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Playwrights revisited:
The feeling vision of Shakespeare's Lear

Shakespeare's use of nature as imagery and metaphor captures how the natural world was perceived in his time. New interpretations are finding how his imagery also describes current perceptions of nature and even climatic change.

We start with King Lear, as Ralph W. Black sees Lear carve up a 'commodified landscape', Bill Moyers quotes Lear as he accepts an environment award and Mark Rylance quotes Shakespeare on climate change.


Ralph W. Black sees King Lear carve up a 'commodified landscape'

'Not long ago I saw King Lear again. Olivier's Lear. I marvelled as usual at Lear's deep rage and deeper sadness, and I cried as usual as he carried Cordelia's body across the stage at the end.

    But I was struck even more by the beginning: A map of the kingdom is unrolled. It is painted across the tanned hides of a small herd of royal deer. The old Sovereign uses his sword to symbolically divide his domain among his daughters. Even before the daughters have spoken, or refused to speak the trajectory of their love, there is this transgression: the commodified landscape is sliced up and parcelled out to the highest rhetorical bidder. For a moment I wonder about my understanding of the tragedy, about what hubristic act instigates Lear's fall, about the significance of the natural world in the play, the moments of clarity that all seem to take place outside - in a storm, on the moors, at the seashore.
Black’s essay appears on the website for the Association for Literature and the Environment (ASLE).
William Cronon has recently written about his work as an environmental historian, saying that 'human acts occur within a network of relationships, processes, and systems that are as ecological as they are cultural.' He is speaking of histories of the (American) Great Plains, but we, invested as we are in the natural world and its literary representation, might use it to talk about Colonel Sutpen, Natty Bumppo, or King Lear.

Lear is one of the last books I would put on an environmental literature reading list, but surely there is room enough, and reason, for exploring the relationship between the human and natural worlds in the play.'


Bill Moyers quotes Lear as he accepts environment award

The American writer and broadcaster Bill Moyers received the Global Environment Citizen Award from the Harvard Medical School, Centre for Health and the Global Environment in December 2004. Meryl Streep, a member of the Center Board, presented the award in recognition of Moyers' reporting on the environment.

In his acceptance speech, Moyers said:

    'We do know what we are doing. We are stealing [our children’s] future. Betraying their trust. Despoiling their world. And I ask myself: Why? Is it because we don't care? …Because we have lost our capacity for outrage, our ability to sustain indignation at injustice?... What has happened to our moral imagination?

      On the heath Lear asks Gloucester: "How do you see the world?"
      And Gloucester, who is blind, answers: "I see it feelingly."
      I see it feelingly.

    Why don't we feel the world enough to save it—for our kin to come? We must match the science of human health to the science of the heart, the capacity to see and feel and then to act as if the future depended on us. Believe me, it does.'

Moyers develops these ideas in the New York Review of Books. He asks why there is so little outrage against environmental despoilation and he investigates the role of Christian fundamentalism in American politics and the influence it has on public responses to the environment.

www.nybooks.com
New York Review of Books
March 24 2005 – Vol 52 No 5

Moyers' acceptance speech
www.commondreams.org


Mark Rylance picks Shakespeare's best lines on climate change

openDemocracy asked Mark Rylance, actor and (now) former artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, to identify passages from Shakespeare’s work that might be relevant to climate change. The passages that Rylance chose included King Lear Act 1, Scene 2:103,

‘These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us. Though the wisdom of nature can reason it thus and thus, yet nature finds itself scourged by the sequent effects.’

Rylance also chose a quote from All’s Well that Ends Well Act 2, Scene 1:142

‘Great Floods have flown from simple sources’

and a quote from The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 3, Scene 1:155

'And with thy daring folly burn the world.'


published in 2005

‘These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us. Though the wisdom of nature can reason it thus and thus, yet nature finds itself scourged by the sequent effects.’

from King Lear Act 1, Scene 2:103

 

In Lear, 'the commodified landscape is sliced up and parcelled out to the highest rhetorical bidder.

I wonder about what hubristic act instigates Lear's fall, about the significance of the natural world in the play, the moments of clarity that all seem to take place outside - in a storm, on the moors, at the seashore.'

Ralph W. Black

 

What has happened to our moral imagination?

On the heath Lear asks Gloucester: "How do you see the world?"
And Gloucester, who is blind, answers: "I see it feelingly."

I see it feelingly.

Why don't we feel the world enough to save it—for our kin to come?

Bill Moyers

 

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