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King Lear+sun 

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This academic paper shows that "King Lear" is also about the sun vs. coal. ...

This academic paper shows that "King Lear" is also about the sun vs. coal.
Please help support my research into solar energy themes in Shakespeare's other plays by buying my e-novel "Juliet is the Sun" (about $8 on Amazon). (Thank you very much!)

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  • My dream is to reveal a new side of William Shakespeare to the world. He was a man intimitely concerned with what ultimately gave us the ability to get other things: energy. He definitley divided energy into two knds: renewable and non-renewable. This makes him really up to date and relevant for us today.
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    King Lear+sun  King Lear+sun  Document Transcript

    • “There is the sulphurous pit, burning, scalding, stench, consumption”: London, coal, and a hidden solar energy play in King Lear “And as we wind on down the road Our shadows taller than our souls There walks a lady we all know Who shines white light and wants to show How everything still turns to gold. And if you listen very hard The truth will come to you at last When one are all and one is all To be a rock and not to roll. ----“Stairway to Heaven” (1971) Hit song by Led Zepplin Introduction: The hidden morality play in Romeo and Juliet became a structural template to be used further The secret morality play hidden in Romeo and Juliet tells the story of Man making a transition away from using the Sun as the main source of resource inputs---to coal--- and then staying in exile from the sun (i.e. man is dependent on fossil fuels) before returning to the Sun in an economic collapse (Romeo’s suicide). But did Shakespeare develop this theme of a human economic system thrown
    • disastrously out of balance by fossil fuels in more detail in any other work? Macbeth is probably the play where the collapse process is examined in its most vivid and horrifying awfulness-----ambition and denial are given full play as man leaps aggressively to the very top then suffers a commensurately spectacular defeat at the hands of Mother Nature. However, another famous tragedy, King Lear investigates other compelling aspects of the sun-man-coal triangle: the assumptions underlying the process to choose coal, and the ambivalence of Londoners toward coal smoke and soot. By deeply obscuring and burying a pivotal structural element, a hidden morality play about the sun, mankind and coal, in sketchy though evocative imagery, Shakespeare provides a fascinating, ingeniously artful counterpoint---and a core of historical relevance (the issue of coal use)--- with hints of physics (the ineluctability of thermodynamics)--- to the main more obvious drama. This time, the most telling, most transcendent imagery is of “sunshine and rain”, of sulfur, of stones, of tears and fire. ‘Collective Humanity’ as a new concept of the “Everyman” Shakespeare pioneered a technique in the development of the character of Romeo and this experimental technique and this innovation also has significant implications for the character of King Lear. The starting point for this idea is the morality interlude, or morality play, of Shakespeare’s youth. In the standard morality plays, the central character,
    • Everyman, was an allegorical representative of mankind. This character typically resists the temptation of the Vice character at first but then succumbs to the Vice (the Vice character was played by the leading actor of the troupe and this role was often the most engaging one), suffers from this poor choice, then reforms or is reformed as contact with the upright and pious Virtue character leads Everyman to correct his moral error. Going back to the picture of the human socioeconomic system which Shakespeare portrayed symbolically in Romeo and Juliet, Romeo (as I have endeavored to show in another paper) is an experimental and modified Everyman. This new Everyman does not function in such a way as to allow the Christian message of salvation to unfold before the audience’s eyes. The Virtue is not Mercy, Kindness, or Good-Deeds. Instead, the Virtue is Juliet, the Sun: a panoply of scientific, spiritual, and historical ideas related to the advantages of the sun-based economy (renewable ----“I’ll prove more true”(II.ii.100) and clean -----not “stinking gall” (I.i.194)). The spiritual ideas associated with this Shakespearean Virtue (Juliet) may even be partly or, in a vestigial way, pagan, and relate to harvest festivals, fertility rites and nature worship. The Vice in Romeo and Juliet is another experimental and modified character, a combination of Mercutio and Rosaline Capulet. The play is then sited along scientific grounds, not theological ones. Man steadily makes his progress away from the Sun as alternative energy resources (coal is only mentioned once in
    • the play, in I.i.1, but that is enough----first lines are often very telling in Shakespeare’s plays!) become more attractive. Collective behavior makes these fossil fuels first attractive and then necessary. Once even a few people adopt the new resource, populations may grow and economies may expand through its use, further deepening the dependence on this resource, as long as it is available. The issue is then that collective behavior causes people to form new relationships with the universe (and the planet) that they may not individually approve of or condone, but which are nevertheless personally inescapable. Scientific exigency (the Second Law of Thermodynamics, for example) replaces the old role of “fate” in this kind of drama. Shakespeare developed his concept of the Everyman along the fault line separating collective behavior from individual behavior, especially as these behaviors affect our use of fossil fuels and our other relationships with the natural world. And we can understand the character of King Lear on these terms too. Lear is a more complex version of the Everyman that is so easy to recognize in Romeo. Romeo does make a choice, like the Everyman of the old Morality plays. By fighting and slaying Tybalt, Romeo chooses Mercutio, who is one part of the Vice character (together with Rosaline). (This new type of composite Vice character I believe shows one example of Shakespeare’s “modified and experimental versions of traditional stage practices” (Weimann 237 )). And it is this choice which makes
    • Romeo unable to stay with (and therefore ‘choose’) Juliet. Similarly, Man has made a choice too, in a process that took hundreds of years, towards fossil fuels and away from the sun as the source of our energy inputs. (We know we collectively have made---and are daily, out of necessity, still making---- this choice and we are sometimes worried about having made this choice: thus Romeo’s separation from Juliet is fraught with reluctance, doubts, and fears). But if Shakespeare wants to connect coal with Romeo’s (Everyman’s) actions (through showing his leaving the sun, Juliet), how can we link coal and Shakespeare’s new complex art, which seems to get at least some of its power by obscuring, yet maintaining, the beating heart of the ancient ways under a sparkling, luminous and poetic surface? The very “new poetic realism” that Weimann so accurately identifies was part of a general surge in complexity in England at a time which saw England move “from an oral, preindustrial, and fundamentally medieval way of life to a literate, industrialized, and fundamentally modern mode of existence”. (McLuhan qtd. in Hawkes 48) And this complexity had much to do with coal.i Coal use, for example, necessitated new economic strategies such as enclosing land (which allowed for the new owner of the land to sell the agricultural commodities directly to surging populations in cities and foreign countries instead of the feudal (i.e. totally sun-based) arrangement where peasants and lords shared the products locally). The
    • enclosing of land generated demand for education, which was one manifestation of complexity: economic historian Robert Allen writes, “(After 1500), the agrarian world was transformed by the legalistically justified reorganization of private estates and by state- sponsored reforms like the enclosure movement, both of which put a premium on being able to navigate through written documents” (Allen 17). Coal use surged through the 1500s and 1600s (coal deliveries to London increased more than threefold between 1580 and 1591 (1580: 11,000 tons; 1591: 35,000 tons (Weimann 164)) , the population (no longer limited by forest fuel resources) increased and economic competition and complexity---scientific knowledge, the exploration of new lands, among others, also progressed. The resulting economic growth generated ever increasing demand for coal and “before the end of Elizabeth’s reign, in 1603, coal had become the main source of fuel for the nation” (Freese 33) despite being “despised for its smoke” (Freese 33). Lear as Everyman Like Romeo, (and like the Everyman character in the old morality interludes) Lear must make an important choice: not Virtue or Vice, but (as in the case of Romeo) the sun or coal. Like Romeo, like us, he chooses coal (Goneril and Regan). He does not choose the sun (Cordelia), as we also have not; this basic (ecological) action comprises the main plot
    • of the hidden morality play. So, with Juliet and King Duncan, both clearly figured as ‘the Sun’ in the other two hidden morality plays (and these share the same theme, and a “temptation” by the Vice figures (Mercutio, Lady Macbeth) and the same tragic outcome) in Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, Cordelia must also take her place as another “Sun” figure. These characters are compasses who point the way to the ecological “virtue” inherent in a more or less stable system in harmony with nature. The tragic heroes (Romeo, Macbeth, and Lear) cannot----because of ordinary human qualities generated as a normal part of competing with others in a collective group-----refuse to choose the path that the Vice characters recommend. That is the tragedy. In an echo of this analysis, the famous critic A.C Bradley, ended his lecture “The Substance of Shakespearean Tragedy” with the compelling statement “we remain confronted with the inexplicable fact, or the inexplicable appearance, of a world travailing for perfection, but bringing to birth, together with glorious good, an evil which it is able to overcome only by self-torture and self-waste. And this fact or appearance is tragedy.” (Bradley 39). While this summary is correct, it does not identify coal, or fossil fuels, rather, as the underlying material cause---in fact, Bradley describes the situation as “inexplicable”.. But the phrase “self-waste” definitely and aptly hints at one of the roles human beings may be playing in the universe: we, together with other life forms, are biological agents, who
    • generate disorder or entropy. (“Self-waste” points to this concept of entropy, since our bodies are also locations where physical flows of heat (energy) and material take place; we also obey the laws of thermodynamics). The life-forms, including humans, involved in this process may be involved in the process in ways that they may not understand. Nevertheless, unwittingly or not, they, we, are indeed carrying out the Entropy Law (also called the Second Law of Thermodynamics): “The entropy of the universe at all times moves toward a maximum” (Georgescu-Roegen 129). Here, it is important to clarify one historical idea: Shakespeare did not technically ‘know’ the Second Law of Thermodynamics per se, as it was not formulated by Rudolph Clausius until 1865, after French physicist Sadie Carnot made some notes on the efficiency of steam engines in 1824. Yet, as Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen writes in The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, the “elementary fact….(that)…heat always moves by itself from hotter to colder bodies had been known for ages (before the Entropy Law was put into words)” (Georgescu-Roegen 129). My point is that Shakespeare grasped, almost certainly through the scientific ideas of Giordano Bruno, the consequences of some of the fundamental physical and material forces at play, where humans are just part of the scene; despite our great powers and intelligence, we are also just parts of an emergent system, and this emergent system can (and does) extend all the way out to the distant perimeter where
    • the sun exists (and even beyond). Also, going in the other physical direction, this emergent system reaches deep down into the earth where there may happen to be coal mines located. Shakespeare’s insight was to identify some of the correct, though distant, boundaries and influencing factors of this system and portray some of the consequences and enigmas of this system’s existence for human beings, who may not be interested in or fully able or even willing to understand these consequences, though they are ‘actors’ in it: the system is huge, indeed. Shakespeare undertook his art, to model and illustrate the cosmos as it applies to us, with seriousness and purpose---as Hamlet says of drama, “to hold a mirror up to nature” (III.ii.22). Today, we have Barry Commoner’s First law of Ecology, “Everything is connected to everything else”, and quantum physics which posits reality as “an undivided wholeness” (Oppermann 7), but Shakespeare somehow sensed these ideas of a cosmic unity, though not in a mathematical way, much earlier, and most probably through the work of Giordano Bruno, who wrote: The summum bonum, the supremely desirable, the supreme perfection and beatitude consists in the unity which informs the all….May the gods be praised and may all living beings magnify the infinite, the most simple, the most one, the most high, the most
    • absolute cause, beginning and one. (De la causa, principio e uno, Quoted in Yates, 273) Shakespeare could create a cosmic unity in his plays, a space where man acts in accordance with Bruno’s ideas (where the sun is the only permanent source of heat and light near the earth, where everything relates in some way to something else, where man is a tiny creature in an immense universe) because he could totally rely on the seriousness and integrity of Bruno’s conception. But then Shakespeare could hide his intentions to model a Brunian cosmos, no doubt because the message was not acceptable. Bruno spells out how an intellect may apprehend “the secrets of nature” by understanding the underlying unity: (“The unity of the all in one”) is a most solid foundation for the truths and secrets in nature. Or you must know that it is by one and the same ladder that nature descends to the production of things and the intellect ascends to the knowledge of them; and that the one and the other proceeds from unity and returns to unity, passing through the multitude of things in the middle. (De la causa e principio, quoted in Yates 273) In addition to reading the work of Giordano Bruno, Shakespeare’s upbringing in the rural countryside in Stratford-on-Avon would have been an immensely valuable teacher of the basic ideas: photosynthesis, agriculture, reproduction, the food-chain, and a solar-based
    • (not coal-based) local economy. These processes rely on, and are fundamentally driven by, thermodynamics as the sun feeds energy into the system at the level of plant life, and the plant matter gets absorbed by the system along various pathways. Knowing that heat moves from hotter to colder bodies, that living creatures can die and when they do they become cold, that food is absolutely necessary for life, that some creatures eat other creatures while some eat plants, that the sun is warm----all of these empirically accessible ideas would have been enough to grasp the idea that we rely fundamentally on the sun, the earth, and other creatures and other people in forming patterns for living as material is passed around constantly from one organism to another. Could anything disrupt or fundamentally change the basic and age-old patterns (i.e. feudal) that the sun-man-animal-earth interaction had produced over the years? Indeed, Shakespeare must have noticed, when he moved to London, that another kind of heat-producing body, (important precisely and only because it could produce heat), coal, was doing just that. But, unlike the sun, coal is finite. Freese mentions how underground water flooding of coal mines, as coal deposits were removed, rendered many mines useless, “threatening to cut the nation off from the coal on which it had become so dependent” (Freese 53). “In 1610, the operator of one of the largest mines in Newcastle reported with dismay to Parliament that because of drainage problems, Newcastle’s coal mines….would not last
    • more than twenty-one years.” (Freese 53) Any sort of trouble---weather, war, mining accidents---could delay or prevent coal shipments, which were carried in sailing ships over sea. Seeing the fragility of the system, Shakespeare must have been interested in the whole idea of English coal production ultimately peaking and going into decline: what would happen to a developed city like London in such a situation? He used his musings along these lines to come to a deep understanding about humans and our cosmic pattern, and built his art in a fundamental and allegorical way, around this issue. Cordelia, “sunshine and tears” The sun imagery surrounding the sun figures in the plays I have investigated so far is often multi-faceted. Juliet is figured as ladybirds and lambs and dovecotes (the life in the countryside) plus, sprinkled in, there are a fair number of references to gods like Apollo and Titan, giving her solar identity a sacred dimension. On the other hand, the sun imagery surrounding Duncan, the king, is regal and agricultural: there is the “golden round” (I.4.28) of the crown and Duncan’s greeting (“Welcome hither!/I have begun to plant thee and will labor to make thee full of growing”) (I.4.26). In King Lear, Cordelia’s hidden role as a sun figure is captured more evocatively and more delicately, more lightly and in more of a whisper than either Juliet’s or Duncan’s. First, the oath which Lear swears as he disinherits her is the main clue:
    • Let it be so: thy truth then be thy dower! For by the sacred radiance of the sun, The mysteries of Hecat and the night; By all operation of the orbs, From whom we do exist and cease to be; Here I disclaim all my paternal care…” (I.i.108-112) (my emphasis) As Lear swears this oath to Cordelia by the sun, he is (in the hidden morality play) separated from it (that is, economically) and he also unwittingly puts himself into existential danger (“from whom we do exist and cease to be”). Then he swears that: ….The barbarous Scythian, Or he that makes his generation messes To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom Be as well neighbor’d, pitied, and relieved, As thou my sometime daughter” (I.i.116-129 On a rhetorical level, Lear (collective mankind) has exchanged his solar-based life for a precarious existence in what is sometimes called a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world. In Shakespeare’s day this was where coal use, slowly building for a few centuries but surging in the 1570s, had generated a new series of relationships between man and land---where enclosing landii was sending people who used to live in villages into cities to compete for jobs, and where the heretofore localized forces producing tiny numbers of elites went into high gear to
    • produce more elites and more poor as increased production of coal enabled larger cities, larger governments and larger populations to exist but with costs: pollution, social strife, competition, and worries about economic stability. Cordelia’s hidden identity as the sun is further hinted at when Lear says “nor shall ever see that face of hers again” (I.i.264) (for some reason, the word “face” often shows up when there are sun figures around in Shakespeare) and then much later, when Kent and a character named simply “Gentleman” are discussing her reaction to a letter: Kent: O then (the letter) moved her. Gent.: Not to a rage, patience and sorrow (strove) Who should express her goodliest. You have seen Sunshine and rain at once; her smiles and tears Were like a better way: those happy smiles That play’d on her ripe lip seem’d not to know What guests were I her eyes, which, parted thence, As pearls from diamonds dropp’d……(IV.iii.15-22) ……..There she shook The holy water from her heavenly eyes….(IV.iii.29-30)iii As in some of the solar images surrounding Juliet, there is a hint of the sacred (holy water, heavenly eyes, sacred radiance) about some of the Cordelia-linked sun images. Yet with Juliet, there is a fertility in the images of the lambs, new offspring, and the animals, the
    • dovecote, and the ladybird, (“a cant word for prostitute” (Evans 162)). But that association is not evident with the sun imagery surrounding Cordelia. Shakespeare’s later sun figures became more schematic and abstract, more complex and minimalistic, the necessary response to a more complex type of art, which was in turn necessitated by a more educated and sophisticated audience that was ever more urban. In particular, as is evident in the quotation above, the sketchiest, most evocative and most commonly seem image used in conjunction with Cordelia are tears, also seen as her “washed eyes” (I.i.268); later Lear says to her “Be your tears wet? Yes, faith, I pray, weep not” (IV.vii.69-70) and still later Lear tells her “wipe thine eyes!” (V.iii.23). We can call this tear-rain-water imagery a link to the sun simply because the rain falls from the sky, where we can also find the sun; both the sun and the rain are natural and both bring man agricultural and climatic benefits when they work together. Shakespeare’s use of tear/rain imagery is a complex dimension of sun imagery. Both the sun and rain connect through the earth to make plants grow. The more one had retained this knowledge, the more clearly the dangers of ‘disowning Cordelia’ would be apprehended. The most evocative of all sun-based images surrounding Cordelia is the question “Fair daylight?” (IV.vii.51), spoken by Lear as he sees her in the famous recognition scene. Allegorically, this portrays mankind returning to the sun. Cordelia tells him, “no sir, you
    • must not kneel” (IV.vii.59) emphasizing that man may once again try to resume the old relationship he had with the sun, which was as a supplicant. The underlying morality play gives Cordelia’s words “No cause, no cause” (IV.vii.74) added depth----the sun, a star, always stands ready to take us back, without recrimination (Just as her earlier line, “so young, my Lord, and true” (I.1.107) also emphasizes the constancy of the sun). However, as the plot tightens around Lear and Cordelia, who become prisoners, it is made clear that returning to a solar-based economy is not so easy for a civilization that has left solar ways. Most importantly, in the sources Shakespeare used for King Lear, Cordelia does not die, and Shakespeare’s change of the plot in this important way also points to the existence of a hidden morality play which follows the same pattern he used in Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, where the sun figures (the sun economy) die tragically, marking the end for the heroes too. Lear’s Fool When a knight tells Lear, “Since my young lady’s going into France, sir, the Fool hath much pin’d away”, (I.v.73-74), we can first discern the nature of the link between Cordelia (the economic way of life supported by the sun) and Lear’s fool. To understand the strength and heritage of this bond, first some cultural history of the fool or clown character in general in England is necessary:
    • Taken all together, the peculiarities of the clowning figure can hardly derive from Christian sources or be understood as later “comic” accretions. Nor, in the view of the relationship between the fool of the May procession, the Mummer’s play, or the Morris dance, and the sword play, can they be explained in terms of the continuity of the ancient (Greek) fool as seen, for example, in the mimus. ….Consequently, the origins of the fool in the folk play must be sought in that native tradition of mimetic ritual that is of central importance to all popular dramatic or semi-dramatic activities. It is this background that explains the relationship between the fool’s motley and the pagan traditions of vegetation magic, and throws considerable light on some of his most enduring accoutrements, such as the calf’s hide….the ubiquitous coxcomb….the antlers…the horns, donkey ears, and the foxtail…” (Weimann 31) Elsewhere Weimann makes note of “the processional function and ritual significance of” (Weimann 31) fools or clown figures in older dramatic forms such as May Day festivals. These festivals were emphatically seasonal rites where the sun both supplied and retained a central significance. Lear’s fool makes his first entrance with the line “Let me hire him too,
    • here’s my coxcomb” (I.iv.95), calling direct attention to his traditional roots, and he makes his appearance just as Lear’s relationships with Goneril and Regan are beginning to sour. The fool dies at the same time as Cordelia, and in the same way. (“And my poor fool is hang’d!” (V.iii.306)). Shakespeare therefore preserves the traditional ritual (seasonal, sun- based) function of Lear’s fool through his close association with Cordelia, the sun figure: moreover, the presence of the Fool indicates Lear’s distance or closeness from the economic way of life sustained by the sun. When Lear banishes Cordelia, the Fool is nowhere in sight, indicating Lear’s ontological distance then from the rural traditions of ritual and early drama (and a sun-based economy). Regan and Goneril, whose proverb-poor speech Weimann links with their roles as representatives of “the new age of scientific inquiry and scientific development” (Weimann 237), particularly detest the Fool and Goneril calls him “all- licens’d” (I.iv.201), which is in her eyes a criticism, and this action also recalls (no doubt intentionally) the Puritans of Shakespeare’s own times, who successfully campaigned for the suppression of older communal seasonal rites and rituals. The Fool disappears in Act III before Cordelia reappears in Act IV, meaning that these two never meet (and may have been played by the same actor therefore), to underscore their connection. The Fool conducts Lear back to the sun (Cordelia) and because of his evolutionary connections to rural and ancient folkish drama forms, only he is uniquely
    • qualified to do so. Finally, the Fool’s last spoken line is “And I’ll go to bed at noon” (III.vi.85) which both points to his connection with the sun, which reaches its apex at noon, and foreshadows his death (bed) and Cordelia’s, too, since, in a way, they are one. In the early 1600s coal was “despised for its smoke” and scorned by those wealthy enough to afford wood (Freese 33). The long episode where Lear, divided from Regan and Goneril, (and still separated also from Cordelia), is guided and accompanied by his Fool shows the central problem at hand in London of the time. The purely sun-based economy was in the past but a sense of alienation from the supporting totality and communal harmony of this ancient and traditional structure must have been, for some, an unwelcome and destabilizing new feeling. There was hardly a remedy: collective behavior and the availability of a new, attractive and powerful resource dictated new living arrangements and terms to everyone, high and low. How, then, to cope? How to keep one’s sense of fun and pleasure when all around one the new competitive-minded, strict and disapproving culture and inherent structures of the new coal-based economy (i.e. Goneril and Regan) was banishing (either intentionally or not) festive occasions, seasonal rituals, natural rhythms, and communal ties? King Lear provides an answer: the theater! The Fool tells Lear after doffing his coxcomb, “Nay, and thou canst not smile as the wind sits, thou’lt catch cold shortly” (I.iv.101), and he means technically, as footnotes
    • traditionally claim, that Lear should “ingratiate himself with the party in power” (Evans 1262). But more generally, the Fool’s advice supplies a rationale to maintain theatrical entertainments, which merely by their very existence deeply recall “the festive element and ritual origins of audience contact” (Weimann 237), may bring a “smile”, and help an alienated city dweller to feel part of a larger whole---and avoid “catching cold”---a self- destructive disease of terminal gloom and cynicism, like Hamlet exhibits, perhaps. Lear is guided only by his Fool, whereas we also need and want (for example) our MTV, our Led
    • Zepplin1 , our Boston2 , our Tears for Fears3 and so on4 ; art had attained a complex new role. For-profit, necessary, self-mocking, ironic, parodying, often subversive, witty, but without political power, Lear’s Fool opens our eyes to some of the communal and folk values that popular music and movies, and popular culture and art in general have necessarily retained 1 “Stairway to Heaven” (1971) is frequently cited as the best rock song of all time. The climactic part of the lyrics from this song is quoted on the first page of this article. The lyrics also make mention of the May Queen, a character going back to seasonal rituals in England, the original home of Led Zepplin. The role of the fool to speak the truth (although it is couched in the language of nonsense) has a strange and interesting parallel in the lyrics of rock n’ roll music, where fans and supporters of the music group can understand the message, while outsiders, usually the older generation, are barred from accessing the meaning. 2 Boston’s most popular song ever is “More Than a Feeling”(1976), whose lyrics are as follows: I woke up this morning and the sun was gone Turned on some music to start my day I lost myself in a familiar song I closed my eyes and I slipped away. It’s more than a feeling (More than a feeling) When I hear that old song they used to play (More than a feeling) I begin dreaming (More than a feeling) ‘Til I see my Marianne walk away I see my Marianne walking away So many people have come and gone Their faces fade as the years go by Yet I still recall as I wander on As clear as the sky on a summer day (Chorus) When I’m tired and thinking cold, I hide in my music, forget the day And dream of a girl I used to know I closed my eyes and she slipped away. “More Than a Feeling” came on the heels of the oil shocks of the early 1970s and represents an artistic conception of a farewell to the sun economy (the girl “Marianne”), since the sun was “gone” and so is this girl. Despite her long absence, “Marianne” has
    • in industrialized countries to this day. Refuges, havens, tiny islets of the sun economy’s vestigial hold on us and claim on our imaginations, art, like King Lear itself, seeks to preserve and protect in a vibrant way, a living way, a relevant way, a popular way, an accessible way, and a realistic way, the most vital links to our cultural roots. powerful hold on the narrator and the one way for him to access his connection to her, also connected to the ability to “lose himself”, is through an old song. Indeed the sun economy can be said to have “slipped away” since we didn’t actively seek to eliminate it, but simply chose fossil fuels whose economic structures implied the end of the sun economy. 3 The hit song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, coming as the United States embraced the concept of importing oil by using credit rather than living with less (as its own production went into decline) contains a subtle criticism of the policy to use as much oil as one could get one’s hands on, even while it paradoxically recognizes the universal appeal of having ready access to powerful energy sources: Welcome to your life There’s no turning back Even while you sleep We will find you Acting on your best behavior Turn your back on Mother Nature Everybody wants to rule the world It’s my own design It’s my own remorse Help me to decide Help me make the most Of freedom and of pleasure Nothing ever lasts forever Everybody wants to rule world There’s a room where the light won’t find you Holding hands while the walls come tumbling down When they do I’ll be right behind you I can’t stand this indecision Everybody wants to rule the world Say that you’ll never never never never need it One headline why believe it Everybody wants to rule the world. This 1980s song makes it clear that “there is no turning back” (once the sun economy is gone), and the person to whom the song is addressed will be “acting on your best behavior”, reminiscent of the formality and sophistication that the fossil fuel economy implies. The dark side is the line “Turn your back on Mother Nature”, as the Thatcher-
    • Coal depicted in sulphur and stones The fool speaks in proverbs but Goneril and Regan, who have “discarded the form and content of popular wisdom” (Weimann 236-7) rarely use these forms of speech (Weimann 236). Beyond this fact (which puts them in opposition to the Fool-Cordelia-Sun), can we say anything else about these two sisters that relates to their roles within the Everyman-Sun- Coal morality play within King Lear? First of all, the smoke, fumes, and darkness of the overt coal imagery (characterizing Romeo’s dead-end love for Rosaline) and the bright/dark contrast (reminiscent of a brightly burning black coal) that pervades that play is not in evidence. The word “coal” does not appear once in King Lear. But in this play, coal-related words like “sulphurous”, “pit”, “stench”, and “consumption” can be related back to Goneril and Regan through other associations, thereby linking the sisters to the fossil fuel. Reagan years were notable for building booms. The next stanza claims “it’s my own design/it’s my own remorse” showing a sense of que sera sera, bravado and defiance in the face of certain eventual defeat. The private and sexual side of things is highlighted in stanza three, where the two lovers share (I’ll be right behind you”) a passionate moment with shared knowledge of doom (“when the walls come tumbling down”) which is also a playful allusion to sexual climax. The light doesn’t penetrate into this room, perhaps an allusion to the absence of the sun economy. The reader is encouraged to view the original music video, which features many oil- powered transportation devices (cars, motorbikes, airplanes), as well as toy guns and a defunct gasoline station, on YouTube. 4 There are many other popular songs which recall the sun economy and/or communal values; I have not attempted to present an exhaustive list by any means. One of my personal favorites is Prince’s 1980s hit “Little Red Corvette”, where the narrator makes a parallel between “fast” sexual mores and a fast car, and having “enough gas” is the way the woman in the song, a willing victim of the oil economy with its come-and-go transience (symbolized by her many sexual partners), sees sexual stamina and power. The narrator tries desperately to save the woman from her promiscuousness, thereby putting a floor under the perpetual difficulties implied by the oil-based economy.
    • Coal imagery is not to be found in direct connection with Goneril and Regan in the opening scenes, except in that they are referred to as “metal” (I.i.69) and “jewels “(I.i.268), hard shiny things which have physical properties that are similar to those of stones, which appear later and are very important. The talk is of land being divided up, strongly hinting of the enclosure acts, with Cordelia, the sun that sustained a feudal society being driven off; she is unable to embroider language or spin artful rhetoric, and this is a metaphor for the simple straightforwardness of the solar based economy. Her sisters are capable of verbal complexity; their verbal skill may be a symbol for the shallower benefits of education: social polish, strategizing, impressing others. Just as coal’s fundamental underlying role in triggering enclosure was unspoken (it obviated the need for forests; populations could grow and cities could become markets for agricultural produce), Shakespeare did not need to explicitly mention coal-related imagery in the first scene. The economy has changed to one where personal individual striving carries the day. Terence Hawkes loosely draws the connection between the map Lear uses and the new way of thinking, a new expression of individuality: “give me the map there”, can be said virtually to present to its pre- literate society a whole way of life---its own—grotesquely reduced to and barbarically treated as a mere physical diagram. At this point, the
    • play’s project becomes far more complex than the exploration of an old man’s foolishness. The map helps to push it beyond the range of mere personal psychology, beyond the walls of the theater, into the public domain. (Hawkes 5) Yet, if Goneril and Regan are not linked directly with coal immediately as the play starts, they do get associated with it indirectly later. To explain, some background on coal burning and the history of coal use in London is in order. When it is burned, coal releases sulfur dioxide, which has a strong sulfurous smell (Freese 168)). Further: In 1603, (one writer)…..noted that coal smoke was damaging the buildings and plants of London, and he does not treat the problem as a particularly new one. ….When Londoners began burning more and more coal during the 1600s, and as the city grew larger, its air quality continued to deteriorate. The problem is described in vivid detail in a book called Fumifugium (from the Latin fumo ‘smoke’ and fuge ‘chase away’), written in 1661 by the noted English writer and minor government official, John Evelyn. Among Evelyn’s many interests….was the air quality in London, which he perceived to be much worse than that of other cities in Europe. Thanks to the coal smoke belching forth from various sources, he observed
    • that “the City of London resembles the face rather of Mount Aetna, the Cort of Vulcan, Stromboli, or the Suburbs of Hell, than an Assembly of Rational Creatures, and the Imperial seat of our incomparable Monarch”….Evelyn describes how the sun was hardly able to penetrate the coal smoke, and how a traveler could smell it miles from London, long before the city was visible. He observed that the smoke left a “sooty Crust or Furr” upon all that it touched, “corroding the very Iron-bars and hardest Stones with those piercing and acrimonious Spirits which accompany its Sulphure”. (Freese 34-5). (my emphasis) Lear, disillusioned with Regan and Goneril, sets out in a storm with only his Fool in Act III, scene ii. Although Romeo’s exile from the sun (Juliet) passes quickly in theatrical time, in King Lear, the journey of Lear back to Cordelia (the period of exile) takes much longer by theatrical time. Later I will address this issue, but first it is important to establish the presence of coal imagery in the play. The first major speech by Lear when he is out in this storm contains the jarring word “sulph’rous”: Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow! You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned our cocks! You sulph’rous and thought-executing fires
    • Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts, Singe my white head!.......(III.ii.1-6) (my emphasis) In meteorology, Lear is mistaken, since thunderstorms simply cannot give off sulfur. However coal smoke does, and the word “sulph’rous” would certainly have brought to mind “coal” in Londoners of the day. (In 1598 in his Survey of London, John Stow noted….. the vast encampments of smoky hovels and workshops (Bryson 46); since only the rich could afford wood, this was most probably coal smoke). Lear’s speech ends with the incantation “Crack nature’s molds! All germains spill at once/That make ingrateful man!” (III.ii, 8-9) he obviously means to refer specifically to (ungrateful) Goneril and Regan, but also this line includes “man” in general; in the totality of the theatrical sense, we get a sense of disillusionment, of man having failed in some way, and now paying a price with damage coming from the sky. The implications are schematic but visible: London resembled a “Suburb of Hell”, and there was no solution in sight. How could these “rational creatures” have failed at something as simple as to keep their air clean? (We know much better now how hard that is.) The frustration with the situation must have been immense, and Lear’s impotent, helpless rage at the sky and at man captures the mood. The next occasion of “sulphurous” is even more evocative of the world of coal. The speech is Lear’s famous soliloquy in Act IV: Behold yond simp’ring dame,
    • Whose face between her forks presages snow; That minces virtue, and does shake the head To hear of pleasure’s name---- The fitchew nor the soiled horse goes to’t With a more riotous appetite. Down from the waist they are Centaurs, Though women all above; But to the girdle do the gods inherit, Beneath is all the fiends’: there’s hell, there’s darkness, There is the sulphurous pit, burning, scalding, Stench, consumption, Fie! fie! fie! pah! pah! (IV.vi.118-129) The description, made when Lear has just entered “mad, crowned with weeds and flowers” and therefore speaking with unusual license and abandon, is many things. First, it recalls Albany’s recent insult to his wife Goneril, “See thyself, devil!/Proper deformity shows not in the fiend/So horrid as in woman” (IV.ii.59-61). Second, it is somewhat of a satire of Duessa, from the pious epic poem The Faerie Queene (1590), whose “nether parts (are) misshapen, monstrous” (Spenser 103). Lear’s ostensible point is to criticize hypocrisy in sexual matters. He clearly believes none of this description: it also seems “mad” in the sense there is nothing in mythology that supplies Centaurs with a dark stinking pit or a fire
    • of “hell” for their lower anatomy. He ends the speech with the line, “Give me an ounce of civet; good apothecary/Sweeten my imagination”(IV.vi.130-1), which further indirectly mocks Spenser and makes the moralistic outlook of the Fairy Queene, so hinging on sexual purity, seem a bit of an internal contradiction. Lear seems to be using his insanity as an excuse to shock Edgar and Gloucester, but his factual error about Centaur anatomy would catch the listener’s attention, too. The effect is a trip wire in the brain---and the brain, once tripped, would also stop and turn to the question of why Lear has used the imagery of a “sulphurous pit”, of stench, of consumption? All of these items belong to the world of coal ---either coal mining (the pit) or coal smoke (stench) or coal soot (consumption)iv . The list of images would be connected with the idea of coal in the audience’s mind, and this effect would be a theatrical one, occurring as the performance unfolds. The implicit message: unpleasant and dangerous, coal has a hidden and terrible side, belonging to a “fiend” and originating in “hell”. (Miners in English seventeenth- century coal mines, often believed that the “inexplicable disasters that plagued them were due to demons and goblin haunting the mines” (Freese 47)). Just as Duessa would come to the audience’s mind during this speech, along with the work she is a part of and the larger meanings and social ground covered by that epic poem, so too, the idea of coal---its mining, its smoke, and its health effects would also rise briefly into the audience’s awareness. It is
    • important to reiterate that at this time in London, coal, though widely used, was also widely disliked: The rich in London tried to avoid using coal, still despised for its smoke, for as long as they could. It was said in 1630 that 30 years earlier “the nice dames of London would not come into any house or room when sea coals were burned, nor willingly eat of the meat that was either sod or roasted with sea coal fire”. Within a few years, though, the nice dames and nice gents had succumbed. By the second decade of the 1600s, coal was widely used in the houses of the rich as well as of the poor. (Freese 33) Goneril, called a “fiend” twice earlier, and told “bemonster not thy feature” (IV.ii.63) is therefore indirectly linked with coal through her link to the monster with the “sulphurous pit” for lower anatomy: “beneath is all the fiend’s” (IV.vi.127). Lear, disillusioned by Goneril and Regan, has reached a place where he no longer cares if he upholds polite behavior and rectitude, and where his nobility is meaningless. In the secret morality play simultaneously going on beneath the surface, Lear’s allegorical double, Everyman, has reached a similar place of exile and alienation from nature. He feels disillusioned with coal fires, coal smoke and coal mining, but also he has an absolute
    • dependence on coal: Regan and Goneril may be despised and hated, but they also are in power. Without them to give him shelter, Lear has nothing; he is a “poor bare, fork’d animal” (II.iv. 106), as Londoners, living without forests, fields, and mountains would have been truly bereft without coal. The resilience of sustainable and natural rural communities is therefore understood, perhaps only unconsciously, to be achingly missing. Also, the journey back to the sun (the reunion with Cordelia) for Lear is shown as very long indeed; the process of fossil fuel depletion is slow and agonizing, yet also too fast (and ending with imprisonment), as no one who has grown used to their conveniences can tolerate their absence, especially when there is no good substitute available. The sense of barrenness is complete. Finally the most masterful line connecting coal to the tragic ending is (once again) Lear’s “O, you are men of stones!” (V.iii.258), spoken as he denounces those present. Note that he does not say “O, you are men of stone”. (The ordinary expression, “a heart of stone” of course, means an unmerciful disposition or a cruel one.) Here is an ingenious and old theatrical technique of drawing the audience in as participants. The technique goes farther back than the days of the Wakefield Master and his Magnus Herodes, (performed until 1579 when the Mystery Cycles were abolished by Puritans) but Weimann’s description of the way this play must have appeared gives us an example of the ways spectators became part of the
    • performance in a play Shakespeare (who uses the line “out-Herods Herod” (III.ii.14) in Hamlet) may have seen as a boy in Coventry (Greenblatt 37): But as (Herod) mingles with the audience and rages in the open street, he forfeits the reverence and the menace of his station and almost surrenders the representational dimension of his role. At the same time, the audience is drawn into the play and given the role of frightened subjects. In York and Wakefield, for instance, the audience was even supposed to go down on its knees. But the terror that it experiences is a mock fright performed in sport. The intermingling of dramatic illusion and theatrical convention unites the impersonation of the role with the re-enactment of festive release in such a way that the two faces of Herod----the funny and the frightening---become inseparable. The aesthetic effect is close to life and, at the same time, highly complex. (Weimann 72) “(Coal) was called ‘the best stone in Britain’ by one Roman writer because it could easily be carved and polished into beautiful jewelry” (Freese 15). In Romeo and Juliet, (a play which I assert is an allegory about coal, the sun, and man) Friar Lawrence refers to “stones” in the lines “O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies/In plants, herbs, stones, and their true
    • qualities” (II.iii.15-6). And coal does appear rather like a stone: hard, black and coming from the ground. Lear’s powerful denunciation, “O, you are men of stones!” then is meant to include the whole audience as people who burned coal and by doing so are implicated in allowing the sun economy to ‘die’. Thus the “festive release” which Weimann points to in the Herod performance would therefore here occur in a performance of King Lear as well, but in a less obvious way. The audience might not consciously pick up on the vocabulary (stones=coal) and the message (‘you burn coal!’) directly, but the truth of their inclusion as coal users (in conjunction with other images of sulfur and so forth in the play) would have probably rung a bell somewhere in the unconscious. At the same time, by ritually enacting an emotional and public denunciation of coal use(rs), there would be a subversive kind of exorcism of coal as a force or presence in London and the world, even if only a figurative one occurring in the theater on stage and in the audience simultaneously. Lear repeats the singular form of the word (“stone”) for emphasis a few lines later: “She’s dead as earth. Lend me a looking glass/If that her breath will mist or stain the stone/Why then she lives” (V.iii.263-5). The hard “metal”, “jewel”, “looking glass” and “stone” associations, like money, like coal (that is to say, Regan and Goneril, the Vice figures of the hidden morality play) have vanquished the softer, natural “sunshine and rain” (Cordelia, the Virtue) associations of the bountiful
    • nature that Shakespeare remembered from his youth in rural Warwickshire. The industrial age had begun. Rationality and coal Terence Hawkes makes the excellent point that Lear’s idea to measure the love of his daughters by their speeches is turned against him when they apply the same “withering, reductive nature of instrumental assessing reason that Lear has unleashed upon the world” (Hawkes 39). In the allegory, the choice of coal brought complexity which then determined a new scientific approach to the world; yet perhaps, as the fuel depleted (symbolized by the meanness of Goneril and Regan in refusing to give room and board to more and more of Lear’s knights), the strict rules of geology would similarly bring more rationality than people could bear. “Thou, Nature, art my goddess….”: the playwright emerges from the shadows…. Shakespeare was a systems thinker, and when he held a mirror up to nature he was not afraid or unwilling to extend this mirror, from London, out all the way to the sun, where the light energy that gives us our own transitory materiality—our bodies and our existence--- gets its very start. Edmund’s speech in Act I scene ii is revealed as the place in King Lear where we may see and hear Shakespeare’s voice (in disguise) explaining his high aims and
    • the grounding of his artistic position: Thou, Nature, art my goddess, to thy law My services are bound. Wherefore should I Stand in the plague of custom, and permit The curiosity of nations to deprive me For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines Lag of a brother? Why bastard? Wherefore base? When my dimensions are as well compact, My mind as generous, and my shape as true, As honest madam’s issue? Why brand they us With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base? Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take More composition, and fierce quality, Than doth within a dull, stale, tired bed Go to th’ creating a whole tribe of fops, Got ‘tween asleep and wake? Well then, Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land. Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund. As to th’ legitimate. Fine word “legitimate”! Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed, And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
    • Shall top th’ legitimate. I grow, I prosper: Now, gods, stand up for bastards! (I.ii.1-22 It is only possible to think that Shakespeare, with the words “composition” and “invention”, here refers (in disguise) to himself as an artist. It is he who grows and he who prospers by his quite (by the time of King Lear) notable and brilliant success. The stage and the theater may have been considered by aristocrats a “base” sort of entertainment in comparison to courtly poetry (“a tribe of fops”), but Shakespeare properly defends the theater here, and in King Lear, also he shows how drama, developed over centuries through ritual and the festive element, (from simpler societies sustained only by solar-based economies), has its own peculiar and emergent power to sympathetically embody his simple, but elegant message of an emergent and ancient cosmic natural system, a continuum in time and space, still unfolding, connected, with “all the men and women merely players”.  Further, Edmund’s character continues to reveal Shakespeare, the artist, from the shadows for the rest of the play. Edmund conspires with Goneril and Regan, the elite powers of his time and place, though he does not care about them, as perhaps Shakespeare was not emotionally close to the political elite who admired his work and financially supported him. Edmund betrays his father, Gloucester, just as Shakespeare may have felt that living in London was a betrayal of his own ‘rural’ values. Edmund finally converts to Lear’s and
    • Cordelia’s side, but, too late: “Quickly send…. to th’ castle, for my writ is on the life of Lear and Cordelia” (V.iii.245-7). Through this device, (another reference to writing), Shakespeare could secretly record that, though he might personally wish that mankind and the sun could pick up their relationship where they had left it off centuries ago, it was not possible for him to believe such a thing would happen easily . Hence Edmund admits to Edgar’s charge that he is a “toad-spotted traitor” (V.iii.139): then Edmund says, “what you have charg’d me with, that have I done, and more, much more, the time will bring it out” (V.iii.163-5), insinuating that Shakespeare’s work contains more hidden structures and ideas which support the Brunian cosmic notions he bases his work on. (These cosmic notions, perhaps semi-heretical at the time, place man not at the center of the universe, but only as one pattern which is part of a larger system. And this may be a heresy, as far as Christianity is concerned, but I am not sure.) Finally, with a jest at his own expense, Shakespeare lets his alter ego die: Messenger: Edmund is dead, my lord. Albany: That’s but a trifle here. (V.iii.295-6) Allen, Robert C. “The High Wage Economy of Pre-Industrial Britain”, unpublished, Neufield College, Oxford University, 2006 Bradley. A.C. “The Substance of Shakespearean Tragedy” from Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth.2nd ed. London:
    • Macmillan. 1905 (on www site Shakespeare Navigators) Bryson, Bill. Shakespeare. London: Harper Press, 2007. Freese, Barbara, Coal: A Human History . London: Penguin Group, 2003. Print Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas, The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. 1971. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. Print. Greenblatt, Steven. Will in the World. New York, NY: W.W. Norton&Co., 2004. Print. Hawke, Terence. King Lear. Plymouth, UK.; Northcote House Publishers, 1995. Print. Oppermann, Serpil. “Ecocriticism: Natural World in the Literary Viewfinder”. Journal of Faculty of Letters, Hacettepe University, 16:2 December 1999). Shakespeare, William. King Lear in The Riverside Shakespeare. Eds. Levin, Blakemore et al. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974. Print. Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. Indianapolis, Indiana: The Bobs-Merrill Company, 1965. Tainter, Joseph A. The Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge U. Press, 1988. Print. Weimann, Robert. Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1978. Print. All of the songs I quoted have copyrights: “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” lyrics” © EMI Music Publishing; “Little Red Corvette” lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group; “More Than A Feeling” lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, NEXT DECADE ENTERTAINMENT, INC.; “Stairway to Heaven” lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc
    • i The Collapse of Complex Societies connects energy use and complexity. “Four concepts can lead to an understanding of why complex societies collapse: 1) human societies are problem-solving organizations; 2) sociopolitical organizations require energy for their maintenance 3)increased complexity carries with it increased costs per capita; 4) investment in sociopolitical complexity often reaches a point of declining marginal returns” (Tainter 93) ii “Enclosure---rationalizing the jumble of small holdings and common fields, concentrating holdings, building fences, taking some of the land out of tillage to allow systematic, profitable sheep grazing---was a popular economic strategy for the very rich, but it was generally hated by those less wealthy. It tended to make grain prices rise, overturn customary rights, reduce employment, take away alms for the poor, and create social unrest” (Greenblatt 382). iii The Quarto version (1608) of King Lear contains this passage, but it is not in the Folio version (1623). iv “Evelyn wrote that (coal) soot produced consumptions that killed ‘multitudes’” (Freese 38)).