical repetitious and callous ‘family’ style, to banish the aged Lear from his kingdom. He himself is now out! Instant karma.
There will always be a macrocosmic resonance in the political kingdom to what is taking place in family relationships. We live in a ‘sea’ of energy and how we are in our homes affects the kingdom and vice versa. And, what is it that Lear has done to the kingdom but irresponsibly divide that which is indivisible, yet made divisibly real by the overcast of importunate perception. Therefore, and symbolically speaking, the already divided and systematic unruly ruler, unsurprisingly proceeds to divide his kingdom, his lands, his revenue and his political power.
Through this division, as well as his indulgence in fury, and the inviting of flattery into the kingdom as a code of conduct, Lear has fragmented his power. And ultimately when he is expelled from the kingdom he will knowingly fragment himself even further by refusing to face what has happened, by saying ‘no’ to the opportunity to grow, evolve and truly love. He will not even simply weep over Regan’s and Goneril’s treatment of him, instead electing to curse them and punish them by going mad: ‘I have full cause of weeping, but this heart/ Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws/ Or e’er I’ll weep. O fool, I shall go mad’ [2.2.473-475]. It is so that in banishing Lear, Goneril and Regan have tried to destroy him, but then he, while railing against them, will absurdly join their party and too try to destroy himself – in fact do any reckless thing that will make him consciously unresponsive to healing and evolution.
Before discovering his daughters’ treachery, Lear is in considerable denial about what is going on in front of his very eyes. Kent is aware that Oswald, Goneril’s steward, is carrying ‘letters against the king’ and taking ‘Vanity the puppet’s [Goneril’s] part against the royalty of her father’[188.8.131.52]. Kent hates everything Oswald represents – one who obsequiously toes the party line (later in the play Oswald is asked to kill Gloucester if he runs into him, and he says: ‘Would I could meet him, madam, I should show/ What party I do follow’[4.5.41-2]) When Kent accuses Oswald of treason against King Lear, Regan and Cornwall arrest Kent and put him in the stocks. ‘Blind’ Lear, yet unaware that he himself will be banished, of course denies that his daughter and husband could ever have done such a thing to Kent. Kent insists that they did put him in the stocks – which leads to this hilarious exchange:
Lear: ‘No I say’
Kent: ‘I say yea’
Lear: ‘No, no, they would not’
Kent: ‘Yes, they have’
Lear: ‘By Jupiter, I swear no’
Kent: ‘By Juno, I swear ay.’ [2.2. 205-12].
Yes, Lear’s awareness of his daughters’ natures is sadly lacking and his stubbornness is epic. But there is more to this – Lear has deliberately taken a stance of self-deception, called by new era philosopher Serge Benhayon ‘elsewhere-conscious-presence’, which is a denial of the fact that there is a whole unseen dimension of life that powers our physical plane of life; a denial of the fact that ‘everything is energy and therefore everything is because of energy’, and a dogged insistence that the physical reality is the only reality.
This ‘elsewhere-conscious-presence’ refuses to see what is truly going on, and it has been symbolised in Shakespeare’s play as a deliberately and conveniently chosen ‘blindness’ – physically seeing but not ‘reading’ or knowing the quality of the energy impulsing the physical form i.e. the energy coming through people.
How could his daughter Regan, to whom he has just given half the kingdom, arrest his right-hand man Kent and put him in the stocks?? He can’t believe it! He can’t admit that this is possible, because he is confined by the circumscribed ‘intelligence’ of the alternate reality he has created and is obedient to. He has elected elsewhere-conscious-presence as his leading ‘reality’ and so does not see and feel what a puppet of the manipulating source of supremacy energy Regan is.
At the point when he is thrown out onto the stormy heath, Lear in his convenient ignorance believes himself to be a victim: ‘I am a man/ More sinned against than sinning’. And, the Introduction of the academically esteemed Arden edition of King Lear cements Lear’s own deluded view, calling him ‘a victim of violent forces in an uncaring society'! But Lear himself is the King, the ruler, of this uncaring society. It is his responsibility to wisely set the example and not allow the violent forces to rage through his own vehicle and that of the kingdom. Lacking discernment, he gives away all his ‘power’ to his treacherous daughters and sons-in-law. He has enabled the whole woeful scenario against himself by himself. As the Fool later wryly nails Lear with: ‘thou mad’st thy/ daughters thy mothers; For when thou gav’st them the rod and putt’st down thine own breeches’! He has engineered his own demise, putting himself into the hands of these daughters, who, well aware of his dangerous and erratic behaviour, will get rid of him as soon as they can. Goneril has long been aware of his ‘unruly waywardness’, and says: ‘The best and soundest of his time hath been but rash’ [1.1.296]. In other words, even at his best, Lear has been reckless.
Regan similarly recognises that it is not just her father’s advancing years that have made him unaware, it is a fact that ‘he hath ever but slenderly known himself’ – self awareness has not been his forte! The Fool likewise laments to Lear,‘Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise’ [1.5.41].
These observations bring to mind Francis Bacon’s words that,
“It is a sad fate for a man to die too well known to everybody else, and still unknown to himself”.
He could be talking about King Lear. The immaturity which is the hallmark of the etheric spirit’s nature is apparent to all who know Lear. What has happened to the powerful ‘King’ of this plane of life that he has entered into such folly, such ignorance and abandoned the wisdom of the Soul?
Now in his meandering ways he is cast out into the night, to the desolate heath where there rages a wild storm. All hell is unleashed as Lear finds himself in the midst of this tempest with nowhere to go but a leaky ‘hovel’ – offered to him by the now-disguised Kent, still aiding Lear, though banished by him. It is as if Lear is invoking this storm as an enactment of his inner turmoil: 'Blow wind and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!/ You cataracts and hurricanes, spout/ Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!/ You sulphurous and thought executing fires,/ Vaunt couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts/ Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,/ Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ the world, Crack nature’s moulds, all germens spill at once/ That make ingrateful man' [3.2.1-9].
In the midst of the storm, before he goes completely mad, Lear recognises that when the mind is free of imposition then ‘the body is delicate’ [i.e. sensitive to feeling and thus knowing energy] and he admits that ‘this tempest in my mind/ Doth from my senses take all feeling else/ Save what beats there, filial ingratitude’: in other words, the tempest of ‘filial ingratitude’ – actually his reaction to Cordelia not obeying his held image – becomes his all-consuming self-battering focus which then prevents him from being able to ‘feel’ – it renders him numb, which of course is what he as the etheric spirit desires. The stormy skies, reflecting Lear’s eventual state of full madness induced by the confliction of too many held images, blot out the clarity of the constellations, the wisdom of the stars; and the King, now wearing a crown of ‘weeds’, has temporarily lost even the possibility of multi-dimensionality – truly sane, magnificent intelligence and knowing.
The Evil Twin
At this point it is essential to introduce the play’s subplot, which mirrors the already established Family scenario of the father who aligns with his treacherous offspring, while blindly casting out the child who has actually not ‘sinned’ against him at all. The Father in this case is the Earl of Gloucester, a member of Lear’s court, who has two sons: Edgar, his legitimate son and Edmund, his bastard son, about whom his father admits ‘there was good sport in his making’ [1.1.21-2]. Edmund is introduced to the audience trying to convince himself of his ‘worth’ by announcing that at least he has been begotten ‘in the lusty strength of nature’ and not from the legitimate ‘dull stale tired bed’ of marriage which begets a ‘whole tribe of fops.’ Edmund puts on a whole song and dance about his ‘bastardy’ so that we, the audience, are now in no doubt of the origin and meaning of the word ‘bastard’: ‘Why brand they us/ With base? With baseness, bastardy? Base, base?’ [1.2. 9-14]. It is not long before we find out what the wily base-bastard Edmund has in mind! He is committed to success in the loveless topsy-turvy creation we call the world. As he launches his next step, which is to betray his brother Edgar, he issues his battle cry ‘Edmund the base/ Shall top the legitimate!’ (playing on ‘base’ and ’top’) [1.2.20-1] – symbolically communicating the desire of the illegitimate etheric spirit to unlawfully reign supreme, denying universal law. There is no brotherhood in Edmund’s self-made set of laws.
Edmund is very like Othello’s Iago and King Richard in Richard III, in his ability to disguise himself and play-act to convince others that he is the very best of men, the impeccable good man, all the while plotting to ensnare everyone in his path for his own self-gain. Edmund is the embodiment of the evil of the ‘good’ – he is the ‘respectable’ lie. He ultimately lies about and betrays his father, while pretending to be the best of sons, and of course in this topsy-turvy bastardised version of life he is praised by Regan for his loyalty in betraying his father.
But before he betrays his father he does the same to Edgar: he has invented a letter, purportedly written by Edgar, damning their father; and, supposedly to save Edgar’s skin, he will pretend to quickly hide the incriminating letter as Gloucester enters. But he does it in such a way that Gloucester will see him hiding the letter and demand to read it. Gloucester: ‘What paper were you reading? Edmund: ‘Nothing, my lord’. Gloucester: ‘No? What needed then that terrible dispatch of it into your pocket? . . . Let’s see – Come, if it be nothing, I shall not need spectacles’. Edmund eventually and ‘reluctantly’ hands it over and Gloucester of course explodes when he sees that ‘Edgar’ has betrayed him. All the time the supposedly ‘loyal’ Edmund is pretending that he is defending Edgar, making excuses for him, imploring Gloucester to ‘suspend your indignation against my brother till you can derive from him better testimony of his intent’ [1.2.31-81].
Further, Edmund then sets up a scenario (to be viewed by Gloucester) where it will appear that Edgar is attacking Edmund with a sword, thus cementing the validity of the evil letter’s contents. While waiting for Edgar to fall into his snare, Edmund cynically quips: Here ‘he comes, like the catastrophe of the old comedy’ – yes, this created denouement is certainly a piece of play-acting, a set-up, a plot. And Gloucester, the ‘incredulous father’, and the ‘noble’ but foolishly honest Edgar, who too has his blindness about the forces that run Edmund, have fallen for the whole fiction. Very soon Edmund becomes Gloucester’s favourite and Edgar is kicked out into the wilderness of the heath where he disguises himself as an insane beggar, ‘Poor Tom’. The storm-drenched heath is quickly becoming populated by the banished, the exiled and the ‘mad’.
Meanwhile, Gloucester hears of a plot to kill Lear and arranges for the King to escape to Dover. Regan and Cornwall, while guests at Gloucester’s place, get wind of his aid for Lear. Taking Gloucester by surprise they apprehend him as a ‘traitor’, tie him up to a chair while Cornwall viciously and cruelly gouges out both his eyes with his boot crying, ‘Out vile jelly’: ‘See’st shalt thou never. Fellows, hold the chair;/ Upon these eyes of thine I’ll set my foot’ [3.7.66-82]. Gloucester later makes his now-famous comment on this experience to an Old Man he meets when he too is banished to the heath: ‘As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods,/ They kill us for their sport’[4.1.37-8] – here referring to the ‘un-gods’ Regan and Cornwall, who have forsaken their original divine nature in order to use their powerful ‘godly’ capacity in the service of evil – to wantonly play with fellow human beings as if they were toys.
Cornwall’s utter barbarity and callousness knows no bounds as he orders the now blinded Gloucester and the stabbed servant, who has tried to save him, to be thrown out: ‘Turn out that eyeless villain. Throw this slave/ Upon the dunghill’ [3.7.94-5]. Later Cornwall’s wife Regan realises that it has been a big mistake to blind Gloucester and let him stay alive, because everywhere Gloucester now goes ‘he moves/ All hearts against us’ [4.5.10-12]. She never considers him a fellow brother, he is just a pawn in their ugly political game. How cheap have they rendered human life – no cruelty is too cruel to accomplish what they, like Lear, so desperately crave – to retain individuality at all costs, to maintain themselves unresponsive to the real and great love of brotherhood which is the foundation of true family and of any valid, evolving kingdom.
In the larger, symbolic context of the play, Gloucester’s bleeding gouged-out eyes serve as a potent emblem for his blindness to the fact of the forces of evil in life, enacted specifically for him by those forces coming through his illegitimate son Edmund. Gloucester is not a cruel, duplicitous baddy, he rather represents the decent man, a man who is shocked when ‘the noble, and true-hearted Kent’ is ‘banished, his offence, honesty! ‘Tis strange, ‘strange!’ [1.2.114-15]. But he has nevertheless blinded himself to the reality of Lear’s waywardness, and to his own son’s treachery, refusing to see what is really going on in front of his eyes, and thus enabling the energetic reservoir of the collective lies and treachery to be fed, supplied and topped up.
Through the experience of being physically blinded, Gloucester wonderfully learns to ‘feel’ again, now being able to know energetic truth. He thus deepens and gains new insight into the inner-workings of life. Cast out into the stormy heath, he runs into Lear whom he recognises as the King, and exclaims: ‘O, let me kiss that hand!’ to which Lear wryly replies: ‘Let me wipe it first, it smells of mortality’! Lear proceeds to ask Gloucester to read a letter that he has in his possession. This absurd act of a letter offered to a ‘blind’ man to read reminds us of the false letter earlier offered by Edmund to the metaphorically ‘blind’ Gloucester – a truly ‘fake’ event, and one which occurs frequently in our ‘normal’, everyday world.
In this next cycle of his life, when Gloucester, now physically blind, is handed a letter he no longer avoids energetic awareness at all costs. He responds in a whole different quality. Lear says, ‘you know how the world goes’ and Gloucester confirms, ‘I see it feelingly’ – this being a significantly evolutionary shift [4.6.135-145]. Now that he can feel, he knows what is going on in the world and cannot ignore it. In one instance, he observes the rich and lustful man that ‘will not see/ Because he does not feel’ [4.1.71-2]. And, later when Gloucester realises the awful truth that his son Edgar has been framed by Edmund, he is able to admit ‘I stumbled when I saw’ and cries:
"O dear son Edgar,/ The food of thy abused father’s wrath,/ Might I but live to see thee with my touch,/ I’d say I had eyes again"[4.1.21-6]
Gloucester is back in touch! Ironically though, his son Edgar now disguised as ‘Poor Tom’, is the very one guiding him back to safety, and Gloucester doesn’t yet realise that it is Edgar who is with him – he doesn’t yet realise the full truth of their relationship.
On the heath Lear is intrigued by ‘Poor Tom’s’ /Edgar’s nakedness – he goes on about ‘Poor Tom’s’ uncovered body’ and asks the Old man who is with them to ‘bring some covering for his naked soul’. In his nakedness Edgar/Poor Tom is significantly described by Lear as ‘the thing itself’ – the essential human being without its accumulated layers of images, falsehoods, disguises and play-acting. Edgar’s naked state is in fact symbolic of truth. In the guise of Poor Tom, he lovingly cares for and guides his blinded father through the long trek in the dark stormy night to the safety of Dover.
Finally, Gloucester says to his guide ‘Poor Tom’, I can go no further: ‘No further, sir, a man may rot even here’, but Tom/Edgar calls to the depths of his father’s being to come on, don’t give up, don’t let despair take you over, your fullness is all-important at your life’s completion. He says: ‘What, in ill-thoughts again? Men must endure/ Their going hence even as their coming hither./ Ripeness is all. Come on’ [5.2.8-11]. This is a nutshell teaching on man’s pass-over: do not die in despair, regret or giving up, but die fully ripe and truly joyfully being yourself.
Edgar is yet to come face to face with Edmund. It is clear, if we even consider the significance that the ‘Ed’ part of their names is held in common, that Edmund and Edgar’s relationship can be seen as symbolic of the relationship of the developing human being with the etheric spirit. Edmund the bastard son is representative of the bastardisation of, the copy of, the real thing which resides in Edgar – this ‘real thing’ yet to become fully claimed, which it eventually does when in Act 5 he becomes co-ruler of the kingdom. Edmund is dedicated to serve the shadow side of life (known as the astral plane in the Ageless Wisdom), the side of life that resists knowing the ‘livingness’ of true life, and is in fact a kind of ‘death’. He subjects himself to Goneril’s treacherous rule as she commands him to bow while she puts a ‘chain about his neck’! And he aligns to her: ‘Yours in the ranks of death’ [4.2.22-4]. Both Goneril and Regan have fallen for Edmund in doomed jealous passions, both of which he chillingly double-crosses – Goneril ends up poisoning Regan and then suicides. The sisters’ relationship with Edmund is symbolic of their falling even deeper than they already were into the deadly snare of the astral plane, which, being a lie, always betrays.
Edmund is ultimately arrested by Goneril’s husband, Albany, ‘On capital treason’ [5.3.83] and Edgar, still disguised, finally comes face to face in a duel with Edmund, calling him out as the liar and ‘most toad-spotted traitor’ that he is [5.3.136]. Mortally wounding Edmund, Edgar then casts off his disguise and reveals who he truly is. Interestingly, at Edgar’s ‘reappearance’, decency is restored to Edmund as moments before he dies he attempts to retract a writ that he has placed on the lives of the now imprisoned Cordelia and Lear. We see the possibility that the etheric spirit will surrender to the Soul.
During the course of events Albany, who is at first ‘blind’ and weak, has come to his senses as he witnesses in horror the cruel acts committed by his wife Goneril, and he finally understands that it is a ’fiend’ that is working through her ‘woman’s shape’. In the knowing that ‘everything is energy’ Albany is able to speak up: ‘See thyself, devil:/ Proper deformity shows not the fiend/ So horrid as in a woman’. And although he sees the ‘fiend’ within her he refrains from attacking her as he would a man: ‘A woman’s shape doth shield thee’ [4.2.60-68]. She disdainfully mocks his masculinity, calling him a ‘mild’ and ‘Milk-livered man’ who is so cowardly that he should change places with her and stay at home and spin flax [4.2.18-19]. She has so hardened and discarded her true female sacredness, which is in reality a deep strength, that the natural tenderness in Albany, in the face of her callous cruelty, is anathema to her. Everything in this topsy-turvy world is the copy and distortion of true divine qualities, and Goneril’s and Regan’s selling out on their powerful quality of ‘femaleness’ to be the hardened, callous version proffered by the copy-world is squarely put before the audience to consider. This play not only presents the tragedy of King Lear, but also the tragedy of Goneril and Regan.
Cordelia and Lear
Cordelia returns from France when she hears that her sisters have banished her father from the kingdom, to seek her father out in the storm and restore him to his kingly state. She finds him mad, desperate and anguished – ‘in ungoverned rage’ and ‘as mad as the vexed sea’ i.e., in unabated motion [4.4.2;18].
A local Gentleman offers her the advice of restoring Lear to ‘repose’ after the turbulence of the inner and outer tempest by using a ‘simple’, or herb:
"There is means, madam/ Our foster nurse of nature is repose/ The which he lacks; that to provoke him/ Are many simples operative, whose power/ Will close the eye of anguish."[4.4.11-14]
As part of this regenerative process which must start from repose, this same Gentleman at Dover puts ‘fresh garments’ on Lear, signifying the shedding of his ‘divisive garment’, so beginning his energetic restoration. And Cordelia’s sacred love works gently to bring him back to remembrance and sanity: ‘O my dear father, restoration hang/ Thy medicine on my lips, and let this kiss/ Repair those violent harms that my two sisters/ Have in thy reverence made’. Lear begins to return to himself, able to see that he has been ‘a very foolish, fond old man . . . not in my perfect mind’. And he significantly recognises Cordelia, ‘Do not laugh at me/ For as I am a man, I think this lady/ To be my child Cordelia’. And she replies, ‘And so I am. I am’, recalling the adage from the Ageless Wisdom ‘I am that I am’ [4.7.60-70].
As things unfold we realise that Cordelia is working a deep and sacred alchemy in this kingdom. She is the golden thread that ever brings the truth of the Ageless Wisdom, the gift of the divine kingdom from whence we came.
Interestingly, when banished she is not cast like the others into the storm (even the ‘honest’ Kent and ‘legitimate’ Edgar need time on the heath), but she is instead taken up and cherished by her husband the King of France. Because of her other-worldly equanimity and consistency of her way of living, the experience of the be-nighted stormy heath is not a consequence for her.
Her detachment is legendary – when she and Lear are ultimately captured and put into prison she handles it very simply, knowing the situation is just the illusory drama of ‘fortune’ fabricated by the limiting astral intelligence: she says to her father, ’We are not the first/ Who with best meaning have incurred the worst./ For thee oppressed King, I am cast down; Myself could else outfrown false fortune’s frown' [5.3.3-6].
Most significantly, Cordelia’s name holds within it the key word ‘cor’ [Latin] meaning ‘heart’ (cuore, Italian; coeur, French). She Loves. No matter what her father the King has said or done she has never once judged him. Lear puts to her that she has great cause to not love him, but she assures him very simply with, ‘No cause, no cause’. Likewise, the Gentleman reports to Kent that when Cordelia is informed of her sisters’ great cruelty to her father she is not moved to wrathful judgment but to ‘patience and sorrow’, shaking ‘The holy water from her heavenly eyes’ [4.3.30-1]. Love does not judge, it just is, it is a holding Light. No matter how fond and foolish, how abusive, treacherous or in disregard we have been, Truth and true Love will simply present what is needed for us to get back to our ‘Kingly’ state. Lear had bought into being the King of a divided, fallen, copy-kingdom – a realm where ‘madmen lead the blind’ as Gloucester observes. Now reconciled with Cordelia he has found himself again and begun the task of being a master of a kingdom that can potentially reflect the seamless original kingdom of God. When Lear asks, ’Am I in France?’ Kent significantly replies, ’In your own kingdom, sir’ [4.7.74-5]. He has begun his return.
We hear that the British military powers are marching towards Dover where Lear presently abides, and Cordelia and her husband the King of France prepare to support Lear to restore him to his throne, to return him to his ‘royal’ birth-right. To support Lear is, of course, to be a traitor to the new rulers, and so Cordelia becomes an ‘enemy’ who leads French forces in an invasion of England, against her own family. Like Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita, Cordelia does not undertake this task of cleansing the land of the corrupt rule – implemented by her poisonous sisters – out of a war-like ambition, she undertakes it out of Love: ‘No blown ambition doth our arms incite,/ But love, dear love, and our aged father’s right’. And she is not talking here about reinstating him as the old King of a corrupt kingdom, but of reinstating him to himself, to his original and innate majesty. She states: ‘O dear father,/ It is thy business that I go about’ (an echo of Jeshua’s words in Luke 2:49). Hers is not a violent invasion, it is not a ‘business’ bred of hatred, rage, and self-gain. In going about her father’s business she is serving truth – the truth that will awaken Lear back to himself and to his kingly state, and out of his wayward sojourn into foolishness.
During the invasion Lear and Cordelia are captured by Edmund and put in prison. Lear says to her that they will sing together ‘like birds i’the cage./ When thou dost ask me a 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.’ [5.3.9-17].
Lear at last has gained a certain awareness and observational detachment (‘God’s spies’) – and he has seen through the courtly farce of ‘who’s in and who’s out’, he now has a willingness to see the inner workings (‘mysteries’) of the world. Lear has also witnessed that the world is full of misery. Now that he can ‘feel what wretches feel’, he realises’: ‘O I have ta’en/ Too little care of this’ [3.4.32-5]. To rule the kingdom truly he must live brotherhood.
All too soon, however, a writ has been taken out by Edmund on the lives of both Cordelia and Lear, and Cordelia is brutally murdered in her prison cell, her death made to look like suicide. She is killed because the forces running the world through its gatekeepers, detractors and enablers cannot handle so much true love. At its rotten core the resistance to divinity emitted from this copy-life and its creators is such that we cannot even begin to know its degree or depths. Cordelia’s loving presence could not be endured by the ‘rulers’, a situation we have seen over the aeons with many a messenger of God’s truth.
One of the major questions posed and clarified in King Lear is, ‘What is it that we are actually obedient to in life?’ As vehicles of expression we are always obedient to one of the two sources available to us on this plane of life: the source of truth or the source of lies.
The theme of ‘obedience’ is most clearly unfolded at the opening of the play where Lear, Gloucester and Edgar are obedient to an ‘elsewhere-conscious-presence’ as a way of living, a state which deliberately denies the energetic truth; and as Serge Benhayon has pointed out, this ill alignment ‘is not only a discipline, it is an exact obedience, a form of duty that serves only the individual and his or her interpretation of life’.
Lear quickly learns a painful lesson when he discovers that Goneril and Regan are demanding him to be obedient to their own destructive and devastating mind-set. As the Fool insightfully conveys to Lear, your daughters ‘will make [you] an obedient father’ [1.4.226] In tasting the bitterness of his own poison, Lear encounters the exact and loving universal law of cause and effect, which is heaven-sent in order to counteract and heal the contempt of the etheric spirit which is utterly obedient to its own created will.
As we have seen, Cordelia has refused to enter into competition with her sisters and flatter Lear with protestations of false love when Lear has expected unquestioning ‘obedience’ to his every whim. Cordelia’s saying ‘No’ to her father is generally seen as an act of generational disobedience and rebellion, but in the light of what has been offered us by the Ageless Wisdom, Cordelia’s ‘No’ is in fact an obedience to truth, which naturally serves the all, awakening growth and evolution for those surrounding her (Goneril and Regan excepted because they refuse it). This obedience is quite a different thing from rebellion, which engages the exact same quality of energy as the initial demand by the parent, so multiplying and feeding evil.
It is not necessary to label Cordelia a rebel or a ‘Christian saint’ or ‘martyr’ – labels imposed upon her historically by a solid body of critics. She simply is herself, she is true, she is a point of sacredness in a world where women have hardened into Gonerils and Regans. And she is an embodiment of Christ’s love, in the face of the self-serving manipulation and rampant individuality practised on the world stage.
The play ends with Lear’s death, and the devastated kingdom left in the hands of Albany and Edgar who closes the play with:
‘The weight of this sad time we must obey,/ Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say’ [5.3.322-3].
No more lying! The next phase of the kingdom will lay a new foundation of obedience at least to some form of honesty, and will encourage genuine expression, not flattery.
In King Lear Shakespeare has presented, without holding back, the truth about the callousness, ugliness and unworkable nature of the ‘normal’ day-to-day of our society, run by the etheric spirit’s sell-out to the copy-world of lies. He is saying to the audience, can’t you see that this world does not work? Cast away your carefully sculpted adopted blindnesses, your deceitful ‘elsewhere-conscious-presence’. See clearly and consider what is happening in front of your eyes.
The play also works deeply to re-ignite our awareness and remembrance of Heaven through the portrayal of Christ’s truth and love, in a character who, consistently despite the world’s tumultuous drama, embodies this living way on earth – the youngest, dearest daughter Cordelia who reflects the future for all to come back home to our true majesty, to the truly kingly state and kingdom from whence we came.
"And should there be an exposé of your lies and deceits, then resort to defamation, propaganda, false accusations and complaints, and or, as an ultimate solution, simply exterminate the Divine love and truth that will not submit to your lies. And this is how supremacy has ruled, offering succour and reward to its adherents while bludgeoning those who expose the many lies and deceptions with hostility and or cruelty."Serge Benhayon Teachings and Revelations for The Livingness Volume III, ed 1, p 233
Inspired by and based on the Ageless Wisdom as presented by Serge Benhayon.