King Lear, by James Earl Jones

This is how I exercise my new Netflix Streaming option. :)   How will the man known for the booming voice handle the range required for Lear? I’ll admit I skipped through this one, really watching just the opening and closing.  As I mentioned in an earlier post I’m trying to whip out a few more before the day’s over.  Wife’s asleep. 🙂 The opening, what we’ll call “angry Lear”, is exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from Jones.  Here’s a guy that makes the ground rumble when he speaks in his normal voice, so can you imagine when he’s angry and yelling? He’s a scary scary man. Strangely a bit too scary, if you ask me.  When he turns to Cordelia for her turn to go, it’s like he’s upset with her before she ever speaks.  In other Lear’s I’ve seen he’s more loving, making it obvious that she is the favorite.  Here, even though he does admit that he was counting on her to come through so he could give her the big piece of land and relax, he’s very intimidating about it. What about the end? How does Jones howl?  He doesn’t, and I don’t understand it.  He could have howled in a way that would have echoed for miles (the video is actually a filmed stage production).  Instead he enters simply speaking the lines.  “Howl.  Howl.  Howl.” I suppose this is supposed to show him as confused and helpless, almost as if he is speaking gibberish, but that’s not how I like to imagine it (as we discussed re: Olivier).  He definitely plays up the “lost it” aspect of the character, mumbling mostly to himself before leaping up to stage a re-enactment of “I killed the slave that was hanging thee”. A while back I got to see Orson Welles’ Othello and I think something I said there is true here when we get to the “Cordelia, stay a little” line.  When Olivier said it I had to stop the film because tears welled up in my eyes so fast.  When Jones says it there’s more a sort of “Ok I said that line and now I put my ear to her lips as if I’m hearing her say something”, know what I mean? I didn’t buy it, basically.  He didn’t transcend from “actor doing the role” to “father refusing to accept the death of his daughter.”  That’s a shame. I’m curious to see what other Shakespeare Mr. Jones has done.  Perhaps something a bit more warlike, a little less tender.  He might make for an interesting Othello. 

One thought on “King Lear, by James Earl Jones

  1. Found this on some blog named…Shakespeare geek?

    You know, you mentioned Othello and something more "warlike", and I know what you mean. But having never seen the Lear, I can't compare. But he shows here how well he can play sensitivity and a certain vulnerability. I wonder then, what happened? Maybe it was "direction"–but then, I've often seen him fall back on "the voice" and play generalities. It can be an easy trap for an actor with gifted pipes. But he does it much less in this clip.

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