Why King Lear Is Not One of the 101 Greatest Plays

Michael Billington, theater critic for The Guardian, is writing a book entitled The 101 Greatest Plays….and he comes right out and tells people, King Lear is not on the list. I encourage you to check out the article, as it does go into detail about a number of other non-Shakespeare works that he did choose to include.

But, of course, we need to know his argument against Lear, so we can discuss it.  Here you go:

I could offer a robust defence of my omission: the play touches great heights but is structurally unwieldy, shows a punishment disproportionate to the original sin and contains in Edgar one of Shakespeare’s most unfathomable characters.

What say ye, oh Shakespeare Geek readers?

One thought on “Why King Lear Is Not One of the 101 Greatest Plays

  1. I say as Heminge and Condell did in their preface to the First Folio: "Read him, therefore; and again, and again: and if then you do not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger, not to understand him."
    One of the most wonderful expositions of this play is given by Robert Spaeght in his book "Nature in Shakespearian Tragedy" (Hollis & Carter, London), 1955. I will give two short quotes:
    "It is sometimes asserted that King Lear is Shakespeare's greatest play, and while I do not think that these comparisons get us very far, I have no quarrel with the preference….
    ""Charles Lamb would maintain that the 'Lear of Shakespeare cannot be acted'; but that nonsense has long been out of fashion. The contemporary English theatre has seen several magnificent Lears. But these great symphonies of suffering–for that is what a good performance of Lear must always be–have not always helped us to understand the play….

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