In King Lear it’s important that Edmund tells us what he’s up to. He speaks this in scene 2:
Thou, Nature, art my goddess; to thy law
My services are bound. Wherefore should I 335
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me,
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?
When my dimensions are as well compact, 340
My mind as generous, and my shape as true,
As honest madam’s issue? Why brand they us
With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?
Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
More composition and fierce quality 345
Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,
Go to th’ creating a whole tribe of fops
Got ‘tween asleep and wake? Well then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land.
Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund 350
As to th’ legitimate. Fine word- ‘legitimate’!
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top th’ legitimate. I grow; I prosper.
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!
He tells us exactly what he’s planning. Gloucester, of course, has no idea what Edmund is up to. We know and that’s the trick. This employ of irony isn’t required in tragedy but sure pushes our buttons. It’s important to classical comedy. Herge was brilliant at using it in comics. Tintin rushes toward a bush. Muller is waiting with a gun behind it. In the same panel, Tintin says, “Gee, I wonder what I’ll find behind that bush.” I paraphrase but the point is pretty clear. Despite narrative devices, tragedy needs a special reaction from the audience. We know what’s going to happen: Lear will fall and everyone will forget Cordelia until it’s too late. But what happens and to whom and who knows about it is key. If we could warn Edgar, then Edmund would be tripped up from the start, or he might try to get us, and I wouldn’t want to be up against him. To intrude on Lear as Lear or Tintin as Tintin would be absurd.
Lear in hypertext might be a tightly controlled oval. It would reveal more about Cordelia than we know now, but the story would still end the same way. Cordelia would have all the wrong answers, as would Edgar. Lear is Lear, unless Lear is rewritten as Lear in the “garden,” and every decision he makes, or choice ones, become a new Lear to follow or a Lear who went on to become a burlap dealer in Santiago. Might’ve beens or whatifs are a powerful read. Perhaps some of these will lead to classical tragic falls, other not. This would also be an interesting IF experiment. But in this IF decisions are forks in the universe of paths. >Give Land to sisters >Keep authority will supply different meanings. This would be tons of work. >Let Lear stay or >Kick old fool out.
In the land of many stories . . .
Follow to Mark Bernstein and his conversation with Emily Short for more, and more insightful, comment on this issue.