I figure that if I just keep typing, something profound will eventually come out of all this -

Thursday, November 17, 2011

King Lear and STD's

Goneril and Regan. 

    Hearing those names just makes you angry doesn't it? I mean, we have two sisters who turn against their sister, their father, one's husband, and ultimately each other because of their hunger for power and lust for the same man. Because of this I had to wonder if there was any significance to their names (see another entry by Katie for other moments that Shakespeare insinuates character traits based off of names)
    Also both are twisted and reflect her sisters evil thoughts and desires, so they might as well be the same person. So maybe if I combine the names I'll get something a little bit more significant...

    Goneril + Regan

    Yep, these two are like a sexually transmitted disease. I first thought about this as we started reading the play but never really felt like the moment was right in class to ask about sexually transmitted diseases and their possible significance to Shakespeare. So I looked it up.
    As it turns out, I'm hardly the first person to make this connection. In fact, a lot of people figured this out. Frankie Rubinstein has a book called A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Sexual Puns and Their Significance. He points out Act 2 Scene 4 in which Lear says to Goneril:

      "But yet thou are my flesh, my blood, my daughter;
      Which I must needs call mine; thou are a boil,
      A plague-sore, or embossed carbuncle
      In my corrupted blood..."

    Each of these physical characteristics are consistent with a variety of diseases, especially STD's. The implication that Shakespeare makes here is that Goneril is like an STD or more specifically, spreads the effects of these diseases around -- in other words, like a prostitute.
    Gonorrhea has potentially been around since the 1100's and would have been a problem for folks in Shakespeare's time - especially prostitutes. Thus, it seems possible that one reading for Goneril and Regan is to view them as working girls -- someone who sells themselves out for a living.
    This reading can be immediately seen in Act 1 when Lear says:

      "Give me the map there. Know that we have divided
      In three our kingdom; ...
      ... Tell me, my daughters --
      Since now we wil divest us both of rule,
      Interest of territory, cares of state --
      Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
      That we our largest bounty may extend
      Where nature doth with merit challenge."

   So, in the very first act, we have Lear offering to purchase his daughter's 'love' and Goneril and Regan are more than willing to sell out their "love" for material wealth. Two Acts later the sisters have sold out their father control. Goneril later attempts to sell out both her husband and her sister for Edmund.
    Thus, we see Goneril and Regan playing the roles of whores throughout the play, selling that which is most precious and important for temporary gain.