February 18, 2010

Twelve Thought Experiments on Gauging Distance

This piece--originally written as a program supplement for Young Jean Lee's Lear (SoHo Rep, February, 2010) was occasioned by a review which described the play as "an intermittently funny but mostly flailing attempt to excavate new meanings from the consideration of a celebrated text... a big fat nothing." While I obviously disagree, that review raised general questions of how what lawyers might call a "derivative work" should stand in relation to its source.

Most of the specific references to Lee's text should be clear from context (e.g, there is a character named Goneril, who says "“I am a woman and my name is Goneril. And oh, how I long to be good to you. That is all I wish is to be good to the people around me, to make them feel whole and important so that they will dance to my bidding and bend to my will?” ) The quotation cited in Question 9 is Lear's last speech in Shakespeare's play; the quotation cited in Question 11 are the last lines in Lee's play. Nor does the character of Lear appear in Lee's play.


  1. Gauge the distance between The True Chronicle of the History of the Life and Death of King Lear and His Three Daughters by William Shakespeare, and some other object. Does this distance define a relationship? Does the distance change if the object changes? If so, does changing the distance change the relationship? Is there an optimal distance between The True Chronicle … and another object?

  2. Gauge the distance between The True Chronicle... and some other object named “Lear.” Does this distance define a relationship?

  3. What happens when the object named “Lear” is not Lear?

  4. What is the distance between The True Chronicle… and some object named Lear, which is not Lear? Similarly, what is the distance between a character named (e.g.) Goneril in The True Chronicle… (hereinafter, the TrueGoneril) and some other character named Goneril? Does this distance define a relationship between the True Goneril and the other Goneril? Is there a distance at which there is no possible relationship between the True Goneril and the other Goneril?

  5. What does a character named Goneril mean when she says “I am a woman and my name is Goneril?” Gauge the distance between what she means and what she says. Does the distance change if the character is the True Goneril or some other Goneril?

  6. What does a character named Goneril mean when she says “I am a woman and my name is Goneril. And oh, how I long to be good to you?” Gauge the distance between what she means and what she says. Gauge the distance between her first and her second sentence. Does the distance between those sentences define a relationship?

  7. What does a character named Goneril mean when she says “I am a woman and my name is Goneril. And oh, how I long to be good to you. That is all I wish is to be good to the people around me, to make them feel whole and important so that they will dance to my bidding and bend to my will?” Gauge the distance between what she means and what she says. Gauge the distance between her second and her third sentence. Does the distance between those sentences define a relationship?

  8. What is an intermission? Does an intermission define a distance? Does an intermission define a relationship?

  9. What does a character named Goneril mean when she says “Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones:/Had I your tongues and eyes, I'd use them so/That heaven's vault should crack. She's gone for ever!” Gauge the distance between what she means and what she says.

  10. Gauge the distance between any two aspects of a character named Goneril who is not Goneril. Gauge the nature of the movement of this character between those two aspects of her character.

  11. What happens when a character named “Edmund” is also named “Big Bird?” What is the distance between Edmund and Big Bird? What does the character named “Edmund” and “Big Bird” mean when he says “I’ll miss you. I’ll miss you. I’ll miss you. I’ll miss you. I’ll miss you. I’ll miss you. I’ll miss you. I’ll miss you. I’ll miss you. I’ll miss you.” Gauge the distance between what he means and what he says.

  12. Gauge the distance between a character named Lear and the absence of a character named Lear. Does this distance define a relationship?

11 comments:

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