Thursday, December 01, 2005

Playing the Fool

I've only recently begun reading anything written by Simone Weil. There's a lot of interest there, but I really like this quote from one of the letters she wrote while in an English sanatorium.

When I saw Lear here, I asked myself how it was possible that the unbearably tragic character of those fools had not been obvious long ago to everyone, including myself. The tragedy is not the sentimental one it is sometimes thought to be; it is this:

There is a class of people in this world who have fallen into the lowest degree of humiliation, far below beggary, and who are deprived not only of all social consideration but also, in everybody's opinion, of the specific human dignity, reason itself -- and these are the people who, in fact, are able to tell the truth. All the others lie.

In Lear it is striking. Even Kent and Cordelia attenuate, mitigate, soften, and veil the truth; and unless they are forced to choose between telling it and telling a downright lie, they manoeuvre to evade it.

What makes the tragedy extreme is the fact that because the fools possess no academic titles or episcopal dignities and because no one is aware that their sayings deserve the slightest attention -- everybody being convinced a priori of the contrary, since they are fools -- their expression of the truth is n ot even listened to. Everybody, including Shakespeare's readers and audiences for four centuries, is unaware that what they say is true. And not satirically or humourously true, but simply the truth. Pure unadulterated truth, luminous, profound, and essential.

From here, Weil goes on to too quickly & conveniently equate herself with the fool, but I'll be damned if the first part isn't well stated.