NABOKV-L post 0019810, Mon, 12 Apr 2010 19:45:47 -0700

Re: Cruelty
Dear Professor Hyman,

That's VN to a T - - torture the reader first, last and always. The
pleasure he entices us with is the bait and we fall for it every time.
But somehow most of us go back for more. For me, the one book too
cruel to be read (aside from the originals by de Sade) is Ada. And for
much the same reason. Painful.

Carolyn Kunin

On Apr 12, 2010, at 6:33 PM, NABOKV-L wrote:

Shakespeare’s King Lear. “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;/
They kill us for their sport” (4.1. 36-37 in the conflated text of the
Norton edition). This also serves as the epigraph for Hardy’s Tess of
the D’Urbervilles. My point is not just that Shakespeare is cruel to
his characters, but because Jacobethan* audiences KNEW that Cordelia
would win the battle, restore Lear to the throne, and live happily,
not forever, but for a few more years, Shakespeare is also tormenting
his audiences. At 5.3. 264 Lear hopes—and leads the audience to
believe—that Cordelia might be alive after all. So King Lear, and
maybe Titus Andronicus, test the audience’s capacity for cruelty,
pain, and disappointment. Some audiences and readers, especially in
the eighteenth century, e.g. Samuel Johnson, could not bear King Lear;
and I won’t reread Tess because it hurts too much.

*”Jacobethan”: a term coined by the linguist David Crystal (at least
that is where I first encountered it) to cover the reigns of both
Elizabeth I and James I, the period of Shakespeare’s productivity.

Eric Hyman

Professor of English

Graduate Coordinator

Department of English and Foreign Languages

Fayetteville State University

1200 Murchison Rd.

Fayetteville, NC 28301

(910) 672-1901

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