Vanity's folly

The fools of vanity immortalised in Shakespeare's 'The Tragedy of King Lear'. To be symbolised later in the play by blind Gloucester led by his own son Edgar, disguised as Tom o' Bedlam, and King Lear himself, mad with grief, led by his own fool through the storm.

Vanity is all around us. Maybe it's a nugatory part of human nature. The vanity of despots who seem to think it normal to encourage division in their own people, and sacrifice them in order to continue to clutch to the last remnants of their obsolete power. This, rather than try to find a more sane, responsible solution which would also reunite their people. Or the vanity of others inflated by excessive shows of applause, who shift the blame for their nations' sociopolitical problems on 'subversive foreign elements'. They make vacuous speeches devoid of the promises that many of their people (their 'children') have fought and died for.

King Lear's vanity is amongst the most classic. He blindly rewards his two daughters for their false, bombastic shows of affection, being then more absorbed by his own self-esteem and generosity. He punishes his youngest daughter, she whom he had always previously preferred, because she refuses to curry his favour with similar, inane words.
All to develop into a mad mayhem of homicidal conspiracy ending tragically and unsatisfactory, as if to underline the folly, the totally negative and absurd consequences of vanity.

In 'The Tragedy of King Lear', the youngest daughter, Cordelia, is disinherited and virtually banished, although she becomes the wife and queen to the king of France who is far more aware of her integrity than her own father then appears to be (Act 1 Scene 1). Her eldest sisters, Regan and Goneril share the divided kingdom that king Lear gives them, and even then they are not satisfied.

There are many such tragedies performed in real life. If they are less deadly, they often stretch out a great deal longer than only five Acts. There is one I know of that's particularly haunting, even to this day. In this endless story there are also three daughters, but in this case the most favoured is the youngest. The eldest daughters legally contest the extent of their father's generosity towards their sister.
The vanity here was in the father's incapacity or unwillingness to find a satisfactory, reconciliatory solution that would have reassured his eldest daughters of his love for them, (assuming this love existed) and would have reunited his family whilst he was still alive.
It is also shown in the eldest sisters, who put their vanity and hurt pride first, before their late father's wishes- no matter how unfair his proposals then seemed to them to be. A vanity that incites them to systematically continue to refuse anything and everything that might facilitate things for their younger sister.
It's also apparent in the youngest daughter who would seem to prefer to fly the same old paternal banner, with its faded colours of pride, dissent and division, rather than do what only she has the power to do, which would simply be to unfetter herself and all concerned from what amounts to a useless ball and chain, by proposing to share the total inheritance equally three ways with her sisters.

The tragedy is that when pathological vanity is never properly cured, it invariably continues to fester for the following generations. An inheritance that should represent one's love and life can thus become, if not toxic, a loveless, lifeless gift that the grand children must also eventually contend with, joylessly.

Vanity, like old, tattered banners of history for unworthy causes, continue to flap in bad weather, unless they are checked, tied down or buried along with the original flag-bearer. Vanity, like history, continues to repeat itself if it's never analysed and diagnosed. As such, nothing is ever learnt or gained from it.  

Text and images © Mirino, 1st April, 2011


Anonymous said...

There was a King and he had three daughters,
And they all lived in a basin of water;
The basin bended,
My story's ended.
If the basin had been stronger
My story would have been longer.

(an anonymous sister)

Mirino said...

If the basin had been mended maybe the story wouldn't have ended, at least not so tragically. They might have floated off in it together like the Owl and the Pussycat, with 'some honey and plenty of money wrapped up in a five pound note'.
But maybe the Owl and the Pussycat were less vain, which is all part of life, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Fear no more if all come to dust, for Love's not Time's fool and Death once dead, there is no more dying then.

Mirino said...

The last two lines from Shakespeare's sonnet 174.
But these three lines (from the same sonnet) are also very much in line with my allusion:

Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body's end?

Anonymous said...

Yes the body as a fading mansion but our eternal summer shall not fade and this gives life to us

Mirino said...

Only if one has been truly loved, and this love was recorded for posterity. Otherwise the summer is not eternal. It can even become the immediate Winter of our Discontent..