Poet Hera Lindsay Bird noticed how Shakespeare’s King Lear was becoming a bit of a lockdown meme, with many people riffing on the fact that Shakespeare wrote the epic play during a plague-induced lockdown in the very early 1600s. So she decided, in this somewhat epic poem, to use a bit of lockdown time to riff on the play itself.
King Lear sigh’d. Took pensive sip from nearby mead chalice. Stroked beard in sage, ruminative fashion. Lear felt aged. Had been punting fresh moons off the calendar all year, watching his retirement get nigher & nigher. Would, when divested of throne, be permitted to gorge self on mutton unimpeded & ponder eternity. Ought to be grateful. After all, most kings didn’t retire - were simply sundered headwise from nethers by usurping military force. Cool menthol of stars anointing neck stump. And yet here he sat, corporeal as hell, affix’d to this mortal coil with almost worrisome tenacity.
All in all, had done OK - kingwise. Though increasingly prone to dwell on halcyon days of yesteryear, full of lute-strumming & wench-bedding. Remember’d how, as young man, had stood upon castle ramparts, heart strobing redly upon purveying vast & ancient dominion. The pre-christian forests & birds. Little jerkined peasants, steeped in their picturesque but largely ancillary lives. Upon the great & sweeping vistas which nobility had bestowed upon him, yet which were sovereign to No Man, the winds & grasses rejecting all fealty but God’s ultimate jurisdiction. Or gods. Whomever was moving the furniture around upstairs. Bodily, Lear was hale as ever. It was the psychological angle which troubled him. Once or twice had been on verge of spontaneous madness. Had felt moved to strip self of vestments and howl vile imprecations at clouds. But the feeling had passed anon.
Still. Was life all joye and merriment? Was Lear, having reached apex of regnal capacity, vouchsafed a smooth descent into senility? Alas. He was not - British primogeniture having once again reared up to bite him verily in the asse. Lear, having neglected to excrete a male heir, was reliant on his adult daughter’s taste in men for the long term economic and political stability of England. Which would have been fine, had his daughters been sage & goodly wenches of humble disposition & sound temperament. But the three of them were, it pained him to admit, more or less ratshit - brainwise. Probably had something to do with growing up sans mother. They’d had one at some point - he remembered that much. And now she was but a rarefied calcium deposit, mouldering away in the footnotes, leaving him to do all the heavy Piaget developmental stuff alone, which he’d more or less given up on. Everyone knew women were mentally negligible on the militarily resource allocation front, and were better suited to, if not going forth, then at least multiplying. So had left daughters to respective devices. And was only now beginning to worry what harvest of such pernicious devices might be. Regan and Goneril, the eldest, were strong, capable girls, if worryingly inclined towards theatrically nefarious behaviors such as throwing head back and laughing pitilessly at small misfortunes of others. Were constantly asking Lear if he hath any spare castles, and then sulking when he said he hathn’t. The one saving grace in this hellish, biological trifecta of female influence, was his youngest daughter Cordelia. She was a sweet, if somewhat puritanically literal girl. The sort of person you wanted administering your ointments. In fact – this was more or less Lear’s plan – to split the kingdom into thirds, bequest Cordelia the most substantial portion, and live thereafter off the spoils of his own generosity. Couldn’t just come out and say that, however. Was such a thing as tact. Had been brainstorming ways to enliven the bequeathment process all week & had settled on fun, family-friendly competition. Give each daughter the chance to wheedle some little pecuniary advancement out of him, via heartfelt professment of filial love, before he tore map into legally binding thirds. Had been practicing map tearing all week, which was harder than looks because maps were still primarily cloth based & therefore physically analogous to ripping capri pants in twain.
Lear rose slowly to his feet. It was the start of Act one, and nothing bad had happened yet. Jesus wasn’t born for another five to eight hundred years, which meant forgiveness was off the table, thematically speaking. Lear stood at the window for long, silent moment, if windows invented back then. If not, he stood facing wall. In the distance, the sky had already begun to billow, like wind in the sails of some great ship of antiquity. Nobody calling from the other side. Lear sighed. Cracked knuckles, and spat, groundwards.
‘Kent’ he yelled, into the western canon. ‘It’s kingdom splitting time.’