King Lear: the commentary, if it does not swoon over Lear's "redemptive suffering," discovers a statement of bottomless nihilism. It won't decide the question but, in the sources from which Shakespeare drew the story, Cordelia lives happily ever after. One of the very many very memorable speeches in the play that Shakespeare wrote concerns Lear's conception of how he and she would spend their time if this happy ending were permitted:
Come, let's away to prison.
We two alone will sing like birds i' th' cage.
When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness. So we'll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we'll talk with them too--
Who loses and who wins; who's in, who's out--
And take upon 's the mystery of things,
As if we were God's spies; and we'll wear out,
In a walled prison, packs and sects of great ones
That ebb and flow by th' moon.
The reader may make out, amidst the horrendous suffering, some advice, something to put up against the horrors that are pitilessly depicted. Renounce the world. Be patient. "Bear free and patient thoughts," is how Edgar puts it, to his father, who wants to kill himself. Maybe it doesn't seem like much. His father, after all, has had both eyes plucked out--"One side will mock another. Th' other too."--in a scene so brutal that it caused one famous critic, Lionel Trilling, to observe that questions about its propriety as art have been raised by critics who otherwise are unwilling to admit that Shakepeare ever went wrong.