|"King Lear and Cordelia" by Edward Matthew Ward|
Photographed by Sofi.
Shakespeare's Hamlet, Williams' Streetcar Named Desire, Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Illych" and Hemingway's "A Clean Well-Lighted Place" are just a few of the works that look different to me when I reread them at midlife.
Most notably, my perspective on Shakespeare's King Lear changed when I reread it in my fifties.
Initially, I found King Lear to be arrogant, controlling, and self-indulgent. He unwittingly reduces his power base when granting the throne to his daughters. This puts his daughters Goneril and Regan in a position to reduce his entourage and criticize his expensive habits.
As a twentysomething, I felt as though his daughters were well within their bounds to reign him in; at midlife I view Goneril and Regan's treatment as ungrateful, exploitative and abusive.
After a quarter of a century between readings, I identified much more with Lear than with his daughters. The scenes on the moor depict raw vulnerability I felt at midlife when decades' long plans started to crumble. I wasn't a regent losing power as Lear is, but I was the queen of my world and suddenly feeling dethroned by hitting a brick wall after years of working as a college English teacher.
|Photo by tsaiproject.|
[Read Rohr's book Falling Upward for an insightful treatment of spiritual growth born out of hardships that often happen at midlife.]
I didn't have a full appreciation for Lear's predicament until I had to let go of my identity of "college English teacher" or risk losing my sanity. I had to view my self-worth as independent from my career. While riding out a storm on the moor, dethroned and devoid of family, Lear had to find a way to value himself as a man before God, equal to others wandering without the benefit of shelter.
If you've never seen King Lear, I invite you to rent a video or find a live performance. He's not just a king who loses his kingdom; he represents anyone who has discovered that control over one's life is an illusion.
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Falling Upward: Book Review