Call the Show 800-520-1234
LIVE: Mon-Fri, 6-9AM, ET
Hugh Hewitt Book Club
Call 800-520-1234 email Email Hugh
Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Dr. Larry Arnn And Professor Stephen Smith On King Lear And Macbeth

Email Email Print

HH: It is the last radio hour of the week. That means it’s time for our Hillsdale Dialogue, a conversation about the very best that the West has produced. And what a great week to be talking again with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, and his colleague, Professor Stephen Smith, about Shakespeare, specifically about two plays about kingly leadership in King Lear and Macbeth. And we do so after the president of the United States gives a big, big national address at the moment of crisis, and when Americans are feeling much less safe than they did 13 years ago, 47%, because of the leadership that they have or do not have. And welcome to you both. Dr. Arnn, I think I will begin with you. What does it say about leadership generally that 13 years after 9/11, 47% of Americans feel less safe than they did on that awful day?

LA: Well, there’s a minor theme, and that is free peoples are not busy governing all the time. And so they lose interest in the thing not immediate. But the second thing is goodness gracious have we ever been so badly led?

HH: And that is the question. Professor Smith, and you have developed a theory over the last three weeks, and we began with the Tempest on through Hamlet, and today into Lear and Macbeth, and then next week into more, that Shakespeare thinks a lot about leadership.

SS: That’s right. I mean, as a dramatic artist, he’s particularly preoccupied with human freedom, human decision making, and what you might call broadly the art and soul of leading, and the way we lead our souls for good or for ill. He’s particularly fascinated with leaders, of course.

HH: And so, Dr. Arnn, Obama will be, President Obama will be significant in the study of a failed presidency, much in the way that Nixon was significant in the study of a failed presidency. Historians, as long as we are blessed to be able to write freely, will be studying why this is such an epic disaster.

LA: Yeah, well, you know, we’re in a position, if we want to, in regard to these threats in the Middle East, we’re in a position to kind of stand off from them, and then cause harm to people who threaten us without much harm to ourselves, at least that the domestic terrorism problem is a different problem, but it’s fostered in these places. And instead, what we do is we ally ourselves with the ones who wish to cause us harm, and we undercut the ones who don’t. And that’s not just a neglect of power, it’s an abuse of power.

HH: It’s sort of our worst case scenario for the presidency, and that is in fact what Professor Smith sent to me a note that King Lear is Shakespeare’s worst case scenario. But I have to begin by telling you I sailed past the white cliffs of Dover this summer, probably six weeks ago, and heard a lecture on the scene on the white cliffs of Dover by Professor White that is just as memorable as could possibly be. And that’s just one tiny bit of his epic play, Professor Smith.

SS: Yeah, I mean, Dover Cliff is where, for the listeners, the method of his apparent suicide later in the play. And the play is famous for the pain that it causes in audiences, and the difficulties that it probes and it explores. You know, Samuel Johnson, who is a great critic of King Lear, remarked that it’s deservedly celebrated among all the dramas of Shakespeare. There is no place which keeps the attention so strongly fixed, which so much agitates our passions, and interests our curiosities. Our mind is filled with the perpetual tumult of indignation, pity and hope. And he went on to write that he found the last scene of the play so disturbing that for many years, he wouldn’t endure to read it again until he had to edit it when he put out his own complete works of Shakespeare.

HH: When you think about Samuel Johnson writing that, this, his vast mind, that he’s so disturbed, he did not want to take it up again, then when he says a perpetual tumult of indignation, pity and hope, you really do believe him at that point. And it was the first play you saw, Professor Smith?

SS: It was. The first play that I really read was Macbeth, and just fell in love with it. But the first play that struck, the performance struck me like a lightning bolt was King Lear in Chicago. And the production was simple, direct, painful, it was violent, and it featured, for example, you know, when Gloucester is blinded in this one infamous scene, out came his eyeballs, and then the villain actually stomped on the eyeball just for good measure. And the play just had this visceral, powerful quality, and you couldn’t help but feel the tragedy of King Lear.

HH: The Fetching Mrs. Hewitt and I, and our friends saw this performed at Royce Hall at UCLA a few years ago, Ian McKellen as Lear, and he remarked in an interview afterwards physically, it’s one of the most demanding things, he has to carry around a dead daughter at the end, and he’s an old man. And he said this is a very hard…Larry, do you have a memorable performance of this as well?

LA: No, I took a class that spent half the class on this play, but I have actually never, well, I saw three acts performed, caught it midway on the BBC, with Laurence Olivier as Lear. That’s the only…

HH: Well, that counts.

LA: It wasn’t too bad.

SS: That’s a good one.

HH: If you’re going to just see a little bit of it…and you write, Professor Smith, your students will actually shed tears?

SS: Yeah, you know, another great critic, William Hazlitt, said he liked this play of Shakespeare best, because in it, Shakespeare was at his most earnest. And there are lines and moments in this play which you can barely read aloud once you get into the play. And I once had a student volunteer to read the scene in which Edgar describes leading his father, saving him from despair, how he met him with his eyes gouged out. And in the middle of it, she just burst into tears. And speaking to friends who teach the play regularly, there are these lines in the play that they will sometimes ask a student to read, because they know they won’t be able to read it out loud.

HH: That’s very rare. It says something about, the only time that has actually happened to me in 15 years of broadcasting is when I read the account of Todd Beamer on United Flight, I can’t remember the number of the flight, 93, when he rushed forward. And I was reading it on the air live. I didn’t know it was coming, and it just, all of a sudden, you can’t go forward.

SS: That’s right.

HH: And it’s a rare thing for a playwright to be able to come up with, because he’s using imagination, not the real drama that we were living through 13 years ago.

SS: Yeah, and it’s a testimony to how intense and successful a representation of King Lear really is. I mean, I’ve taught Hamlet and Macbeth and Othello, all these plays over and over again. They do not have that effect on me, but this one does.

HH: And the reason that we study Lear intently, let’s give a synopsis if we can for the benefit of the Steelers fans. Lear is the king of England, he’s tired, he wants to retire, and he’s dividing up his kingdom, never a good idea, right?

SS: Well, you know, if Hamlet is how not to be a prince, King Lear might be described as how not to retire. He makes, the plan itself is actually an interesting and good plan. But one event, Cordelia not playing along with her father at the beginning of the play, causes the entire thing to spin off the rails and become the beginning of Shakespeare’s most terrific and terrible tragedy.

HH: Dr. Arnn, I’m curious about, he said not a bad plan. They debated at Philadelphia a multiple executive, and they dismissed it. They said you can’t do it.

LA: Right.

HH: You have to have one.

LA: Well, they said if you have a multiple, it is a check on the power of the executive, but to the extent that it is, it’s a diminishment of the accountability of the executive. So they thought you know, you’ve got to have energy, and you’ve got to know who to blame. And Lear’s plan is brilliant, and isn’t it, I want to ask Steve this, doesn’t it fail because he underestimates Cordelia, because she wouldn’t engage in prompted honor for gain?

SS: Yes, he also fails to underestimate his own violent reaction to that.

LA: Yeah.

SS: Yeah, and so you had two things going on there, that Cordelia will not play along, and then his own response is so powerful that it sweeps him away.

HH: He’s very vain. And I wonder, have you thought about how one person can produce two evil and one very good daughter, and why, do we have any insight as to why that happened?

SS: Well, we have evidence in the play that the daughters are competitive with each other. Even Cordelia participates in this. But in the Tempest, you know, Miranda says good wombs have born bad sons. And so there is a case in which one daughter turns out to be Cordelia, the other, Goneril. But you know, the two daughters who are often vilified so much, you know, at the beginning of the play, are accurate critics of their father. They say you know, the best of his time has been but rash, and he is a man who is ever but slenderly known himself. This is just going to get worse. So their reaction to the beginning of the play is one that is shared by many readers and playgoers, but it goes from there on a steep descent into really monstrous behavior.

HH: And Larry Arnn, murderers and traitors all, sort of you hear that around D.C. a lot, I assume. Do you share in that opinion?

LA: Well, no. There’s, Steve will talk about this, but there’s a redeeming figure in the play.

HH: Right.

LA: And you have to remember about the initial tragedy that Lear, his plot that with which the play starts, is an attempt to control the hardest possible thing, and that is the quality and the actions of the person who succeeds you. And one of the reasons it’s very, it’s by the way, in the study of politics, the reason you need institutions, you need constitutions, but he’s trying to set them up so that they will be his successor in praise of him. And that is overreaching to start with.

HH: And we will continue to examine Lear when we come back.

—- – – – –

HH: We continue our walk around, not through, Shakespeare. We’re just sort of coming in and out of thickets. And I dutifully came up with an outline to take us to the end of the year. And when it was suggested to me that we would do Lear and Macbeth in the same week, I kind of laughed. I said oh, my gosh, that’s just simply impossible. But your outline brought it all together, Professor Smith. It is an extended meditation over two plays on prudence, or lack thereof, and rulers.

SS: OH, certainly. And you know that line from earlier, murderers and traitors all, one thing that the play invites is a real meditation on decision making and consequences. One time in class, I was so struck by how bad, call it worse case scenario tragedy, how badly almost every decision in the play plays out, that I decided to make a map on the board, starting with Act One in every character, and see where each decision led. I mean, in our own lives, we’re often saved from our bad decisions more often than not. In this play, every single bad consequence that can happen happens. And it’s really the worst case scenario, including, I might add, Cordelia. You know, she’s admirable in the beginning of the play, because she doesn’t want to play along with this icky love question and game that her father is putting on. On the other hand, she doesn’t know how to speak in a political situation, and she chooses silence instead. And so almost every decision, even admirable ones, contribute to this terrible tragedy of imprudence and lack of wisdom. So if you put it out on the board starting from left to right, you can actually trace every single decision and its terrible and unexpected consequences.

HH: But the upside is wisdom is at the core of this. And you go back to the Tempest. The same thing, is that failure breeds wisdom.

SS: Yeah, I think the thing is you could look at the board that I made that day and say you should never make a decision in your life. Or you could say actually, our decisions are truly important, and there aren’t really little ones. And you could really take that more seriously and try to strive and acquire a greater prudence. I think that’s what Shakespeare wants the reader to do. You can’t, we could read books about prudence and imprudence or treatises, but in this play, you painfully feel the consequences. And Cordelia dead in King Lear’s arms is not coming back again.

HH: Now let’s talk a little bit about prudence, Dr. Arnn, not a word that is associated with your hero, Winston Churchill, but one deeply associated with your other hero, Lincoln. And maybe that’s unfair, but I think there’s a famous quote that the gods gave Winston Churchill too much, so they shook him and out came prudence and judgment. Is there something to that effect?

LA: No, Hugh Hewitt, of the many heresies that I have heard you pronounce, that is surely the worst. That couldn’t, by the way, it’s a fact, and you know, I learned a long time ago that comparing Lincoln to Churchill is like comparing two mountains that stick up into the clouds trying to speculate which is higher. With that said, it’s actually true that Winston Churchill wrote more beautifully than anybody I know about the meaning of prudence. And his exercise of it was sophisticated and restrained.

HH: And so explain, then, what you mean by prudence, because it is not a lack of emotion.

LA: Yeah, well, it’s, that’s right, so first of all, prudence is one of the intellectual virtues. There are two kinds of virtues – moral and intellectual. Moral virtues are about what you do. The prime ones have to do with what you do in regard to pleasure, that’s called moderation, and what you do in regard to pain or danger, and that’s called courage. The intellectual virtues also have two prime ones, and these are virtues of thinking. And one of them concerns knowledge of things that never change, like being knowledgeable about the way the planets move, or being knowledgeable about human nature in some broad sense, which Lear fails in. Prudence, practical virtue, is knowledge of things that are very changeable. And its aim is choosing, and it results in action. And you can get an example of it easy just by thinking of your own life. How do you choose what you do?

HH: Right.

LA: And almost every choice that you make, large and small, is always some compromise among competing alternatives, either positive or negative. You never really get to do exactly what you want to do, even in little things like do I have time to go to the grocery store.

HH: Right.

LA: And so with human beings, because you know, dogs, for example, because we’re a dog family, right, and that’s how we understand the bestial world. We’re a cat family, too, and that’s how we fail to understand that world. And with dogs, they make choices all the time, but they don’t really make the choices in light of anything outside themselves, whereas we are capable of shame or blushing. And that means even after we do something, and commit an action to it, even a very consequential thing, we carry around the means with us to question it, and judge it in light of a higher or more permanent or lasting standard. Now prudence, then, is the skill at choosing among means in light of the proper ends. And I said at the beginning that prudence is always a compromise, right? You never do exactly the perfect thing you’d like to do. And that, one reason why we have, we get bad conscience is we’re always wondering not did we compromise, we always do. We’re wondering did we compromise too much or in the right way.

HH: And jumping ahead on the question of the conscience, that’s all Macbeth is about at some point, is the development of that terrible conscience that haunts him, Professor Smith. You’re very clear in this. This is a play about consciousness of a lack of prudence.

SS: Oh, very much so. I mean, Macbeth is a warrior of great valor, physical valor, but he lacks the wisdom that can guide it safely. So he’s a man of desire and valor and ambition and imagination, but he lacks that wisdom that can guide it. One thing he has that operates exquisitely in the play is his conscience, though, and that’s what creates so much of that great poetry. As the play goes on, though, and the tyranny deepens, that conscience is smothered more and more until it’s gone.

HH: Now you gave me a litany of things that easily moved Macbeth – his ambition, his wife, the witches. And I go back to defend my drive-by on Winston Churchill. He was also easily moved on many things, wasn’t he, Larry Arnn?

LA: This is so bad. I swear.

HH: He would jump in his car and ride out in the middle of the bombing raids and stand up on roofs, and was not prudential, was it?

LA: Sure, it was. By the way, you know that. I doubt, you know, is there a comic book about Winston Churchill, because you may have been reading it. No, yeah, so think of Macbeth for a minute, right? Think of one thing they fail to do. Nobody in the play, Macbeth or Lady Macbeth are the two people in question. He’s heard this prophecy, and it deeply disturbs him. And they have many long conversations about it, and nobody makes the comment well, you know, they were witches.

HH: They were witches.

SS: Only Banquo does. You know, Banquo, his friend, is present there, and he says you should be women, but your beards forbid me to interpret you so.

HH: Oh, I have never thought of that before. You’re absolutely right. There be witches.

— – – — –

HH: But what a week to be talking about the Scottish play, because Scotland votes on, I don’t even know how it came to pass, Larry Arnn, that Great Britain would allow itself to come close to dismemberment.

LA: It’s, well, it is a pitiful thing, right? And in my opinion, it’s got something to do with the European Union and the fact that places have a larger thing, a larger source of largesse to be loyal to. But I think the guy’s name who’s behind this in Scotland is Osborne.

HH: Right.

LA: And this week, he’s saying that if Cameron had compromised and let three questions be on the ballot, can we have more local autonomy, or does everything stay the same, or do we leave, that everybody would have voted for the middle one. And right now, yesterday’s news at least, the referendum is leading.

HH: Yes.

LA: And that’s, you know, that’s an undoing. We live in an age where we forget anything that happened a long time ago. But the union between Scotland and England is hard fought, and took decades and blood to make, and it won the security of the islands much greater, because they weren’t, then, both places where foreigners could land and threaten the island. And so it will be extremely, and I wonder what it’s going to do to David Cameron and to his Conservative Party if this thing passes, because what a shame.

HH: And I think, Stephen Smith, both of these plays scream at the Scottish voter don’t do this, don’t they? It’s just, it’s a wild, impetuous, maybe anger-driven, but not prudential choice to dismember yourself.

SS: I think dismembering yourself is always a bad option. I’m sure of that.

LA: So you see how, so one of Steve’s main claims in life is that poetry is the greatest teacher of prudence, and there he just demonstrated it.

HH: Although I immediately thought of the movie that won the Academy Award where the fellow sawed off his arm a few years ago because he was trapped by a boulder. So there are the occasional moments for dismemberment, but not Scotland.

SS: Yeah, you can’t apply too strict a standard. No, I think you know, with Macbeth, one of the things that, with both these plays, it’s important to look also at the positive. And you see Macbeth descend into murder and tyranny, and finally despair and death. But within that process, Shakespeare gives us a line that’s very helpful for all of his tragedies. This is what Macbeth says as it’s all unfolding. He tells his friend, Banquo, being unprepared, our will became the servant to defect, which else should free have wrought. And I’ve always thought that that line eliminates all of the major tragedies. You know, Shakespeare likes to show us soul that’s caught unprepared. And when the soul is caught unprepared, it becomes the servant of defect, and it loses that freedom that it normally loves, and would have wanted for itself.

HH: Now we know from the Tempest how he was prepared, but how did Edgar get, Edgar is the hero of Lear, for the benefit, again, of people walking into the middle of this. He’s the one who emerges at the end as the rightful and just king. And how is he prepared, though?

SS: Well, you know, strangely enough, Prospero was prepared through that tragedy when he lost his dukedom and almost lost his life and caused his own daughter’s death. Edgar, too, endures a tragedy. He learns from his mistakes. And the readers and listeners shouldn’t forget he becomes the king of England at the end. So unlike Hamlet or Othello, more destructive tragedies, King Lear features the good man coming to rule at the end. He’s one who’s actually had a Shakespearian education, tragic education. He’s like Prospero, too. He loves study, he’s philosophical, he’s really good at part playing, he’s versatile and witty. Again, he makes mistakes, serious ones, acknowledges them, learns, and he’s the man with the crown on his head at the end. It’s led Dave Whalen, our provost, and I joke that King Lear is actually the most wildly optimistic Shakespearian tragedy.

HH: Yeah, I laughed out loud when I saw your liner on that. You sent me your liner notes, and I said I don’t think that’s actually been remarked upon on this play before.

SS: I’m sure it’s a minority position, but you know, it’s true. And you really look at the end and say hey, well, they’re dead, but the best man is king.

HH: The last man standing is a good one.

—- – – – –

HH: They both feature horribly flawed leaders, and one of them, Macbeth, was a favorite of Lincoln, a terrific leader, the best leader, Larry Arnn. And so why do you think he thought so highly of Macbeth?

LA: Well, Churchill, too. You know, there’s a story from this imprudent and impulsive Churchill that you described that Richard Burton played Macbeth, and he said he was unnerved, because Churchill came and sat in the front row. And he seemed to be talking all the way through the play. And then about the Third Act, Burton figured out that he was just mouthing the words.

HH: I’d never heard that before.

LA: He knew the whole thing, right?

HH: Wow.

LA: He did have a fantastic memory. Now the story about Lincoln is that there were the folios of nearly any book back then that were going around were imperfect, that they differed from one another. And Lincoln watched and read enough of Macbeth that he wrote a letter to a leading actor in one of the performances he saw, and he distinguished it from several others, and had an argument about why their one was a better reading of the play. And see, in Macbeth, what’s going on is the moral awareness of Macbeth is extremely vivid. His best lines are in condemnation in advance of what he does.

HH: Right.

LA: And then of condemnation after, and yet he does it anyway. And whereas you get the idea that Lear is continually surprised by things, you don’t get that idea about Macbeth. You get a horror, a failure of moral. And what this means, by the way, is he had the eyes to see. He possessed the intellectual virtue of understanding the meaning and the consequence of his deeds. He imagines wolves howling for it. And he does, toward the end, talking to Banquo, understand that it’s witches that are calling him to do it. And he, and he kills him anyway.

HH: Anyway.

LA: And he kills him from an excess of lust for power.

HH: But he also has a false certainty, and I wonder, Stephen Smith, if that isn’t what distinguishes Lear from Macbeth. Lear doesn’t really know what’s going on, as Dr. Arnn just remarked upon. He seems continually surprised. Macbeth thinks he’s got it all figured out, because he’s got this prophecy which is no one ever knows what’s coming up next, right?

SS: Yeah, I mean, if he had studied the Western history a little bit, he would have realized not to trust those prophecies so much. But I think that’s the important part of his character. He’s a little bit childlike, and he’s gullible. Again, that first scene with the witches, his friend says hey, they’ve got beards, this is kind of strange. And he doesn’t notice things like that. His friend warns him, you know, sometimes the instruments of darkness tell us truth, win us with honest trifles and only then betray us in the deepest consequence. Macbeth has no thinking like that in him. He’s not prepared for deception, dissimulation or malice. And he believes the witches, and they martial him right into knavery.

HH: It’s also a corrupt couple. There are corrupt couples as well in Lear. But this is the most corrupt couple in Shakespeare, correct?

SS: Well, yeah, they apparently had a child that died. They do not have an heir, and they unite in pursuing that crown. Lady Macbeth before the murder eggs him on. Are you a man? She’s very, you know, I’m going to pour my spirits in his ear and convince him to kill. But during the murder and after the murder, she weakens and he moves into the command position. She’ll end hung dead in suicide, and he’ll go down fighting. So it’s a very disturbing portrait of a marriage relationship, that’s for sure.

LA: Both, and his, by the way, his confidence in these prophets is brittle, because imagine a fellow, say, Winston Churchill. And what he thinks is he wrote this thing one time. He said there’s no shield to our memory except conscience, right?

HH: Yeah.

LA: The future is very hard to predict. But we listen to the voice of conscience, we can sleep in peace, right? It’s very beautiful. It’s actually in the eulogy of Neville Chamberlain, and partly to excuse him, right? And so there’s not element of that in Macbeth. He thinks that everything is power with him, so these supernatural representatives, demonic, probably, they predict his rise. And he lusts for that. And they predict his safety, and he glories in that. But then each time a hint arises that their prophecy may have a double meaning, his confidence is just simply shattered.

HH: Yeah, he knows he’s been tricked. He’s been had.

SS: Well, it’s funny he should use the word, Larry should use the world shield. I mean, that’s what Macbeth doesn’t have. He has a physical shield. He can throw a shield before his body. He’s a really great fighter. But he has no internal defenses. Shakespeare often make this point in other plays that you need interior armor to deal with temptations like Macbeth experiences, and he does not have it. And he ends up at the end dead. Students often laugh in class during Act Five when finally that confidence is destroyed. He says you know, I think these witches were misleading me. And everyone’s like, you know, you think so? That’s Macbeth, though. That’s why I love him, actually.

LA: They carried, they were stirring their pot and living in the woods in barbarism, and I didn’t trust them. I mean…

HH: That lack of preparation of soul, right, being unprepared, our will became servant to defect. I guess he’s a little, did you use the word gullible?

SS: Yeah, he’s credulous and gullible. He believes very quickly, because the words, Larry used the word lust for power. Those words appeal to his strongest ruling desire. And he can’t resist.

HH: And thinking of modern leaders, maybe the least gullible fellow around, Ronald Reagan, just absolutely not gullible about the nature of the Soviet Union, just the opposite of it.

LA: Yeah, or much of any. He’s, Reagan, by the way, there’s a lot, one of these days, we’ll talk, I guess we’re going to talk about Reagan toward the end of the year, but there’s some really great stories about how insightful he was, and how seldom he revealed it.

HH: Well, as was Eisenhower, the Hidden Hand presidency. Some of the strongest people are loathe to let them know offhand how good they are.

— – – —

HH: You have a great critic come occasionally to Hillsdale, Joseph Epstein. We’ve talked about him before. He’s a terrific critic. And Samuel Johnson, I keep coming back to this thing that you sent me, Professor Smith, maybe the greatest critic ever, and the greatest critic ever saying of Lear that he couldn’t read it because it disturbed him so? That is really a powerful testament to what has happened here with this play.

SS: Yeah, and I think that he can’t forget it, either. And you know, going back to the figure of Edgar, the young man who becomes king at the end, he not only has experienced a Shakespearian education, he’s not only gained that preparation of soul, but he’s been a participant in an unforgettable tragedy. The chances that Edgar is ever going to forget how England destroyed itself is zero. I mean, it’s so powerful. That’s why Johnson responded to it that way. I mean, if you remember anything from a Shakespearian drama, you might remember the old man carrying his daughter’s dead body onto the stage.

HH: Yeah.

SS: It’s shocking.

HH: What’s interesting, you can overlearn a lesson, though, and Dr. Arnn, I finish here. President Obama learned the wrong lessons from the surge, and Iraq, and from Afghanistan. And in learning the wrong lessons has condemned us to ten times as bad a set of circumstances.

LA: You know, Obama is the perfect example of the old adage, you know, you may not be interested in war, but it is very interested in you.

HH: Yeah. There’s a piece by Philip Rucker on Wednesday, went to New Hampshire, and he talked a bunch of old Yankees. And these Yankees said if war is upon you, war weariness is no excuse to ignore it. It’s fascinating kind of common sense. And I don’t believe that we’re war weary. But Edgar versus Obama, what’s the difference Professor Smith?

SS: I think Edgar has the, speaking Shakespeare now, Edgar has the character that can rule. And that’s that rarer character in Shakespeare. He’s learned from his mistakes, and he takes on rule soberly, and I think effectively. You know, the only Edgar who’s king in English history is St. Edgar the Peacemaker. And it’s interesting that he should choose that name for the son who becomes king at the end.

HH: And you put your finger, I didn’t know that you would get it where I wanted, is he learned from his mistakes. And our current president, apparently, Dr. Arnn, with a minute left, chooses not to.

LA: Yeah, he should, you know, so if he were going to be a student of Steve Smith, he would, as Steve does, relate Edgar and Prospero, and he would invite Obama to read some stuff other than the drivel he seems to dwell in.

HH: Yeah, I’m not sure that he does read very much, and certainly hasn’t give us any evidence of that. And make that loop, Professor Smith. Prospero and Hamlet?

SS: Sure, you know, Prospero, he’s the one who overcomes tragedy and learns through truth and through acknowledgement. Hamlet never does, and makes a disaster for his own country. I think Edgar falls in the line of Prospero, and that’s why King Lear finally is a hopeful play, despite its darkness.

HH: We’ll wrap up with Shakespeare next week, America. Don’t miss the final of the five on Shakespeare in the Hillsdale Dialogues. For all of them, go to

End of interview.


Listen Commercial FREE  |  On-Demand
Login Join
Book Hugh Hewitt as a speaker for your meeting

Follow Hugh Hewitt

Listen to the show on your amazon echo devices

The Hugh Hewitt Show - Mobile App

Download from App Store Get it on Google play
Friends and Allies of Rome