Erotic Spirituality: The Integrative Tradition from Leone Ebreo to John Donne

By T. Anthony Perry | Go to book overview

"Intrinsicate" is synonymous with Donne's "subtle" and the "knots" are the same. 36

It is to be noted that in Shakespeare the wicked don't die of broken hearts, either because they have none--who could imagine Iago to show an emotion, even under torture, someone has asked--or because their hearts, as Othello's under the passion of jealousy, have turned to stone (IV,1,182). In such cases violence is the only possible (dis-)solution: the heart-body, as it were, has become too attached to the world and must be forcibly dispatched. It is rather to a partially reconciled humanity that the privilege 37 of a broken heart is reserved, to such an extent that, in Lear at least, to die of a broken heart is virtually a tautology. One always dies of a broken heart, and the best are those who acknowledge and even solicit the final breaking. Gloucester's heart, it is true, burst because of a failure of strength. But the more protean Kent and especially Lear call it down upon themselves: "Break heart; I prithee, break!" (V,3,311). 38 If, as the Quarto says, it is Lear who utters these words, then Bradley's now popular hint that Lear dies in a fit of ecstasy because he thinks Cordelia has revived must be rejected. For, just as Kent can die only when the source of his affection ( Lear) has been extinguished, Lear cannot conceivably have a broken heart, in the pathetic sense, if his beloved Cordelia still lives. For it is one of the play's deepest intuitions that the bonds of our life and our affections (and, Cordelia would add, the bonds of our duties) are synonymous.

At the third and highest level is the death of the innocent, he whose heart-soul is already in this life so délié, detached or dead in the Platonic sense, that actual death is received with equanimity. Such is the death of Cordelia, which raised Johnson's very legitimate and anguished question as to why the innocent suffer, but strikes us with sadness rather than either outrage or a feeling of senselessness. There is rather a proud feeling that this is the best that mankind can offer, that if the gods accept anything it will be this fragile strength: "Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia, / The Gods themselves throw incense" (V, 3,20-21).

I would propose that Cordelia's death does not appear as tragic to the degree that she can be viewed in her own terms, that such an event is a measure of our own degree of reconciliation with things. If this feeling is correct, it but reflects the source of our Delian metaphors, Socrates' death in the Phaedo. Thoroughly practiced in Delian detachment, the philosopher goes to his death with serenity, but his disciples weep nevertheless.


Conclusion

To return to the issue of tragedy in Lear, Bradley, as we have seen, situates the tragic element in the world and in man's failure to withdraw from it and value inwardness, whereas for Everett the tragedy arises from the metaphysical divorce between man and his cosmic environment. Against

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