King Lear

He is an old man, truly a very old man, and the sudden crashing into splintered smallness of his life is playing out on a tightrope, a fraying tightrope, sawed at along a razor’s edge.  Tense he is and dread-beset between vulnerable tears and collapse and imploding rage.

He is an old man clutching his palsy hands, with a broken heart, threatened by his mind becoming unhinged, wandering furiously, indignant but frightened by instability, without direction, without authority, devoid of purpose.  Poignantly he fears this absence of authority, through which he formerly had ever shaped and defined his person, yet he is that which he fears, which he accuses himself and others, to the extent of accusing creation, of being complicit in the conspiracy of his overthrow: “Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ th’ world, crack natures moulds, all germains still at once.”

Although blind to much else, especially plotting resentment, envy and betrayal, yet he views himself as now he is, broken and breaking and being scattered about, “a man more sinned against that sinning.” No longer the high priest of power, the codger attends the descent into his nether kingdom.  Increasingly out of focus, no longer commanding the spotlight, becoming obscure, a blot, a fallen man incensed, who is at war with blustering wind and buffeting rain, with the shadow he was accustomed to throwing, and the shadow he has lost now in his extremity of estrangement.  Floundering.  Wracked.  A stranger to his former robes.  The old man’s pain is molecular, cerebral, as well as spiritual.

A forked creature in a wild place, in a rough patch, the anguished elder catches recurrent images of himself as wound, as fury, as tempest.  Oblique he is becoming, convinced outside of norms and reason that the pelting storm that is himself, torturing his expansions and contractions, mocks his deteriorated, water-soaked body, being a condition pandemic in the apocalyptic world, on the ground over which he labors, with screaming sky above his white head and pity.  While he no longer retains much—for what use is knowledge to a thorn tree in a whirlwind—he knows the feeling of madness advancing its possession inch by inch, yard by yard, whenever not projected onto blameworthy others and the criminal intentions against his station he finds at fault.

Going mad is like watching oneself being swallowed by a monstrous python, becoming progressively dissolved in the acid juices of the serpent’s innards and ending all chance of reclaimable identity by morphing into a foul mass in the belly of a snake, in the political gut of an inhuman, reptilian devolution.

The fellow struggles, bent and nearly immobilized by forces only he can see and suffer, imagining the rain as his daughter, imagining the wind his daughter too, and is desperate to push forward, albeit he has no place to go, imagining still that someone is emotionally watching and can see what he imagines, what he endures in his overripe, infirm, pitiful and afflicted body, and in the depths of his scandalized soul.  This while, the old man assets himself with his life depending on a vain illusion. Spewing hot words from his blood, he curses.  Ranting until he reaches his innermost emptiness, where nothing remains to support and sustain his collapsing more than the babbling of a fool whose voice is raw with torment and indecipherable.  Here, he himself, as old as a lightning blasted oak, comes to kneel, to pray for what, in long years of power and command, he had never found an inclination, why and wherefore, seeing or conscientiously before, to pray, “poor naked wretches whereso-‘er you are.”

If only Lear had perished in the moment of that kneeling prayer: “Take physic pomp, expose thyself to feel what wretches feel”!  But it is not so.  Ego’s memories of exercise and abuse come roaring back until, near time’s end of the dark tunnel, music sounds, a face like a female star shines, the voice of an angel whispers in loving sorrow, yet even here, cruelty.  A broken, old slave of a man in grip of a metaphysics of cruelty and enfeebled, mortal defiance.

Deep, the ancestral animal howls its eons of agony far, far beneath the ruined battlements of reason. Next, in gasping moment, a slender breath beyond breathing wafts invisibly on the air.  The endman does not question “Am I not Lear?” No, only unbutton please this final stoppage to set free his cindered soul.  No longer he “bound upon a wheel of fire.”

*Italicized quotations are from Shakespeare’s play.

David Sparenberg is a world citizen, environmental & peace advocate & activist, actor, poet-playwright, storyteller, teacher and author.



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One Comment

  1. Shiva Shankar says: