I sometimes talk to myself and have two daughters of my own, so writing about `King Lear' makes me a little nervous. I mean, I don't think of Amy and Anne as Regan and Goneril, in fact I'm fairly sure they are good and loving Cordelias, but you don't want to tempt fate, or whoever that is hovering out there with the glowering, judgemental eyes.
Granted, Lear had three daughters, but two is still cutting it close. And sometimes I carry a staff. Still, Belle Yang said we should all write a bit about Lear, and you know what Shakespeare said about ``a woman scorned.'' Incidentally, Belle said I introduced her to Shakespeare. I think what I actually said was she was reading too much of the same thing and ``needed to shake herself up.'' And Shakespeare does that.
Instead of writing about Lear himself, though, I think I'd like to focus on Cordelia.
Cordelia is a California town where highways 680 and 80 come together on the way from San Francisco and Oakland to Davis and Sacramento and on into the gold country. Nancy and I used to take this route often, driving Amy to and from UC Davis, and then later taking Anne to and from Chico State. Sometimes, like `King Lear,' these trips were fraught with drama and angst.
Each time we drove through, or stopped _ it's a popular trucker's stop, a major crossroads _ I wondered how the town got its name. Was it founded by a confused man with three daughters? Or an exhausted daughter with a burdensome father who howled at the wind? Either seems possible.
But so far I haven't been able to find out much about Cordelia, other than in 1865, according to Ken Stanton's book ``Mount St. Helena and Robert Louis Stevenson State Park: A History and Guide,'' the Cordelia downtown was the scene of an infamous shootout between the English and Durbin families.
With a touch of `Macbeth', we learn Parry English was killed, B.F. English lost an eye and Charley English (shades of `Richard III') suffered a ``crippled arm,'' all by gunfire. The Durbins were apparently the better shots.
Before this, though, it's very likely Shakespearean actors passed through Cordelia on their way to the gold fields in 1849 and the years following. Perhaps one of them named Cordelia after a performance of `Lear.' (Town Hall meeting: ``We could name ourselves Goneril.'' ``Are you kdding? Did you see what she did to her father? I don't want to give my kids ideas. How about Cordelia? There was a good lass.'').
On reaching the miners' camps, these actors could have performed `Lear' again. And woe to those actors who left out a single line. Some of the early troupes thought the miners might accept abreviated versions of the Bard's plays, and the actors could have an early night. They were wrong.
The miners had nothing to do most nights and memorized the plays around their camp fires. One actor wrote he knew his troupe was in trouble with its abridged production when he looked out into a firelit and booze-lit audience and saw the miners anticipating the lines, mouthing them before the actors spoke them.
Cutting lines often meant a bout of tar and feathering, the actors driven out of town on a rail, if one could be found. You could be Lear or you could be Hamlet or you could be Othello, but if you cut lines you were probably had.
One actor who would never cut a line and often forsook the bright stage lights of New York and Boston to play the boondocks was the legendary Junius Brutus Booth, father of the supremely gifted Edwin and the infamous John Wilkes. Junius and Edwin played San Francisco and Sacramento in 1852, and certainly passed near if not through Cordelia.
Junius, with his craggy features and broad shoulders, must have been a riveting Lear. The actor would have had no trouble sounding himself for sorrow in the role; he lost four children to illness and suffered bouts of alcoholism and madness.
California was one of his final engagements. He and Edwin took a boat from San Francisco to New Orleans, where the elder Booth was sensationally popular because he could perform Shakespeare in French.
On a steamboat from New Orleans to Cincinnati, he died from drinking bad water, sparing the great actor the tragedy of living through his son's assassination of a president, an event that haunted Edwin and all of his profession for years.
Which raises the question, had he lived, might Junius have disuaded John Wilkes from commiting the crime, thus profoundly changing history?
Lincoln's death, by the way, was in 1865, the year the Englishes and Durbins had their bloody showdown in Cordelia, California
Causes Steve Hauk Supports
City of Pacific Grove Public Library, Pacific Grove, California; Animal Friends Rescue Project, Pacific Grove; Animal Welfare Information and Assistance,...