Hope you are doing well.
I have been thinking about the discussion we had in class about Act III in King Lear being the closest Shakespeare comes to describing hell on earth. You asked what our version of hell was. Some students spoke about darkness and the lack of human contact. Others spoke about chaos and being around people all the time. My version of hell is something that I have seen play out in my life. I am terrified of being a burden to my family and having a negative rather than positive presence in their lives.
A couple of years ago, my family and I found out that my grandfather had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It started with little things: misplacing objects around the house and forgotten appointments here and there. Slowly it began to be more obvious. Every time I went back to Mumbai I would meet my grandfather. He’d say, “Oh, Khushy. You’ve become so tall. You must be taller than I am.” He’d take me by the hand and lead me to the closest mirror and compare our heights. I did indeed grow taller and stronger, while my grandfather was shrinking with age. But there came the time when he’d follow that same ritual of greeting two days in a row. And then twice on the same day.
The last time I went home, he hugged me with the same love and affection he has always shown me. However, he didn’t compare our heights. Later, when I was sitting with him, he asked, “So, Arati, you must be married now?” Arati is the name of my aunt, his daughter. I don’t know if he remembers me any longer, if I am somewhere buried deep within his memory.
Hell to me isn’t going to a place where I will suffer alone and isolated. It is being alive and watching my family suffer. Having them watch as I lose my memory, my identity, while still being around them physically. Having them suffer the heartbreak of watching me turn into a shell of my former self, changing the fond memories they have of me.
Perhaps that is what drove King Lear to insanity, seeing his daughters betray him during his lifetime. When he meets Edgar disguised as a madman, suffering, he asks him, “Didst thou give all to thy two daughters, and art thou come to this?” Going through his own personal hell, he cannot imagine a worse condition to be bestowed on any other person.
I’d love to hear more about your thoughts on this.
Khushy (Amherst College student)