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Catalog of the Shakespeare Art Collection  --  Oil Paintings on Shakespearean Themes

#90 "KING LEAR"
Description of Painting - Oil on Canvas 22" x 40"
by Hannah Tompkins

 

shakespeare, shakespeare’s plays, william shakespeare, king lear, shakespearean themes, shakespeare in art, nalysis of shakespeare’s writing, art on shakespeare, hannah tompkins, artist hannah tompkins, shakespeare art collection, king lear's fools, profiles of shakespearean characters, gloucester, fools in king lear, shakespeare in paintings, cordelia, kent, regan, oil painting of king lear, shakespeare art museum This play, like an old tapestry, has many threads: the relationship of the generations; Wisdom & Folly; Insight & Out sight; Blindness & Seeing; and an illumination of the two kingdoms of humankind:

The Physical, Tangible Kingdom
LAND
TITLE
WEALTH

The Spiritual Intangible Kingdom
LOVE / HATE
LOYALTY / INGRATITUDE
TRUTH / DECEPTION

In the painting, King Lear looms large, caped in royal robes, the outward equipage of his ego and authority. Yet he says to Regan:
"If only to go warm were gorgeous,
Why nature needs not what thou gorgeous wearest".
His ambiguous posture is one of defiance and supplication. In the storm he cries:
"Blow winds, and crack your cheeks: Rage! Blow."
Singe my white head:"
Then he laments;
"Here I stand,
A poor, infirm, weak and despised old man,
So old and white as this. O, O. 'tis foul."
His gown is white like his hair and beard. He is surrounded by stormy clouds, and darkness. In his outstretched hands are two half egg-shells. The egg, symbol of progeny, in this reference, implies the betrayal by his two daughters. The Fool tells him:
"Give me an egg, nuncle, and I'll give thee two crowns".
Lear asks:
"What two crowns shall they be?"
Fool answers:
"After I have cut the egg in the middle and eat up the meat, the two crowns of the egg-When thou clovest thy crown i' the middle and gavest away both parts, thou borest thine ass on thy back o'er the dirt."
The king's face is contorted in anguish, his eyes squinting. When he encounters the blinded Gloucester in the fields he asks:
"Dost thou squiny at me? Read thou this challenge".
And Gloucester replies:
"Were all the letters suns I could not see one."
Realizing his blindness, Lear remarks:
"O, ho, are you there with me?
No eyes in your head, yet you see how this world goes."
Lear is also devoid of eyes in his head. He wears his sight around his neck on a golden chain of authority.

To the left is the dark curtain of intrigue, falling behind a prison window, through which is seen a fiery castle against a flaming sky.

Greed for this tangible kingdom of land, title and wealth can imprison and destroy compassion and kindness in the human spirit.

Between the intrigue and the storm is a panel of blue sky, the triumph of the celestial world. Beneath the window is a tree trunk, shorn of its crown, the "family tree" with its members severed.

However, hope for regeneration is suggested by the roots which reach down to the Fool, who sits patiently on a foreground of indigo blue, the darkness before the dawn.

Although he is called only "Fool", his wit, insight, loyalty and a singular kind of nobility make him a deserving heir to the kingdom of humankind. In a material world of hostility it is often expedient to hide such assets behind the dark glasses of the fool. Despite his name he is surely one "who redeems nature from the general curse".
This was a description of Cordelia, whom he loved dearly. In the end they were hanged together but their souls must have joined in a spiritual realm to generate a whole family of fools who will one day inherit the key her wears around his neck.

The recorder in his hands symbolize harmony: at his feet a flower, the sign of love, and a butterfly which designates the human soul. The colors of his garments are luminous rainbow hues. After a storm the sight of a rainbow evokes exaltation. Following the human storm in this play the Fool serves as the human rainbow.
He sings:
"That sir which serves and seeks for gain,
And follows but for form,
Will pack when it begins to rain,
And leave thee in the storm.

But I will tarry; the fool will stay,
And let the wise man fly.
The knave turns fool that runs away,
The fool no knave, perdy."
In the hindsight of King Lear, we witness the conversion of the Force/Authority image to the child's code of love. Through his own wretchedness, this king/father has been sensitized to the sufferings of others. In the end he says to Cordelia:
"I'll kneel down and ask of thee forgiveness."
And they do forgive, all the Cordelias and Fools, for their love is s real and constant.
"For love's not love
When it is mingled with regards that stand
Aloof from the entire point."
It is the silence and " nothing" of such love
"Which often leaves the history unspoke
That it intends to do."
FIN


Copyright © 1990 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.

 

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