Monday, September 07, 2009

Lear-y of Iggy?


It appears that Michael Ignatieff was almost a decade off in his memory of a life-changing performance of King Lear by the legendary William Hutt (whom I had the good fortune to see play Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor in 1978):

Seeing William Hutt do King Lear [at Stratford] in 1964 was one of the three or four shaping experiences of my life; I don't think I've ever written a book without mentioning Lear.

I'm not alarmed by the slip. It took me a little time, after all, to nail down just when I'd seen him perform. On the other hand, while mightily impressed by his stage presence, my life was not transformed.

But, as I glided once again through the play, I came to believe that, no matter when he saw it, Iggy's life may indeed have been changed by the experience:

I want that glib and oily art
To speak and purpose not (1.1.227)

Lear's daughter Cordelia is explaining that she lacks the art in question. And Iggy, certainly, has not yet learned true Liberal artfulness: his lack of purpose is the subject of much commentary at the moment. What are the issues that will define this election? Where does he stand--on anything?

Time shall unfold what plaited cunning hides. (1.1.302)

Uh-huh. I'm not holding my breath.

I grow, I prosper;
Now, gods, stand up for bastards! (1.2.21)

Given his lacklustre polling results, it looks as though the gods are still seated.

Who is it that can tell me who I am? (1.4.230)

Canadian? American? Hawk? Dove? Cosmopolitan? Patriot? Man of the people? Aristocrat? But it turns out to have been a rhetorical question. He knows precisely who he is:

Every inch a king. (4.6.109)

But the king has put himself in a spot, and he knows it:

I am tied to the stake, and I must stand the course. (3.7.55)

Indeed. You've all but called an election, and must live with the consequences.

I fear I am not in my perfect mind. (4.7.63)

Nervous, are we?

Is this the promised end? (5.3.265)

What, madness on a moor? Not likely. But as a character in Coriolanus suggests, there may be another unpleasant fate in store:

Let them assemble,
And on a safer judgment all revoke
Your ignorant election.

We'll see. "Time is the old justice that examines all such offenders." (As You Like It

*Yes, yes, I know it's Brian Bedford. If someone can find me a pic of Hutt-as-Lear this good, I'll substitute it.

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