King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies and has been a cornerstone of Western literature for centuries. Its enduring importance lies in its exploration of universal themes such as power, betrayal, family, and the human condition. The play challenges traditional notions of hierarchy and exposes the flaws and vulnerabilities of those in positions of authority. King Lear also delves into the complexities of human relationships, particularly the bond between parent and child, and the consequences of greed and ambition. Its profound insight into human nature has resonated with audiences and influenced countless literary works, films, and other art forms. Its themes and characters continue to be relevant to contemporary society and have sparked discussions on topics such as mental health, aging, and societal injustice. King Lear‘s enduring impact on Western society is a testament to its powerful storytelling, complex characters, and timeless themes.
Here’s a simple game. Pick a play. Now pretend you’re doing a production where the gimmick is that it’s told from a different character’s point of view than normal. Which play do you pick, which character and how does the play change?
In most cases, this is going to create a much shorter play, because the character you pick will often have less stage time than the stars.
Maybe we do The Tempest told from the perspective of King Alonso? Coming home from a wedding he’s caught in a storm, shipwrecked on an island, his son drowned. Suddenly he’s standing face to face with Prospero, who he’s thought dead for the past fifteen years.
Or how about King Lear from Fool’s point of view? That could be interesting. Lot of different ways to interpret just how much Fool knows.
Twelfth Night from Malvolio’s POV?
Romeo and Juliet as seen by Lord Capulet? That could be interesting. There’s an almost fight scene, there’s him getting fined by the Prince, there’s a wedding to plan, a big dance party, an argument with his daughter, the death of Tybalt, the death of Juliet…
Winter’s Tale from Hermione’s point of view would make a funny comic short. Gets accused of adultery by her husband, goes to live with her friend who promises to fix everything. Cut to twelve years later when she says, “ok, he’s coming. Pretend you’re a statue.”
There’s a really nasty anti-female diatribe in King Lear.
Perhaps it’s autobiographical? Perhaps Shakespeare had something against women?
Hey you know, in the sonnets he mentions mercury baths, and that’s where people went when you had syphilis.
Yeah, yeah! And another thing, he wasn’t seen around the king very much, and there was a law that if you had syphilis you couldn’t be anywhere near the king!
They then play connect the dots and suggest that if he had syphilis, he got it from a woman, and therefore had some degree of resentment there.
I think my favorite part of the article (and please take that with a heavy, sarcastic eye roll) is where they mention “Oh yeah, and then there’s that thing where Shakespeare might be gay. Which doesn’t mean that he was anti-women, but, you know, I’m just sayin’.”
So confused. If you give any credit to the theory that he was gay, then doesn’t that completely destroy everything else you’ve said in the article? “Shakespeare said misogynistic stuff so maybe he hated women because a woman gave him a venereal disease. Or maybe he was gay, which wouldn’t have anything to do with why he hated women.” THEN IF YOU THINK HE’S GAY WHY DID HE HATE WOMEN? AND IF YOU DON’T THINK HE’S GAY WHY DID YOU BRING IT UP?
Anybody else pulling their hair out on this one? Careful though, they say that losing your hair was also a sign of syphilis.
A funny thing happened last week that really put the Geek in Shakespeare Geek.
It all started with a Reddit post. A user wrote that he had a copy of the 1997 Folio Society edition of King Lear, where the text is taken from the 1986 Oxford Shakespeare edition of The Complete Works edited by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor.
Under “The Persons of the Play”, I see “Earl of Gloucester”. I turn the page, and the very first stage direction says “Enter the Earl of Kent, the Duke of Gloucester…”
He is referred to as the Earl of Gloucester only in the list of characters, from what I can tell. Thereafter, he is always referred to as the Duke of Gloucester.
At first, I misunderstood and thought he was saying that Gloucester is always Duke, so it was listing him as Earl on the title page was the mistake. My error was pointed out to me – Gloucester is never Duke, always Earl – so I offered to get some first-hand input on the situation.
And by first-hand, I meant just go ahead and ask Sir Stanley Wells. Because why not? Twitter’s amazing sometimes. We follow each other and have corresponded online on some other occasions.
When a celebrity dies, I tend to go looking for a Shakespeare connection. Often I find nothing. Sometimes I find a bio that says they performed in college. If I’m very lucky I’ll find a quote or even some video of a performance.
This is the first time I found evidence of Shakespeare punching the celebrity out.
All kidding aside – this article suggests that we have Shakespeare to thank for discovering Reynolds in the first place:
He began taking English lessons with a view to becoming a parole officer but his teacher, having heard Reynolds reading Shakespeare aloud, cast him in a production of the play Outward Bound, and his performance won him the 1956 Florida State Drama Award.
Later in his career (2008) we find A Bunch of Amateurs, which seems to be at least somewhat related to King Lear:
A sleazy Hollywood agent tricks one of his clients, a faded action star, into playing King Lear in an amateur charity production in England.
Found it! Oh look, Derek Jacobi:
RIP Mr. Reynolds. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
So we’re out driving with the kids this long weekend. I tell them over my shoulder, “So guys, Amazon made a new original version of King Lear that’s going to be on this month, does anybody think they’d want to watch that with me?”
“Yeah.” “Sure.” “Are we allowed to?”
“You’re always allowed to watch Shakespeare with me,” I tell them. “I just didn’t want to force anybody. King Lear’s a tough one.”
“Is that the one where the king dies, and his daughter hates him?” asks my oldest from the far back seat.
And then this happened. My son, my youngest, who can’t take his head up and away from his phone and his YouTube videos, says, “No, his daughter loves him the most. But she doesn’t want to just say oh blah blah we love you so much we love you more than anything like the two sisters do because all they want is the land. So the father sends her away but then when he figures out that the other two don’t really love him the other daughter comes back with her army to save him.”
I swear I got teary-eyed. As soon as he started talking I looked my wife, unable to speak, with what I hope was a, “All my life has built to this moment” look.
When he stopped, and when I could speak, I said, “Nice job, son. That made daddy very happy. Well done.”
“But I only know it because you told me.”
“Yes but I think the last time I told you the story of King Lear was like six years ago. I didn’t think you were listening.”