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Crucifying King Lear

By Domenico Pacitti

The Silence of God: A re-reading of King Lear [Il silenzio di Dio: Per una rilettura di King Lear] by Francesco Gozzi. Published in 1999 by Edizioni ETS, Pisa, 174 pages, 10.33, ISBN 88 7741 990 3.

Every schoolboy, though evidently not Francesco Gozzi, recognises Shakespeare's world as magnificently Godless. It expresses the need for man to take courage and stand on his own two feet in order to face up to the hard facts of life. King Lear is the sublimely pagan aesthetic expression of such a view.

On the other hand, there are those who prefer to introduce a benign deity to watch over them, wrap them in cotton wool and guarantee them systematic advantages over the rest of mankind culminating in the final reward of an everlasting life of bliss in heaven. Among Roman Catholics this creed has led to notoriously grotesque results and in this Italy has been a world leader. There every sort of injustice and corruption is shamefully perpetrated on a daily basis at all levels of society while the slate is regularly wiped clean at confession.

One may then partake of holy communion at Sunday mass by eating Christ's body and drinking his blood. It would be disgusting enough if this were performed purely as a symbolic rite, but Roman Catholics are indoctrinated to believe that such "cannibalism" actually takes place every time a mass is celebrated and that it is quite literally a miracle.

It is against this background that Mr Gozzi's perversion of King Lear may most profitably be understood. For Mr Gozzi is a self-avowed practising Roman Catholic who evidently allows his own religious beliefs to distort any book that happens to pass through his hands. What Shakespeare is saying is that there is no God and that human and animal life on the planet suffers a welter of gratuitous injustice. The view that Mr Gozzi inflicts upon Shakespeare is that there is a God but that He for some reason fails to intervene, choosing instead to remain silent.

Disappointingly, Mr Gozzi does not supply any reasons for this strange silence on God's part. Perhaps the Almighty derived sadistic pleasure from watching the tragedy of King Lear unfold, or perhaps He had simply decided to go to bed early.

All of this, together with the title of Mr Gozzi's book, might suggest that he has produced some sort of theory in support of his views. Not so. Almost half of Mr Gozzi's book laboriously repeats familiar background information on Shakespeare and his times that has been expressed far more clearly, competently and comprehensively elsewhere. The rest of the book proceeds in a tediously linear fashion and Mr Gozzi does little more than summarise scene by scene each of the five acts in turn.

In the course of his summary, Mr Gozzi insists that King Lear is a profoundly religious drama, that Shakespeare is investigating the nature of the supernatural and that God chooses to remain silent.

An interesting "sub-plot" to Mr Gozzi's perversion of Shakespeare consists in his decision to begin by writing the names "Regan" and "Goneril" in English but soon after to Italianise them throughout the rest of the book as "Regana" and "Gonerilla".

Mr Gozzi's sentences are rarely shorter than 60 words and often run to over 100  words. Not surprisingly his thought is muddled and his meaning unclear. But there are also other respects in which Mr Gozzi's Italian is hardly a shining example for students. For instance, he thinks that the Italian word "artefice" should be spelt analogously to "specie" as "arteficie" a primary school howler in Italy.

Natural questions that arise include: Who is paying for this material to be published and how much money is being squandered on it? We respectfully suggest that Mr Gozzi should urgently refrain from any further writing and donate the money to a worthy humanitarian cause. Hopefully, Mr Gozzi's brand of Christianity extends at least as far as this.

Mr Gozzi has held a senior post in English literature at the University of Pisa's faculty of modern languages for the past thirty years.

Note: This review was first published by JUST Book Reviews on May 29 2003.