Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides. Who cover faults, at last shame them derides. — Cordelia in “King Lear,” William Shakespeare, 1608
Class, let’s analyze this line, shall we? I promise, it is relevant to the Great Shakespearean Tragedy of Florida, where leaders remain intent on rolling youthful minds in a rock tumbler. You’ll recall that this week, Hillsborough school officials said they planned to reduce studies of Shakespeare, prioritizing excerpts over full works. In part, they stated, this was because Willy’s sexy storylines might violate Florida’s laws, which clearly state that people have smooth, plastic patches down below.
Hillsborough County Schools is absolutely goofy for this. Truly, just another “kick me” sign on a Florida-shaped back running out of room for Post-its. However, it’s becoming harder to fully roast local districts when the state’s Iagos are scheming on them all the time. One day after Hillsborough’s news broke, the hellraising Florida Department of Education had the absolute gall to imply the district was overreacting. As in, “We did write the rules that led to this conclusion, but what fools these mortals be to act on it!” Education commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., possibly to prove how into Shakespeare he is, put “Romeo and Juliet” on his August books of the month list. That is the one where the teenagers die, BTW.
The Macbeths running this state have no scruples, which is just one reason why students need Shakespeare. The Bard is famous for calling out steaming piles of hypocrisy. This brings us back to “King Lear.”
First of all, it took way too long to figure out if the passage uses “plighted” or “plaited.” Plaited, the first version I came across, made sense; the line is about concealing bad behavior, MUCH LIKE THAT OF FLORIDA’S ESTEEMED LEADERSHIP. “Plaited” means “braided,” and the DUPLICITY OF CIVIC OFFICIALS could definitely be hidden within a braid. The broader internet, though, seemed to think the word was “plighted,” which means “folded.” SPITEFUL CUNNING THAT WILL BRING EVERLASTING SHAME UPON THY HOUSE OF FLORIDA could also be tucked inside an analogy of folds.
To my dusty bookshelf! I found “Hamlet,” “Othello” and “Macbeth” next to, I am not making this up, a copy of “Archie’s Funhouse Comics Digest.” Jammed between all of it, a yellowed copy of “Eight Great Tragedies” printed in 1985, with works of Keats, Ibsen, Sophocles and all the sad boys of yore. Why do I have this? That’s like asking why I have a plushie of the ancillary character Teddy from TV’s “Bob’s Burgers.” I just do, OK? Inside this book: “King Lear.” Winner, winner, burger dinner. Unfortunately, there is no Control+F function for vintage paperbacks, so I had to... speed-read “King Lear.”
The word is “plighted.”
So, the story. Old King Lear is all, “I will leave my fortune to whoever loves me most.” His first two daughters are all, “We love you sooooo much,” but his third daughter, Cordelia, is all, “Eh, you’re fine?” He disinherits her. Cordelia runs off with the King of France (nice) but not before telling her sisters they’re enormous phonies who will say anything that benefits them in the moment.
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Although some characters do grow in rectitude, “King Lear” ends badly for pretty much everyone. No spoilers, but let’s mention poisoning, dueling, hanging, banishing and dramatic eye-gouging. It remains to be seen which of our current lawmakers will be cast out into a storm.
Meanwhile, remember what’s on the line in Florida. No, not digging through copies of mail-order books of the 1980s on a Thursday afternoon. Although, decoding the works of Shakespeare in a tight timeline is a vigorous exercise for both the brain and the lower back.
These essential works are intellectually formidable masterclasses in dramatic tension, wit, dialogue and imagery, not to mention forensic studies of the English language. And perhaps most tellingly, they are packed with vital lessons.
It’s almost like Shakespeare wrote complex tales of malleable human morality as fables for the masses. It’s almost like he attempted to repeatedly inform average folks about the tragic flaws of our so-called heroes, outlining, in arguably too many acts, what could happen if we lied, cheated, manipulated each other, surrounded ourselves with sycophants and chaotically spread discord in order to win an ultimately meaningless, cynical throne. And it’s almost like he knew something that MANY IN POWER AMONG US, 400 years later, still do not.
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