[Milton-L] Is Paradise Lost the greatest work?

Tony Demarest tonydemarest at hotmail.com
Wed Apr 15 17:07:04 EDT 2009

This is the joy and pain of Lear- that it speaks so loudly the truth of the human condition- when we wish to say "Enough, enough" to the king's suffering, he must undergo yet more- you are aware of the controversy over the play's pessimism- well, who, in this age, can deny the despair associated with life- or perhaps the potential for despair. Lear must somehow or other be "rewarded" for his return to the human condition ( after his stripping, etc.)- and we hope all will be well, but Shakespeare gives us the darker side of the human condition, the one we do not wish to see or entertain- the reality that not all things will be well- so I believe that Lear does receive redemption (a paying back for what he has suffered), and that is being alive for the death of Cordelia- yet Shakespeare teases us with the King's death- is this the relief? (As Kent suggests?) If is is, well, I want none of it. Each of us has a "Lear" story to tell- though we can never hope to do so in the language of Shakespeare, the pain of the story is just as real. And those who have read Lear with an open heart will all tell the same.

> Date: Wed, 15 Apr 2009 16:14:20 -0400
> From: dicesare1 at mindspring.com
> To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
> Subject: [Milton-L] Is Paradise Lost the greatest work?
> Tony Demarest, I'm interest in your phrase regarding Lear -- "his redemption into 
> despair." I'm reading "Lear" at the moment with, as always, odd and strange 
> feelings, including a kind of sharp pleasure with an undercurrent of pain. A very 
> dear old friend -- a no nonsense Scottish woman, from Glasgow, and we know they're 
> the toughest and most interesting -- said to me once, in her very old age, that she 
> could no longer read "Lear" or see it. "It's too painful." I understand that. Is it 
> the "redemption into despair" that makes it so painful?
> Of course the play becomes painful right at the start. When Cordelia utters her 
> resounding "Nothing," holding to it stubbornly, Lear just as stubbornly but also 
> mindlessly refuses to accept any explanation of that response -- not hers, not 
> Kent's. What's particularly bitter here is the fact that Lear himself created this 
> trap when he concocted the love-test.
>      "Which of you shall we say doth love us most?"
> The crucial word is "say." That tells us how strange, even weird, his love-test was. 
> Goneril and Regan play along, falsely of course but perhaps also humanly, in 
> catering to that weirdness. The size and quality of that foolishness, of the pride 
> that is its substance, you can feel in his response to Kent: "Come not between the 
> dragon and his wrath!"
> Clearly, Lear needs redemption. Into despair? The notion is attractive if a little 
> elusive. Enlightenment?
> Mario
> Tony Demarest wrote:
>> The older I get (and that is old), the more I love Lear- I understand 
>> his decisions, his denial of love, his redemption into despair- it is 
>> part of the older human condition- mostly, I love the play's truth, and 
>> living in today's world, who can deny the reality of the deep tragedy of 
>> life portrayed. And I love Paradise Lost for the verbal, sonic, 
>> rhetorical, and thematic pyrotechnics Milton provides. Why would, or 
>> should I ever have to choose (like Lear) which I love best? The question 
>> is, for me, not only meaningless, but absurd- sort of like asking which 
>> work is more existential- L'etranger or Huis Clos? 
>> Have we not all loved different people? Do we not know life is 
>> unpredictable- and that is why we cling to it so fiercely?
>> Like Borges, I think the greatest work of literature has yet to be born- 
>> and frankly am glad I will be, like his last Saxon, 6' under.
>> Tony
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