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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Learian Fools of Downton Abbey

I ended my previous post, about the comprehensive allusion to Shakespeare’s King Lear hidden in plain sight by Julian Fellowes for five seasons in Downton Abbey, with the following:

“My parting question is, “Who is the Fool of Downton Abbey?”—(that’s not a trick question, I really can’t think of who it is).”

Well, I soon found the answer….on Twitter! I searched in Twitter for any Tweets that included the words “Tom” and “fool” and was brought to this 1/12/14 Tweet by Matthew Brian Beck aka @Beck:  

“Tom is a fool. Fool, fool, fool. According to Tom.”

That was all the prompting I needed! I now see very clearly that Tom Branson plays the “Fool” in Downton Abbey in several senses of the word:

He is just like Lear’s Fool, in that he speaks truth to power—he has never been afraid to tell Robert what he thinks, from the time he was a chauffeur, to when he married Sybil, to when he became a second “son” to Robert after Sybil’s death. And Robert loves him like a son.

But Tom Branson is also a fool in the sense that Edgar (Poor Tom) is fooling Lear by dressing in disguise and speaking crazily, to disguise his own true identity.

And…I also now see that Robert is like Lear in his own foolish arrogance, and at times Rober, like Lear, shows awareness of this.

And….last but not least, I now see that Violet is most the Fool of Downton Abbey, because Fellowes consistently gives to her the best lines, the zingers that have just that ironic, witty aphoristic quality that we know and love in the speeches given by Lear’s Fool.

So, now for the remainder of this post, I invite you to peruse the  following quotations from Downton Abbey, which all involve the word “fool”, especially those pertaining to “Poor Tom” Branson:

Season 1, Episode 7:
Robert: If it had been left to that bloody FOOL Branson You should see what he reads. It's all Marx and Ruskin and John Stuart Mill. I ask you.
Mary: Papa prefers the servants to read the Bible and letters from home (!)
Mrs. Hughes: There are sandwiches for Mr Crawley in the dining room, Lady Mary.
Mary: Thank you, Mrs Hughes.

Season 2, Episode 8:
Sibyl: Thank you, Granny. Yes, we do have a plan. Tom's got a job on a paper. I'll stay until after the wedding; I don't want to steal [Mary & Lavinia’s] thunder.  But after that, I'll go to Dublin.
Cora: To live with him? Unmarried?
Sibyl: I'll live with his mother while the bans are read. And then we'll be married... And I'll get a job as a nurse.
Violet: What does your mother make of this?
Branson: If you must know, she thinks we're very FOOLISH.

Violet:  So at least we have something in common.
Robert: I won't allow it! I will not allow my daughter to throw away her life!
Sibyl:  You can posture it all you like, Papa, it won't make any difference!
Robert: Oh, yes, it will.
Sybil: How? I don't want any money and you can hardly lock me up until I die! I'll say goodnight. But I can promise you one thing, tomorrow morning nothing will have changed. Tom.
Robert: How much will you take to leave us in peace?
Tom: What?
Robert: You must have doubts. You said your own mother thinks you FOOLISH.
Tom: Yes, she does.
Robert: Then yield to those doubts and take enough to make a new life back in Ireland. I'll be generous if we can bring this nonsense to an end.
Tom: I see. You know, your trouble, milord, you're like all of your kind. You think you have the monopoly of honour.

Season 3, Episode 6:
Robert: Has Matthew told you about his latest plans for Downton? I know he wants to change things.
Cora: Doesn't he just? You mustn't let him upset you.
Robert: He more or less told me I've let the estate fall to pieces.
Cora: I'm sure he didn't mean that.
Robert: Didn't he? A FOOL and his money are soon parted. I have been parted from my money, so I suppose I am a FOOL.

Season 4, Episode 3:
Mary: How are you enjoying the party?
Tom: I look like a FOOL. I talk like a FOOL. I am a FOOL.
Mary: Alfred said you were dancing.
Tom: With an old bat who could be my granny and thinks I grew up in a cave. My clothes deceive no one.
Mary: Don't be so hard on yourself.
Tom: I'm a fish out of water and I've never felt it more than today.

Season 5, Episode 5
Tom: Look, I am very grateful to you and this family. But my vision of this country is different from yours.
Robert: But not from Miss Bunting's?
Tom: I believe in reform and the moral direction of the Left, and when I'm with her, I don't feel like a freak or a FOOL, devoid of common sense.

What we may wonder is whether, in Season Six, Tom Branson will disappear from the action as the Fool does in King Lear, or if he will (like Edgar) come out of disguise and take over stewardship of Downton Abbey (perhaps married to Edith or Mary????) if Robert happens to die or abdicate his authority?

Food for thought!!!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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