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Bevington, Chapter 17. KING LEAR is a drama of old age and family disintegration in which human life often appears meaningless and brutal...only HAMLET.

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Presentation on theme: "Bevington, Chapter 17. KING LEAR is a drama of old age and family disintegration in which human life often appears meaningless and brutal...only HAMLET."— Presentation transcript:

1 Bevington, Chapter 17

2 KING LEAR is a drama of old age and family disintegration in which human life often appears meaningless and brutal...only HAMLET and MACBETH approach it in depicting such thorough devastation

3 Critics and producers have sought--over the past 400 years--to find more hopeful ways to view the play that are not utterly nihilistic These approaches are best summed up in Cordelia’s lines when she is reunited with Lear late in the play-- She counsels him, as Edgar does Gloucester on the virtues of patient suffering: “We are not the first / Who with best meaning have incurred the worst” (V.3, 3-4) With these lines and Lear’s promise to “kneel down / And ask thee for forgiveness...” comes the possibility that the compassion of Lear learned from being reduced to the state of a “poor, bare, forked animal” may lead to personal redemption Henry Irving as Lear

4  Other interpreters view it in secular terms as an emotional and psychological reintegration after Lear’s madness  Others view the awful suffering and carnage in the play as necessary to cleanse the realm and restore a moral order that Lear violated when he relinquished his throne

5 A school of existential criticism--Herbart Blau, Peter Brook, Richard Eyre--has emerged in the wake of the Holocaust and the destruction of Hiroshima: Nowhere in Shakespeare do evil and injustice triumph for so long with the capability of inflicting so much suffering upon the innocent In light of this pessimism and nihilism--the word “nothing” sounds like the tolling of a death knell throughout the play--has made the play seem the most existentially modern of the tragedies In 1985, Kurosawa adapted the play as RAN--a title which means CHAOS

6 The play’s history is fraught with controversy, still, divergent producers Harley Granville-Barker and Peter Brook have proclaimed the play the greatest stage work written in English The first known performance was at Whitehall Palace in December 1606 with King James I in attendance

7 Friendship, Families, Misjudgments, The Fool

8 Lear is King of Britain in pagan times...he is viewed by the vicious characters in the play as being irascible, intemperate and demanding...the loyal others treat him with respect for his age, with loyalty and love...In the cases of Kent and Cordelia, their love includes a candor that leads to banishme

9 Kent is the most loyal of Lear’s followers, disguising himself to protect the King he knows has erred

10  Goneril is married to the compassionate Albany...their incompatibility motivates her lust for the bastard Edmund...The cruel sisters are further prodded by the sadistic Cornwall, husband of Regan  Cordelia returns to England with the French army to restore sanity to the kingdom and her father to a place of authority  The corpses of the wicked sisters, as well as the bodies of Lear and Cordelia appear together in the last scene...the family has disintgrated, reunited only in death

11 In the parallel plot, the two sons of the Earl of Gloucester vie for the affection of their father...Edgar, like Cordelia, must live apart from the family...He is a chameleon-like character who assumes various roles depending upon the scene Edmund the bastard is the most villainous character in the play

12 Like Edgar, the Fool serves many functions and is often portrayed as Lear’s personified conscience...He is loyal, but also bitter that Lear has sent Cordelia away...the Fool’s jokes help steer the audience’s changing relationship to Lear...ultimately, he simply disappears from the action

13 King Lear


15  THE MIRROR FOR MAGISTRATES (1574)  Holinshed’s CHRONICLES (1587)

16 An earlier LEIR was written as early as 1588 and printed in 1605, THE TRUE CHRONICLE HISTORY OF KING LEIR...this older play contains models for Albany, Kent and King of France...has a happy ending in which Lear and Cordelia are reunited

17 Much of the material in the parallel plot comes from Sir Philip Sidney’s ARCADIA (1590)  VICE from medieval morality plays ↵ Some of Tom o’ Bedlam’s rants come from Samuel Harsnett’s DECLARATION OF EGREGIOUS POPISH IMPOSTURES (1603)


19 The formal structure of double plot is unprecented in the rest of Shakespeare’s canon...Gloucester’s tragedy provides a commentary and counterpoint to Lear’s Lear misjudges Cordelia, as Gloucester does Edgar Both men are blind to the essential qualities of their children Both go through a kind of spiritual death (madness, mutilation) Both wronged children return to help their fathers Both have the joy, however fleeting, of acknowledging their wronged child

20  The language of the play is wide-ranging and complex drawing from OLD Testament sources  It also moves into wild, even violent excesses  The Fool often speaks in gnomic paradoxes

21 The Tragedy of King Lear

22  Whereas Cordelia, Lear, Kent and Gloucester see the wicked Goneril and Regan as unnatural, Edmund views them as adhering to nature’s law  Only when Lear has been reduced like Poor Tom to the level of a “poor, bare, forked animal” does he demonstrate the compassion and generosity that should distinguish human from animal nature...Lear achieves self-knowledge only when he is mad  Downfall and death come alike to those who view nature as a civilizing force in the divinely ordained hierarchical order

23  The interrelated themes of seeing and self-knowing are omnipresent in the play...Yet, it is psychological suffering and degradation, not physical blindness, that brings insight and moral vision to Lear  Although self-awareness and fortitude emerge from Lear’s staggering losses and from Gloucester’s suffering and blindness, those virtues are all the rewards that are given  Lear and Gloucester both eventually perceive that, paradoxically, adversity has brought them precious insight

24  Two characters adopt literal disguises in order the survive the wrath of Lear and Gloucester: Kent and Edgar  Kent returns as a servant named Caius  Edgar dons at least three different disguises  The paradox is that the loyal, loving truth-tellers must seek refuge in disguise while the hypocrites (Edmund, Goneril, Regan) successfully present themselves until late in the play as persons of honest straightforwardness

25 The play exists in two early texts--The Quarto of 1608 and the considerably changed Folio edition of 1623...evidence suggests that Shakespeare had a hand in the revisions for the Folio edition...Most modern editions (like those in the Bevington book) are composite texts

26 The Tragedy of King Lear

27  He must be strong enough to handle the 800 lines, to rage to the heath and carry the actress playing Cordelia

28 Once Lear divides his kingdom, the action escalates in violence. Cornwall puts Kent in stocks. The daughters throw their father out in the storm. Cornwall blinds Gloucester. Oswald is killed. Edmund wounds himself. Goneril is poisoned. Regan commits suicide. Cordelia is hung offstage. The battle between Britain and France

29 Film has proved an ideal medium for depicting the storm that rages on the heath and in Lear’s mind  Original Globe Theatre production might have added simple effects to the stage directions in the speeches  David Garrick strove for authenticity in the 1700s  Edmund Kean’s use of stage machinery and illusions gave substance to Coleridge’s observation that watching Kean as Lear  in the storm was like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lighting  Henry Irving’s storms were admired  In the Granada TV Lear with Olivier, stagehands doused the actors with 900 gallons of water during the storm

30 King Lear in the Storm by John Runciman. National Gallery of Scotland

31 Act IV presents a remarkable staging challenge in the attempted suicide of Gloucester...a remarkable thematic moment in the play On the Cliff: Gloucester and Edgar by Boardman Robinson NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art

32 Richard Burbage played Lear when he was just under 40 years of age, the original Fool was Robert Armin

33 For many years, the Nahum Tate adaptation held the stage...adapted in 1681, he added Edgar as a love interest for Cordelia and included a happy ending that restored Lear to the throne...the first Cordelia in Tate’s version was Elizabeth Barry...remained in the repertory for 150 years

34 Garrick and others in the 18th century still used the Tate Lear with varying degrees of success Lear was one of Garrick’s most famous roles Other great Lears of the 18th century were John Philip Kemble and Edmund Kean

35  1838-William Charles Macready at Covent Garden  1845-Samuel Phelps emphasized the ensemble  Henry Irving developed Macready’s visual style and set the play shortly after the departure of the Romans with Druid priests and Barbaric warriors  Edwin Forrest 


37 Both high-concept and simple productions have been successful, speaking to the strength of the play  1946-Olivier at the Old Vic  1950-John Gielgud at Stratford-on-Avon  1962-Jan Kott’s version staged by Peter Brook  Adrian Noble cast Antony Sher as a red- nosed clown to Michael Gambon’s Lear  Morris Carnovsky was praised in the 1963 and 1965 seasons at Stratford (Canada) Old Vic, 1946, Olivier as Lear and Alec Guinness as the Fool


39 The play has inspired more than 20 film adaptations including the Russian film by Director Grigori Kozintsev with Yuri Yarvet as Lear (1970)

40 Peter Brook directed Paul Scofield as Lear

41 Thames Television production with Patrick Magee as Lear and directed by Tony Davenall

42 Jonathan Miller directed Michael Hordern as Lear for the BBC

43 Michael Elliott directed Laurence Olivier for Granada Television

44 Richard Eyre directed the NT production with Ian Holm as Lear

45 1953 For American Television, Peter Brook directed Orson Welles on CBS. The production was edited to 82 minutes and featured music by Virgil Thomson.

46 The Royal Court Theatre

47 Akira Kurosawa directed RAN

48 KING LEAR Directed and written by Jean-Luc Godard   With Peter Sellers, Burgess Meredith, Jean- Luc Godard, Molly Ringwald, Norman Mailer, Kate Miller, Leos Carax, and Woody Allen.

49 THE KING IS ALIVE is about stranded desert travelers rehearsing and performing scenes from the play.

50 An adaptation of Jane Smiley’s novel. Jason Robards starred as the patriarch. His daughters were played by Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Colin Firth had a featured role.

51 Patrick Stewart starred as John Lear

52 Ian McKellan in the title role filmed for PBS Great Performances after a world-wide tour by the RSC. The stage production was directed by Trevor Nunn. Chris Hunt directed for television.

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