King Lear, Fairy Tale Style

(It’s time once again for a story of Shakespeare and my kids.  If that bores you, now’s the time to bail out.) This morning it was my son’s turn to get into my Shakespeare stuff.  He’s 18months old, running around with my King Lear comic.  My 3yr old promptly wrestles it from him and says, “Daddy, I think we should see this movie.” Now, the vision of a 3yr old sitting to watch King Lear is enough to make me laugh out loud, but the two of them are the only ones in the room with me so no one will appreciate the joke.  “Oh that’s not really a movie story, sweetie,” I tell her, “That’s more a story for telling.” “Ok,” she tells me. So, while making the bed, I began to tell my daughter the story of King Lear in a way that would make sense to her: Once upon a time there was a king who had three daughters, whose names were Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril.  Cordelia was the nicest of them all, and she loved her father very very much.  Regan and Goneril said that they loved him, too, but they didn’t really love him as much as Cordelia did.  But the king became very angry with Cordelia, and he sent her to live far away.  The king wanted to go live with his daughter Goneril, who would take care of him as he grew old and tired.  But Goneril was very mean to her father.  She told him that he could not bring any of his toys with him, and that he had to be very quiet and to do everything that she said.  Well, the king her father did not think that this was how he should be treated at all, so he said “Fine, I will go and live with my other daughter, Regan.” Before he could get to Regan’s house, however, Goneril had sent a message to her sister telling her side of the story.  So when their father arrived at Regan’s house, she too said, “I think that Goneril had a good idea, and if you want to live at my house then you will have to be very quiet and not have so many toys and you will have to do everything that I say.” The king was very sad.  He realized that his daughters did not love him as much as they’d told him.  With no place to live he told them both that he would go and live in the dark and scary forest.  His friends, who were named Kent and Edgar, went with him and took care of him. And that’s when Cordelia came back, because she loved her father so much that she could not bear to be away from him.  She brought an army with her to defeat her evil sisters, and rescue her father from the forest.    And they all lived happily ever after. Pretty condensed, huh? 🙂  I don’t mind paraphrasing, I’d rather have them familiar with the guts of the story than not at all.  I’ve tried very hard, though, not to just flat out change the story.  That’s why I like The Tempest so much, it’s safe for kids.  But with Lear I had a choice, either tweak the ending or else not show it to them until they’re much much older.  I went with the fairy tale.  I hope I didn’t screw up any of the names, it was from memory and I’ve not studied Lear as much as I could. I’ll be very curious in the coming days if I hear her working elements of that story into her playing.  Sometimes she does that. 

6 thoughts on “King Lear, Fairy Tale Style

  1. The modified ending is not without precedent; Nahum Tate’s version comes most readily to mind. However, your omission of the blinding of Gloucester causes some very real textual problems that are difficult to reconcile, because it leaves Regan’s status undetermined. In your version, does Goneril’s adulterous relationship with Edmund motivate the poisoning of her sister? You see the difficulty. So your assertion that you told your daughter “the story of King Lear” is questionable at best. I can only hope she forgives you when she is old enough to read it herself.

  2. Thanks for the precis of King Lear. I must read the play now. Have NEVER read it before.

    How do you know that Cordelia has red hair (referencing the Nov 21st post)

    And who is Jasmine if she is not one of Lears daughters? Unless she’s Aladdin’s Princess?

  3. Hi Historia,

    Welcome to the blog. The particular book that my daughter knows about shows Cordelia on the cover, and she has red hair. Although I think I saw a debate once that somewhere in the text of the play it does mention her as being red-haired.

    Jasmine is indeed Aladdin’s girlfriend, which my daughters know simply as the Disney princesses. So Jasmine gets mixed into any list along with Belle, Ariel, and others.

    I’ve always said that I think Disney could do a great animated Tempest – except that since they’ve already claimed the name Ariel for a mermaid, they would go and do something stupid like changing the name of the Ariel character in Shakespeare’s play. 🙁

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