The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.
With these words Edgar reflects on the social mayhem that is strewn about him. In sum: Lear, a man more interested in the trappings of kingship than the responsibilities, is dead, but not before his irrational self-indulgence has driven him mad; his closest adviser, having seen the truth only after his eyes have been gouged out, has thrown in the towel; the kingdom has narrowly avoided being hijacked by a lawless anarchist and the country has been invaded by an European power. If such a set of circumstances were to occur in the twenty-first century, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee might have more than the odd sleepless night.
So, it may be of benefit to us and future generations to consider how such a set of circumstances might have come about. Shakespeare is clearly showing that those in power, fearing that they might be losing control, need to test their strength. The circle is simple. Master beats servant to see whether he still obeys him. Servant understandably reacts. Master, his suspicions fully vindicated, gives the servant a good thrashing. To ensure he keeps this upper hand, the Master employs those who are prepared to do his dirty work for him and that means open house to exploiters who invent the laws, bullies who enforce them and hypocrites who curry favour and power by dressing up self-interest as some inalienable truth. Today’s form of government differs only in method. Take, for example, two of the pillars that support Public Good – Health and Education. In both cases successive governments, unsure they have control of what is going on behind the closed doors of the surgery and classroom, have decided to flex their muscles. Nowadays, of course, you can’t rip off a few toe nails pour encourager les autres. A more subtle approach is required. Under the guise of benefiting the patient and pupil, the doctor or teacher is subjected to a series of arbitrary tests. The already over-worked doctors/teachers, who, in all probability, have not been consulted, quite reasonably refuses to undertake what they see as counterproductive. Various sanctions are threatened which only sour the relationship between the two parties which, in turn, means both patient and pupil may well receive a poorer service.
So, if the current system is fundamentally flawed, what should be done? Edgar, at least realised that you have to speak truth to power and that the kingdom of Albany has to move towards an alternative form of rule. Ideally, one that allows natural justice to prevail, a system that encourages fairness tempered with compassion, where both no one and everyone is in charge. Of course, for most people, this is too difficult an idea. It is easier to let others run your affairs and hope you land on the right side of the ledger. But you must realise that there will be an increasing number who will not be so lucky and you shouldn’t be surprised if, any time now, they start demanding a fair share.