In this brief monograph, we shall be hunting down and examining various creatures from the bestiary of Medieval/Renaissance thought. Among these are the fierce lion of imperious, egotistical power, a pair of fantastic peacocks, one of vanity, one of preening social status, and the docile lamb of humility. The lion and the peacocks are of the species known as pride, while the lamb is of an entirely different, in fact antithetical race, that of humility and forgiveness. The textual regions we shall be exploring include the diverse expanses, from palace to heath, of William Shakespeare, the dark, sinister Italy of John Webster, and the perfumed lady's chambers of Ben Jonson and Robert Herrick.
The tragic hero of Shakespeare's King Lear is brought down, like all tragic heroes, by one fatal flaw, in this case pride, as well as pride's sister, folly. It is the King's egotistical demand for total love and, what's more, protestations of such from the daughter who loves him most, that set the stage for his downfall, as well as calling to the minds of the Elizabethan audience of Shakespeare's day the above-cited biblical edict. This daughter, Cordelia, can be seen as the humble lamb mentioned earlier, and her love and filial devotion go not only beyond that of her sisters (which is nil) but beyond words, thus enraging the proud king whose subsequent petulant rebukes extend to a bit of ironic Freudian projection: "Let pride, which she calls plainness, marry her" (I.i.125). Here, Shakespeare is emphasizing Lear's pride by having him indulge in the common tendency of despising in others (and in this case wrongly) what one is most guilty of oneself. Lear's rash pride ...
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...in which it is supposed to have been written for a certain Lady Haughty, a name indicative of not a little touch of pride, pardon my litotes.
So, to sum up, we have captured, examined, and tagged our various creatures of pride, and it is now time to set them free once more, to run wild over the four corners of the earth. The lions will devour all in their path with arrogant derision; the peacocks will peck and claw at one another as they jockey for position in their petty social circles, all the while pouting and preening, painting feathers on their feathers; and the lambs will go on being slaughtered in their docility, uttering never a scornful word, so that we may have lamb chops with mint jelly at Ruth's Chris with our beautiful, precisely made-up girl friends.
"Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."
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