In Europe, an old folktale known as “Love Like Salt” had been circulating:
An old rich father has three daughters and he asks which one loves him most.
Eldest daughter tells him, “More than life itself. “Excellent take some land and a rich husband,” says the father.
Second one says, “More than all the world. “Very good take some land and a rich husband.”
Third daughter says, “I love you as fresh meat loves salt.” “You can do better than that,” says the father.
“Indeed, I love you as fresh meat loves salt.” The father casts her out of the house for her shabby response.
The daughter goes down the road and arrives in disguise at a manor house. She is hired as a scullion, and, in time, the master of the house falls in love with her.
The father is invited to the wedding banquet. The daughter asks the cook not to put salt in the meat and, as expected, the guests find it repulsive. (In the Middle Ages meat needed salt to keep it from spoiling.)
The father suddenly realizes the full meaning of what Third Daughter had said and bursts into tears. He thinks the situation cannot be redeemed and has lost her forever.
The daughter sees him weeping, brings him to the high table and reveals herself.
This is in response to Matthew Biberman's question of REDEMPTION in Lear
Shakespeare changed the ending he inherited from Monmouth and Holinshed.
The genius of “King Lear” is that Shakespeare he strips away all Christian structure. It is a godless world. If there are gods, these are spiteful figures who treat human being like pawns: “As wanton boys to flies. . ."
When all bad things have happened and you cannot imagine worse, the worst does transpire. The early audience of the play would have been jolted because of their familiarity with the old folktale. Everything is supposed to go well when Cordelia arrives with the forces of France, but the reconciliation is plucked away.
It is a world in total disorder, ethical and physical. There is absolutely no redemption. "The gods defend her," says Albany. But the gods hang her. The psyche, emotions and language are under the stress of the unimagineable worst.
King Lear was first performed before the newly enthroned King James. Six years later it was changed and given a happy ending. Shakespeare was still alive in 1612. I imagine he would have thoroughly dismayed by the happy ending.
My great grandfather’s tale, "Forget Sorrow: A China Elegy," there is no redemption in a godless Communist world. In a fever, he has been bodily carried out from his Fourth Son’s house in Inner Mongolia, put on a train bound for Beijing and then Manchuria. The Patriarch arrives by wheelbarrow, pushed by railroad workers, at his estranged eldest son’s home. He asks his eldest son, my grandfather, why they had been made to endure the worst possible.
This is part of our ongoing KING LEAR discussion.
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