Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Spiritual Aristrocrats . . .

Faith is a gift. Those who have been given the gift have been give responsibilities along with it. I have recently been struck by this, as I have begun to use a passage from King Lear, Act III, scene iv as my prayer before meals. It is, it seems to me, an example of what it means to be a Christian aristocrat, radically distinct from, but not incompatible with, being a worldly aristocrat.

In this storm scene Lear is teetering on the brink of madness. So recently an arrogant and self-centered king doing precisely what Christ forbids in the Gospel, namely lording it over those under him, Lear is now reduced the famous "nothing" which is such a leitmotif throughout the play. Now noticing the suffering of common humanity and his indistinguishability from them, Lear cries out:
Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta'en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayest shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.
This is Shakespeare expressing a quintessentially Christian understanding of the world turned upside down and the aristocracy of the poor in spirit. For the time being at least, it makes a nice prayer before meals.

As Robert Frost said: what worked for me may work for you.

1 comment:

Jeff Wild said...

I have recently been reading the works of the Shakespeare director/critic, John Russell Brown. He makes a very strong case for the need that a reader of Shakespeare must engage the text with as much imagination and effort as the actors. He writes in Discovering Shakespeare, "A reader of Shakespeare is like a performer or and audience, and has not true option but to respond imaginatively to a whole, human and only partly perceived living- image."

You seemed to have done just that in making these lines your own. Thank you for pointing them out.