King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies and has been a cornerstone of Western literature for centuries. Its enduring importance lies in its exploration of universal themes such as power, betrayal, family, and the human condition. The play challenges traditional notions of hierarchy and exposes the flaws and vulnerabilities of those in positions of authority. King Lear also delves into the complexities of human relationships, particularly the bond between parent and child, and the consequences of greed and ambition. Its profound insight into human nature has resonated with audiences and influenced countless literary works, films, and other art forms. Its themes and characters continue to be relevant to contemporary society and have sparked discussions on topics such as mental health, aging, and societal injustice. King Lear‘s enduring impact on Western society is a testament to its powerful storytelling, complex characters, and timeless themes.
So I proposed a question on Twitter the other day:
Which Shakespearean character is most associated with tremendous wealth? Nothing symbolic or metaphorical, I’m talking about good old-fashioned net worth. Shylock’s not really what I’m looking for.
I don’t particularly think of Shylock as wealthy, but I do think of him as being “all about the ducats.” In theory, somebody who’s very … careful? … with their money is a potential candidate for someone who is very wealthy. But I wasn’t looking for technicalities, I was looking for a character that just screamed, “Look how rich I am.”
The responses on Twitter were intriguing, and much more varied than I would have expected! There was one in particular I assumed would win (do you have the same one in mind?) so I was pleasantly surprised to see the other contenders…
Each Receiving One Vote
Orsino and Olivia from Twelfth Night each got a vote (in two separate responses from two separate people).
Lord Capulet from Romeo and Juliet and Baptista from Taming of the Shrew each got a vote, because if you’re going to woo a young Shakespearean lady, make sure she’s got a rich dad.
Speaking of Shylock, Antonio from Merchant of Venice got a vote, with the caveat that he basically lost it all.
Julius Caesar was emperor of Rome, and you have to figure that’s a pretty wealthy position to be in, even if it’s not explicitly discussed in the play.
Tamora (Titus Andronicus) made the list as well, though I don’t know enough about the play to speak to why.
How about Falstaff (Henry IV)? Anybody ever think of him as wealthy? He got a vote.
Receiving Two Votes
Portia, from Merchant of Venice, gets more votes than Antonio for being in the “super-rich tier” where suitors are bankrupting themselves wooing her.
“Any of the English kings” was mentioned, though Richard II specifically was called out twice.
Speaking of kings, King Lear got three votes. At the beginning, maybe, sure.
The Runner Up with Five Votes
Guesses? Anybody? Cleopatra (Antony and Cleopatra) garnered much praise, what with her “poop of beaten gold” and everything.
And the Winner is …
With a whopping ELEVEN votes, more than double any other contender, our winner for “Shakespearean character most associated with tremendous wealth” is …
Timon of Athens! Exactly who we thought it would be when we asked the question :). “Easy,” said one response. “Definitely the most obvious,” said another.
But there was a reason why I asked in the first place, too. People also commented “at least on paper” and “maybe in principle”, too. “At least in the beginning,” several responses noted. I was curious whether he’s generally regarded as wealthy, or as someone who lost it all. Now I guess we know the answer!
My son is the last of my three still in middle school. As both of his sisters passed through his current grade they both read Romeo and Juliet, to mixed experience. I’ve been waiting to see if he’ll get to read it at all.
Son: “So I guess we’re not doing Romeo and Juliet this year.”
Me: “What? They decided for sure? How come?”
Son: “Nothing romantic anymore.”
Son: “I guess we’re not reading or studying any stories this year that have romance in them.”
I am assuming that he’s mostly misinterpreting some sort of ban on PG-13 material, perhaps.
Me: “Well that’s fine it doesn’t have to be Romeo and Juliet. That’s basically why schools do Julius Caesar in the first place, no romance. I can write to your teacher and suggest Julius Caesar, or maybe even Macbeth…”
Son: “I think we should do King Lear.”
Me: (impressed) “Bold move. You really think that in middle school kids will be able to understand King…”
Son: “I know thee not, old man.”
Me: …(not so impressed anymore)…”Oh, dude…”
Son: “No, I know that’s not from King Lear. That’s from Falstaff. I was just saying I want to see that play.”
Me: “Oh, ok, phew. For a minute there I was going to say you just made the blog, but you know what, you just made the blog anyway!”
Still have to write to his teacher and see if I can keep Shakespeare in the curriculum!
We don’t often pay attention to the very opening of King Lear. The “good stuff” starts with Lear dividing up his kingdom between his daughters, and that hasn’t happened yet. All we really get is Gloucester introducing Edmund to Kent.
But I was in that part of the text again today and man, Gloucester, not really cool!
Is not this your son, my lord?
His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge: I have
so often blushed to acknowledge him, that now I am
brazed to it.
So right off the bat, “I’m embarrassed to admit this is my son.” Lovely. It gets worse.
I cannot conceive you.
Sir, this young fellow’s mother could: whereupon
she grew round-wombed, and had, indeed, sir, a son
for her cradle ere she had a husband for her bed.
Do you smell a fault?
“Son, just sit there quietly while I explain to the nice man that your mother was a whore.”
I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue of it
being so proper.
Kent, for his part, is trying to make the best of the awkward situation. “Regardless of how he came into the world, that’s a fine looking boy you’ve got there!”
But I have, sir, a son by order of law, some year
elder than this, who yet is no dearer in my account:
though this knave came something saucily into the
world before he was sent for, yet was his mother fair; there was good sport at his making, and the
whoreson must be acknowledged. Do you know this
noble gentleman, Edmund?
Emphasis mine of course, but what son doesn’t love to hear “Well, at least his mom was hot, and great in bed.” Sure Edmund’s the villain of this story but you pay close attention to a scene like this and think, can you blame him?
I never really noticed the line above about how he holds his other, lawful son (Edgar) “no dearer in my account”. Does Gloucester have a problem with Edgar right from the start, that is then what Edmund feeds on to set his plan in motion? Man, Shakespeare thought of everything!
I’d do some “If you’ve never seen Slings & Arrows” banter here, but seriously, if you’ve never seen Slings & Arrows, stop reading and go watch it. It’s just that good. To recap, each of the three seasons maps to one of Shakespeare’s plays – Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear (with some side plots thrown in, too). We’re introduced to the series via Geoffrey, our director, who once had a nervous breakdown after he played Hamlet (and yes, now he’s directing it). He’s haunted by the ghost of his own former director. Meanwhile we get to see what makes a Shakespeare festival work, from how they rehearse to how they make money.
And now they’re pitching a prequel about the origins of the festival itself, back in post war America in the 1950s? I’m not sure what play that’s going to map to, or how much of the original cast would still be relevant, but the original just has so much credibility that I’d get in line to see what the creators come up with next. I hope somebody picks it up.