Unfit for a king
Christopher Moore’s re-imagining of the King Lear story is closer to Shakespeare on acid than Shakespeare in the Park. The comic novelist kicks tragedy to the nunnery in Fool, a Monty Python-esque tale of irreverence, profanity and gratuitous sex. Who knew the mad king and his three daughters were so much fun?
Moore’s story is told by Pocket, the Fool. Lear’s favorite jester, Pocket is horrified when the king disowns his youngest daughter, Cordelia, and divides his kingdom between his two older daughters, the sadistic Regan and viperish Goneril. Since Cordelia is Pocket’s favorite—and the only daughter the Fool has not shagged—he hatches a plan replete with treachery, double crosses and an invasion by the French army to get Cordelia back at court where she belongs. Aligned against Pocket are the sisters, who mistrust him almost as much as they enjoy dragging him to their royal beds; Edmund, the dastardly illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester; and the combined forces of two armies.
Pocket’s allies are an old, discredited knight and his apprentice fool, Drool. Smart as his name implies, Drool nevertheless owns the uncanny ability to repeat conversations word-for-word in the exact voices of the original speakers. Also on Pocket’s side—possibly—are a comely ghost, who is not above pinning down the generously endowed Drool for a spot of fun, and a trio of witches.
Moore creates a fun voice in Pocket, who lives by his wits and quick tongue in a land where only strength and royal birth are important. Pocket carries a tiny image of himself on a stick called Jones, used as a ventriloquist’s dummy to utter jibes that may otherwise beget a beheading. The reader gets the impression that Moore uses Pocket the same way as he both lampoons and pays homage to Shakespeare, liberally sprinkling quotes from the Bard’s works throughout. Of course, not all of the lines are Shakespeare’s. When the grizzled old king asks Pocket if he is dead—Moore’s characters often voice confusion in that regard—the jester answers in the negative, saying, “but ye were close enough to lick death’s salty taint.”
Does the Royal Shakespeare Company issue fatwas?
Ian Schwartz writes from San Diego, California.