Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The Arneson River Theatre is almost too good a creation to be true for a poet like Cassity. He recognized the possibility of exploiting its unique setting in order to expand the choices for a more spontaneous solution to the tragedy of King Lear. In the first stanza, the reader is introduced to the connection between the desertlike setting of the theater and the gloomy weather conditions that must be artificially generated. The poem opens up at this point to be more than merely contrast; it is also about what it takes to stage the play and keep the financial backers from worrying about “foreclosure.” By the end of the first stanza, the reader has been introduced to the difficulty of staging a tragedy that is occurring on the heath, both logistically and financially.

Cassity, by writing about the staging of a Shakespeare play, also suggests the playwright’s habit of occasionally having the characters step outside their roles to make offhand remarks about being in a play. Cassity does this himself in “Advice to King Lear.” By the middle of the second stanza—after the “Pleasure craft” have already appeared—the poet inserts the line “Outdoors or in, a mummer’s still a mummer,” which refers to the fact that actors are merely playing roles; if the situation presents itself, actors can step out of their written characters and expand plot solutions. The narrator of the poem speaks to Lear and presents the mounting evidence for him...

(The entire section is 442 words.)