An Apology for "The Hovel"

I think my husband is tired of letting me name things. Our life is becoming a living encyclopedia for the work of William Shakespeare. We have a car named “Hal,” a plant named “Brutus,” and I’m trying to figure out how to convince Ian to let me use “Miranda” as the middle name of a future daughter. (I have a particularly soft spot in my heart for The Tempest.)

Needless to say, when it was time to dream up titles for all of our new endeavors at CenterForLit, nothing was safe. I suggested an alternative Shakespearean title for every new product we’re releasing. Most of them got shot down, but as a consolation prize everyone was kind enough to let me name the blog.

I had an excellent professor introduce me to Shakespeare. His passion for the Bard’s language and art was contagious. He burned into my memory that every word of Shakespeare’s has significance—every last word.

It was this professor who first walked me through the chaotic story of King Lear, a man whose own pride strips him of authority, family, and ultimately the roof over his head.

One of my favorite moments of the play takes place in Act 3 Scene 3, right in the center of the King Lear's five acts. It is an uncharacteristic moment of peace. Abandoned by his daughters in the forest during a fierce storm, with nowhere to go, Lear is comforted by Kent, his one loyal companion:

“Gracious my lord, hard by here is a hovel. Some friendship will it lend you ‘gainst the tempest”(3.3.61-62).

 Following Lear’s unbridled rage and preceding his ultimate death and loss, he is offered comfort in the middle of confusion. It is no palace, but it is somewhere to find relief from the rain and wind.

This show of compassion seems to inspire a glimmer of sympathy in Lear. At the door of the hovel, before entering, he observes:

“Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are

That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,

How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,

Your looped and windowed raggedness defend you

From seasons such as these? O I have ta’en

Too little care of this. Take physic, pomp,

Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,

That thou mayst shake the superflux to them

And show the heavens more just. (3.4.28-36).

 For once the king turns his eyes outward and takes pity on his suffering subjects who have never enjoyed the luxuries of a palace. He counsels himself to “expose” his own royal person to the elements to “feel what wretches feel,” so that he may sympathize with their plight. He then immediately puts his thought to action, befriending “Poor Tom a’ Bedlam” and insisting the disguised son of Gloucester join him inside the shelter of the hovel. There we are led to believe Lear and Tom hold quiet discussions of philosophy, and wait for the storm to pass.

It is our hope that the CenterForLit blog, and our community in general, will offer this kind of shelter from life’s tempests. Perhaps in the middle of all the chaos and pressure to perform, The Hovel may be a place to gather together and dry ourselves from the wind and rain. Instead of responding with fury and despair at our inability to measure up, we can find comfort in the grace of common human experience as we share our personal stories with each other, as well as look to the example of literature’s Great Stories.

And perhaps like Lear’s Fool, we can eventually end up dancing and singing in the rain, joyfully aware of our own imperfection:

“He that has and a little tiny wit,

With heigh-ho, the wind and the rain,

Must make content with his fortunes fit,

Though the rain it raineth every day.” (3.2.74-77).

 So I hope that Ian forgives me for fan-girling over Shakespeare once again. And I hope that this Hovel will lend you some friendship against the tempest.