Sabbatical Diary – July 25

What are you doing here …

So, here’s a thing about Oxford which I have observed, and probably could not have known before arriving. You can find performances of Bach, Chopin, Vivaldi, Motzart, and Shakespeare all over the place.

I could have seen Twelfth Night or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, if I were so inclined. As it turns out, the one performance I did know about in advance was the Globe Theater Company’s production of King Lear. It was being performed on the Old Quadrangle in conjunction with the Oxford Playhouse. Okay, so it’s The Globe’s troupe! This means no comedy for Scott, though King Lear is not without its moments of humor.

One of the benefits of this production was access, if one reserved in advance, to a pre-show talk given by one of the Oxford University English department faculty. Well, you got to figure they know their stuff about Ole Will, and I was not disappointed, even though the originally scheduled professor couldn’t make it. The editor the Oxford University Press edition of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare seemed an adequate substitute.  He was great, in fact, covering more about the play, it’s history, variances, themes and elements in thirty minutes than most people could have in a semester.

The story of King Lear existed in several forms before Shakespeare wrote his. The ones prior all resolved their complexities in ways that could be described as “ending well.”  Not so with Will’s. (Although for many decades an alternate ending, by Nathum Tate,  replaced Shakespeare’s work and was used, wherein, all did resolve nicely.)

So as to not assume: The story hangs on King Lear’s desire to divide his kingdom between his three daughters with the choicest part going to the daughter who could convince she loved him most. The two elder daughters, both married and used to speaking at court, curried favor with sycophantic orations. Cordelia, the youngest and one the king adored was more set on bring honest.  Her answer is, “Love and be silent.” Courtiers from Burgundy and France were vying for her hand at that very time, and she said if she were about to marry then she ought about love her father, who was dear to her indeed, about 50% because she should think it only right to love her husband no less.  Lear was incensed.  He banishes her, stripped of all dowry and lands, and because France loved her not because of possessions, she departes with him.

Now Shakespeare writes his version as James VI of Scotland becomes James I of England. He is king of both, but they are two separate crowns. It is not lost that Shakespeare makes a case that divided is not good. (You’ll have to see or read the play for more on how the point is made.)

In addition to an exploration of love, elemental to this work are explorations forgiveness and of what it means to grow old. Scholars now can show that what is called Lear’s “madness” has the imprint of age-related dementia/Alzheimer’s.

There is more, so very much more. I am reminded that at times when one loses one’s sight, only then to see things as they truly are. And, also, that true loyalty is a gift that can only be freely given; it is highly to be prized.

I have no intention of spoiling the play for you if you do not know it. I will give you a hint if you pick it up to read it – read it, even to yourself, out loud. My professor of Church History taught me that as we read Richard Hooker, and Shakespeare is contemporary to that time, as is Lancelot Andrewes. One more thing. Pay attention to knaves and fools.

I’ve been reminded that we “Boomers” are not getting younger, and if growing up is a challenge, so is growing old. Genuine love and genuine loyalty are far more important than we really make them, and worth everyday attention and investment.  They are a learned art, as is forgiveness.  Too, they are sources of truth about ourselves.  And it all brings us round to …

What are you doing here …

********  The Sabbatical Diary is published with gratitude and appreciation to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan for granting me sabbatical time and funding, and to the Graduate Theological Foundation, Oxford Foundation Fellowship, which made access to Oxford University for reading and research possible.