Lear and rethinking flattery
October 18, 2006
Last Saturday, I saw the Goodman Theater's production of King Lear, starring Stacey Keach. I had forgotten how dark and violent Shakespeare's tragedies are. Every scene was one of extreme sex and/or violence making video games seem tame.
But what stuck me most was the core theme about intergenerational conflict and the truth. The tragedy starts when Cordelia refuses to flatter her father with "false" words as her sisters do. He banishes her and splits the Kingdom between the two older sisters, leaving himself dependent on their kindness. Lear's tragedy is his inability to see until too late the truth of Cordelia versus the falseness of her siblings, who "abuse" him. Lear's plight is echoed in the tragedy of Gloucester, who cannot see the falseness of his illegitimate son, Edgar, and eventually has is eyes gouged out.
Being on the younger side of the intergenerational conflict, it makes me worried when leaders prefer false flattery to being told the truth. What happens when there is no fool to enlighten the king?