A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Friday, January 06, 2006

King Lear and CSI


CSI is a televised detective show focusing on forensics, and previously featured in bardseye here. As with most things modern, Mr. and Mrs. Bardseye have reservations about the show's morality. Nevertheless, we are fans.

In last night's episode, a college student was found dead in the center of what appeared to be a crop circle, with no footprints leading to or from his body. It occurred to me that for readers of King Lear, the solution to the mystery would be simple. Can you figure it out?

In Lear, the King has abdicated authority over his kingdom to his daughters Regan and Goneril. The daughters then act to systematically deprive their father of any remaining honor and respect. This family betrayal so strikes at the heart of the eighty-year old Lear as to threaten his sanity.

Sensing the darkening atmosphere, Lear's friend Gloucester arranges for Lear to escape to the port of Dover, from whence he may be able sail for France. Gloucester then returns to his own castle, where Regan and her husband Cornwall are waiting for him, with some rope, and wishing to learn just what he has done with the king:

Corn: "Where hast thou sent the King?"

Glo: "To Dover."
- - - - - - - - - - -
Reg: "Wherefore to Dover?

Glo: "Because I would not see thy cruel nails
Pluck out his poor old eyes, nor thy fierce sister
In his anointed flesh rash boarish fangs…."

Corn: "…Fellows, hold the chair.
Upon these eyes of thine I'll set my foot."

Glo: "He that will think to live till he be old,
Give me some help!"

(Servants hold the chair as Cornwall grinds
out one of Gloucester's eyes with his boot

"O cruel! O you gods!"

Reg: "One side will mock another. Th' other too."

Off to the side of all of this, though parallel in its sadism, Edmund, Gloucester's bastard son, has caused Edgar, Gloucester's legitimate son, to appear guilty of planning their father's murder. Edgar has fled, increasing his appearance of guilt. Unable to escape England, Edgar disguises himself as Tom of Bedlam, a roaming lunatic (well, today we would say a homeless person). Eventually Edgar/Tom links up with his own now blinded and somewhat depressed father.

Ok, we're now ready for the money quote as Edgar, wrongly believed by his wrongly blinded father to have intended his murder, and thus forced to remain disguised as Tom, guides his father as he requests to the brink of the famous cliffs of Dover and describes for him the scene below (Choughs are jackdaws; samphire is an herb; anchoring bark means a small ship; cock means a small boat attached to a ship):

"Come on, sir, here's the place. Stand still. How fearful
And dizzy 'tis to cast one's eyes so low!
The crows and choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles. Halfway down
Hangs one that gathers samphire – dreadful trade!
Methinks he seems no bigger than his head.
The fishermen that walk upon the beach
Appear like mice, and yond tall anchoring bark
Diminished to her cock, her cock, a buoy
Almost too small for sight. The murmuring surge,
That on th' unnumbered idle pebble chafes,
Cannot be heard so high. I'll look no more,
Let my brain turn, and the deficient sight
Topple down headlong."

Now then, has this famous scene helped you to detect the cause of the sudden death of our collegian (in the center of an apparent crop circle, remember) in last night's CSI episode? Not yet? Here's what happened next – in King Lear, not on the TV show (snuff, here, means the smoking wick of a candle):

Glo: (kneeling) O ye mighty gods!
This world I do renounce, and in your sights
Shake patiently my great affliction off.
If I could bear it longer, and not fall
To quarrel with your great opposeless wills,
My snuff and loathed part of nature should
Burn itself out. If Edgar live, O, bless him!
Now, fellow, fare thee well.
(He falls forward.)

As a prank - on CSI, not Lear - the dead collegian's fellow students had led him onto a helicopter, blindfolded him, and then, while the helicopter was in fact hovering only four feet from the ground (creating a crop circle!), had pushed him out of it. Thinking that he was falling to his death, the young man died preemptively of shock, a perhaps reasonable protective measure for his body to take under the perceived circumstances.

And a fate Gloucester managed to avoid in his similar setting. Edgar/Tom had in fact led him to the brink of a small hill, and not the cliffs of Dover. Pretending next to be someone else at the foot of the cliffs who happens upon Gloucester after his fall, Edgar announces, "Thy life's a miracle." Gloucester is persuaded, and regains hope (affliction…means until affliction itself cries out, "enough."):

Glo: "I do remember now. Henceforth I'll bear
Affliction till it do cry out itself
'Enough, enough,' and die."

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