Thursday, November 8, 2007


Denis Donoghue has concluded his two lectures on KING LEAR. He drew this listener's attention to an essay by Sigurd Burckhardt, "The Quality of Nothing" by adding that the author had been a friend and was a suicide. I have not read the article yet. Of course the essay is about the use of the word nothing in the play.

Donoghue also quoted from the famous Auden essay on the fool in Shakespeare. And he again quoted from Kenneth Burke and R. P. Blackmur. I mention these names because Donoghue is the sort of lecturer who is generous in his quotation and I have always found these leads to be productive of thought.
Most of Donoghue's lecture was composed of quotation from the final three acts of the play. It was an almost a perfect act of Walter Benjamin criticism: you will remember that Benjamin argued that the perfect act of criticism was quotation from the text under discussion and by the very quotations the critic's meaning would be made clear....

If I was a better typist I would quote at length in the same way...

I sat in the last row of that converted movie house on 8th Street. I noticed three students about me: the girl sitting next to me did not have the text before her. She took some notes and then stopped. The young man to her left typed on his laptop all through the lecture. He looked to be doing an assignment for another class. He also did not have the text with him. Immediately in front of me was a young lady also hard at work on her laptop scanning through the whole of the 75 minutes site after site... if you say I was not myself paying attention to the lecture by being distracted by these young people you would be wrong.

Now as then I have been thinking about whatever was going on in their heads? I do not know what to make of them. You just remember that no attendance is taken in this class so why do they go along to the class? Surely Donoghue's voice must serve as some sort of distraction... Donoghue is not bothered by this, he says and to be fair to the room at large there are some students who do read along with him and are taking notes...

"Certain things must happen..." Donoghue is saying as he launches into the lecture... "Certain things," I repeat to myself... and I take away the memory of tenderness of Donoghue's voice as he begins to read the passages when Cordelia and Lear are reconciled.

And then as the 75 minutes come to a close Donoghue is reading the last lines of the play when Edgar is saying, "The weight of this sad time, we must obey
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest have borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long."

and Donoghue adds: "that is that with a minute or two to spare."


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