Some pre-discussion notes on King Hedley II (5.8.2019)

I’d like to focus on just three elements of this penultimate play in the American Century Cycle. First, there is the structure of the play, especially with the single narrator Prologue by Stool Pigeon, formerly known as Canewell the harmonica player in Seven Guitars, an expert on roosters. I’ve decided that if this play were a Greek tragedy, and some may argue that it may be, Stool Pigeon fulfills the role of the Greek Chorus, and of Coryphaeus, the leader of the Greek Chorus, in the Prologue, and everywhere he speaks in the play. Let that sink in for a minute, then go back through the play and attribute all Stool Pigeon’s speaking parts to the Greek Chorus, beginning at the very end of Scene 1, “Lock your doors! Close your windows! Turn your lamps down low! We in trouble now. Aunt Ester died! She died! She died! She died!

In brief, the function of the chorus in Greek Drama is to provide commentary on actions and events occurring in the play, to allow time and space to the playwright to control the atmosphere and expectations of the audience, to allow the playwright to prepare the audience for key moments in the storyline, and to underline certain elements and downplay others. Go back and re-read Stool Pigeon’s parts and it becomes evident that is the role he is playing. And oh, by the way, Stool Pigeon often quoted the Bible throughout the play. But guess what? None of those quotes are actually from the Bible that most folks know about. I postulated in an earlier session that his quotes may actually be from The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, a book written in the early 1900’s that became popular among New Age spiritual groups in the 70’s and 80’s.

The second element that stood our during my reading was King’s insistence, first to Mister (in Act 1 Scene 1) and later to Elmore (in Act 2 Scene 1), that he had a halo above his head. (Could have also been early signs of glaucoma!) King is alerting folks around him (and in the audience) that he has been singled out for a special purpose, a special mission in life. The play is a tragedy for King. Nothing works out right. He has been lied to all his life about his parentage. He has resorted to a life of petty crime. Now his wife has aborted the baby he had high hopes of raising, possibly his last chance at redemption. He had a relationship with Aunt Ester, and she gave him a gold key ring, but without a key (we’ll get back to that in the third element).

Spoiler alert! At the end of the play King dies a grisly, ritualistic death, cementing his personal tragedy. But there is yet redemption in King’s ultimate price payment. His spilled blood (he is shot in the neck) makes its way to the grave of Aunt Ester’s cat and the cat returns to life (magical realism) with a meow as the lights go down and the set fades to black. Maybe it means there is a possibility for a resurrection of Aunt Ester and salvation for her people. We have to read Act Three to know for sure.

OK. The third element. The Key to the Mountain. Early in Act 2, Scene 5, King returned to the yard, having learned earlier that Leroy was his real father, and carrying his false father’s machete, loaded for bear (Elmore). Scene 5 has competing choruses, spurring King on to two alternate and opposite outcomes. Mister, son of Red Carter in Seven Guitars, tells King, “Blood for blood,” urging him to fulfill a destiny of extracting revenge, that will surely result in his death. Meanwhile, Stool Pigeon reminds King, “You got the Key to the Mountain,” which is forgiveness even in the face of a great wrong, an alternate destiny that results in life. King chooses forgiveness, sticking the machete into the ground. In turn, Elmore chooses to forgive, firing his gun into the ground and not towards King. Then, confused from the sounds in the yard, Ruby appears and fires the pistol Mister gave her, without looking, fatally shooting King in the throat. In the battle of competing choruses, Mister wins out, Kings fulfills his destiny, and his sacrifice restores life to Aunt Ester.

Notes from Session #1: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/04/23/class-notes-for-king-hedley-ii/

Notes from Session #2: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/11/11/notes-on-king-hedley-ii-11-11-2018/

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