King Lear

King Lear

Overview

King Lear is a tragedy
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

. The title character descends into madness after foolishly disposing of his estate between two of his three daughters based on their flattery
Flattery
Flattery is the act of giving excessive compliments, generally for the purpose of ingratiating oneself with the subject....

, bringing tragic consequences for all. The play is based on the legend of Leir of Britain
Leir of Britain
Leir is a legendary ancient king of the Britons, as recounted by Geoffrey of Monmouth. His story is told in a modified form by William Shakespeare in the play King Lear. In the drama, some names are identical to those of the legend Leir is a legendary ancient king of the Britons, as recounted by...

, a mythological pre-Roman
British Iron Age
The British Iron Age is a conventional name used in the archaeology of Great Britain, referring to the prehistoric and protohistoric phases of the Iron-Age culture of the main island and the smaller islands, typically excluding prehistoric Ireland, and which had an independent Iron Age culture of...

 Celtic king. It has been widely adapted for the stage and motion pictures, and the role of Lear has been coveted and played by many of the world's most accomplished actors.

The play was written between 1603 and 1606 and later revised.
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Quotations

Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.

Lear, scene i

Unhappy that I am, I cannot heaveMy heart into my mouth: I love your majestyAccording to my bond; nor more nor less.

Cordelia, scene i

Mend your speech a little,Lest you may mar your fortunes.

Lear, scene i

Come not between the dragon and his wrath.

Lear, scene i

Kill thy physician, and the fee bestowUpon the foul disease.

Kent, scene i

Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides:Who cover faults, at last shame them derides.

Cordelia, scene i

Tis the infirmity of his age: yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.

Regan, scene i

Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, takeMore composition and fierce qualityThan doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,Go to the creating a whole tribe of fopsGot 'tween asleep and wake?

Edmund, scene ii

Now, gods, stand up for bastards!

Edmund, scene ii
Encyclopedia

King Lear is a tragedy
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

. The title character descends into madness after foolishly disposing of his estate between two of his three daughters based on their flattery
Flattery
Flattery is the act of giving excessive compliments, generally for the purpose of ingratiating oneself with the subject....

, bringing tragic consequences for all. The play is based on the legend of Leir of Britain
Leir of Britain
Leir is a legendary ancient king of the Britons, as recounted by Geoffrey of Monmouth. His story is told in a modified form by William Shakespeare in the play King Lear. In the drama, some names are identical to those of the legend Leir is a legendary ancient king of the Britons, as recounted by...

, a mythological pre-Roman
British Iron Age
The British Iron Age is a conventional name used in the archaeology of Great Britain, referring to the prehistoric and protohistoric phases of the Iron-Age culture of the main island and the smaller islands, typically excluding prehistoric Ireland, and which had an independent Iron Age culture of...

 Celtic king. It has been widely adapted for the stage and motion pictures, and the role of Lear has been coveted and played by many of the world's most accomplished actors.

The play was written between 1603 and 1606 and later revised. Shakespeare's earlier version, The True Chronicle of the History of the Life and Death of King Lear and His Three Daughters, was published in quarto in 1608. The Tragedy of King Lear, a more theatrical version, was included in the 1623 First Folio
First Folio
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

. Modern editors usually conflate the two, though some insist that each version has its individual integrity that should be preserved.

After the Restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

, the play was often revised with a happy ending for audiences who disliked its dark and depressing tone, but since the 19th century Shakespeare's original version has been regarded as one of his supreme achievements. The tragedy is particularly noted for its probing observations on the nature of human suffering and kinship. George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

 wrote, "No man will ever write a better tragedy than Lear".

Characters



  • Lear, King of Britain
  • Goneril (sometimes written Gonerill), eldest daughter of Lear
  • Regan
    Regan (King Lear)
    -Role in play:She is the middle child of King Lear's daughters and is married to the Duke of Cornwall. Similarly to her older sister, Goneril, Regan is attracted to Edmund. Both sisters are eager for power and even convince their father with false flattery to hand over his kingdom."Sir, I am madeOf...

    , second daughter of Lear
  • Cordelia
    Cordelia (King Lear)
    Cordelia is a fictional character in William Shakespeare’s tragic play, King Lear. She is the youngest of King Lear’s three daughters. After her elderly father offers her the opportunity to profess her love to him in return for one third of the land in his kingdom, she refuses and is banished for...

    , youngest daughter of Lear
  • Duke of Albany, husband to Goneril
  • Duke of Cornwall, husband to Regan
  • Earl of Gloucester (sometimes written as Gloster)
  • Earl of Kent, often appearing under the guise of Caius
  • Edgar, son of Gloucester


  • Edmund
    Edmund (King Lear)
    Edmund or Edmond is a fictional character and the main antagonist in William Shakespeare's King Lear. He is the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester, and the younger brother of Edgar, the Earl's legitimate son. Early on in the play, Edmund resolves to get rid of his brother, then his...

     (sometimes written Edmond), illegitimate son of Gloucester
  • Oswald, steward to Goneril
  • Fool
    Shakespearian fool
    The Shakespearean fool is a recurring and character type in the works of William Shakespeare.Shakespearean fools are usually clever peasants or commoners that use their wits to outdo people of higher social standing. In this sense, they are very similar to the real fools, clowns, and jesters of...

  • King of France, suitor and later husband to Cordelia
  • Duke of Burgundy, suitor to Cordelia
  • Curan, a courtier
  • Old man, tenant of Gloucester.
  • A Doctor, an Officer employed by Edmund, a Gentleman attending on Cordelia, a Herald, Servants to Cornwall, Knights of Lear's Train, Officers, Messengers, Soldiers, and Attendants


Synopsis



King Lear, who is elderly, wants to retire from power. He decides to divide his realm among his three daughters, and offers the largest share to the one who loves him best. Goneril and Regan both proclaim in fulsome terms that they love him more than anything in the world, which pleases him. For Cordelia, there is nothing to compare her love to, nor words to properly express it; she speaks honestly but bluntly, which infuriates him. In his anger he disinherits her, and divides the kingdom between Regan and Goneril. Kent objects to this unfair treatment. Lear is further enraged by Kent's protests, and banishes him from the country. Cordelia's two suitors enter. Learning that Cordelia has been disinherited, the Duke of Burgundy
Duchy of Burgundy
The Duchy of Burgundy , was heir to an ancient and prestigious reputation and a large division of the lands of the Second Kingdom of Burgundy and in its own right was one of the geographically larger ducal territories in the emergence of Early Modern Europe from Medieval Europe.Even in that...

 withdraws his suit, but the King of France is impressed by her honesty and marries her.

Lear announces he will live alternately with Goneril and Regan, and their husbands, the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall respectively. He reserves to himself a retinue of one hundred knights, to be supported by his daughters. Goneril and Regan speak privately, agreeing that Lear is old and foolish.

Edmund resents his illegitimate status, and plots to supplant his legitimate older brother Edgar. He tricks their father Gloucester with a forged letter, making him think Edgar plans to usurp the estate. Kent returns from exile in disguise under the name of Caius, and Lear hires him as a servant. Lear discovers that now that Goneril has power, she no longer respects him. She orders him to behave better and reduces his retinue. Enraged, Lear departs for Regan's home. The Fool mocks Lear's misfortune. Edmund fakes an attack by Edgar, and Gloucester is completely taken in. He disinherits Edgar and proclaims him outlaw.

Kent meets Oswald at Gloucester's home, quarrels with him, and is put in the stocks by Regan and her husband Cornwall. When Lear arrives, he objects, but Regan takes the same line as Goneril. Lear is enraged but impotent. Goneril arrives and echoes Regan. Lear yields completely to his rage. He rushes out into a storm to rant against his ungrateful daughters, accompanied by the mocking Fool. Kent later follows to protect him. Gloucester protests against Lear's mistreatment. Wandering on the heath
Heath (habitat)
A heath or heathland is a dwarf-shrub habitat found on mainly low quality acidic soils, characterised by open, low growing woody vegetation, often dominated by plants of the Ericaceae. There are some clear differences between heath and moorland...

 after the storm, Lear meets Edgar, in the guise of Tom o' Bedlam
Tom o' Bedlam
"Tom O' Bedlam" is the name of a critically acclaimed anonymous poem written circa 1600 about a Bedlamite....

, that is, a madman. Edgar babbles madly while Lear denounces his daughters. Kent leads them all to shelter.

Edmund betrays Gloucester to Cornwall, Regan, and Goneril. He shows a letter from his father to the King of France asking for help against them; and in fact a French army has landed in Britain. Gloucester is arrested, and Cornwall gouges out his eyes
Eye-gouging
Eye-gouging is the act of pressing or tearing the eye using the fingers, other bodyparts, or instruments. Eye-gouging involves a very high risk of eye injury, such as permanent eye loss. It is disallowed in combat sports, but some self-defense systems teach it...

. As he is doing so, a servant is overcome with rage by what he is witnessing and attacks Cornwall, killing him. Regan kills the servant, and tells Gloucester that Edmund betrayed him; then she turns him out to wander the heath
Heath
-Habitats:* Heath or heathland, low-growing woody vegetation, mostly consisting of heathers and related species* Heaths in the British National Vegetation Classification system...

 too. Edgar, in his madman's guise as Tom, meets blinded Gloucester on the heath. Gloucester begs Tom to lead him to a cliff so that he may jump to his death.

Goneril meets Edmund and discovers that she finds him more attractive than her honest husband Albany, whom she regards as cowardly. Albany is disgusted by the sisters' treatment of Lear, and the mutilation of Gloucester, and denounces Goneril. Kent leads Lear to the French army, which is accompanied by Cordelia. But Lear is half-mad and terribly embarrassed by his earlier follies. Albany leads the British army to meet the French. Regan too is attracted to Edmund, and the two sisters become jealous of each other. Goneril sends Oswald with letters to Edmund and also tells Oswald to kill Gloucester if he sees him. Edgar pretends to lead Gloucester to a cliff, then changes his voice and tells Gloucester he has miraculously survived a great fall. They meet Lear, who is now completely mad. Lear rants that the whole world is corrupt and runs off.

Oswald tries to kill Gloucester but is slain by Edgar. In Oswald's pocket, Edgar finds a letter from Goneril to Edmund suggesting the murder of Albany. Kent and Cordelia take charge of Lear, whose madness largely passes. Regan, Goneril, Albany, and Edmund meet with their forces. Albany insists that they fight the French invaders but not harm Lear or Cordelia. The two sisters lust for Edmund, who has made promises to both. He considers the dilemma and plots the deaths of Albany, Lear, and Cordelia. Edgar gives Goneril's letter to Albany. The armies meet in battle, the British defeat the French, and Lear and Cordelia are captured. Edmund sends them off with secret orders for execution.

The victorious British leaders meet, and Regan now declares she will marry Edmund. But Albany exposes the intrigues of Edmund and Goneril and proclaims Edmund a traitor. Regan collapses; Goneril has poisoned her. Edmund defies Albany, who calls for a trial by combat
Trial by combat
Trial by combat was a method of Germanic law to settle accusations in the absence of witnesses or a confession, in which two parties in dispute fought in single combat; the winner of the fight was proclaimed to be right. In essence, it is a judicially sanctioned duel...

. Edgar appears to fight Edmund and fatally stabs him in a duel. Albany shows Goneril's letter to her; she flees in shame and rage. Edgar reveals himself; Gloucester dies offstage from the overwhelming shock and joy of this revelation.

Offstage, Goneril stabs herself and confesses to poisoning Regan. Dying Edmund reveals his order to kill Lear and Cordelia, but it is too late: Cordelia is dead though Lear slew the killer. Lear carries the dead Cordelia in his arms onstage. Lear recognises Kent. Albany urges Lear to resume his throne, but Lear is too far gone in grief and hardship. Lear collapses and dies. Albany offers to share power between Kent and Edgar. At the end, either Albany or Edgar (depending on whether one reads the Quarto or the Folio version) is crowned King.

Sources


Shakespeare's play is based on various accounts of the semi-legendary Celtic figure Leir of Britain
Leir of Britain
Leir is a legendary ancient king of the Britons, as recounted by Geoffrey of Monmouth. His story is told in a modified form by William Shakespeare in the play King Lear. In the drama, some names are identical to those of the legend Leir is a legendary ancient king of the Britons, as recounted by...

, whose name may derive from the Celtic god Lir
Lir
Ler or Lir is a sea god in Irish mythology. His name suggests that he is a personification of the sea, rather than a distinct deity. He is named Allód in early genealogies, and corresponds to the Llŷr of Welsh mythology...

/Llŷr
Llyr
Llŷr is a figure in Welsh mythology, the father of Brân, Brânwen and Manawydan by Penarddun. The Welsh Triads mention he was imprisoned by Euroswydd; the Second Branch of the Mabinogi names Euroswydd as the father of Penarddun's younger two sons, Nisien and Efnisien. Llŷr corresponds to Lir in...

. Shakespeare's most important source is probably the second edition of The Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande by Raphael Holinshed
Raphael Holinshed
Raphael Holinshed was an English chronicler, whose work, commonly known as Holinshed's Chronicles, was one of the major sources used by William Shakespeare for a number of his plays....

, published in 1587. Holinshed himself found the story in the earlier Historia Regum Britanniae
Historia Regum Britanniae
The Historia Regum Britanniae is a pseudohistorical account of British history, written c. 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. It chronicles the lives of the kings of the Britons in a chronological narrative spanning a time of two thousand years, beginning with the Trojans founding the British nation...

by Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth was a cleric and one of the major figures in the development of British historiography and the popularity of tales of King Arthur...

, that was written in the 12th century. Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser was an English poet best known for The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. He is recognised as one of the premier craftsmen of Modern English verse in its infancy, and one of the greatest poets in the English...

's The Faerie Queene
The Faerie Queene
The Faerie Queene is an incomplete English epic poem by Edmund Spenser. The first half was published in 1590, and a second installment was published in 1596. The Faerie Queene is notable for its form: it was the first work written in Spenserian stanza and is one of the longest poems in the English...

, published 1590, also contains a character named Cordelia, who also dies from hanging
Hanging
Hanging is the lethal suspension of a person by a ligature. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck", though it formerly also referred to crucifixion and death by impalement in which the body would remain...

, as in King Lear.

Other possible sources are the anonymous play King Leir
King Leir
King Leir is an anonymous Elizabethan play about the life of the ancient Celtic king Leir of Britain. It was published in 1605 but was entered into the Stationers' Register on 15 May 1594...

(published in 1605); A Mirror for Magistrates (1574), by John Higgins; The Malcontent (1604), by John Marston
John Marston
John Marston was an English poet, playwright and satirist during the late Elizabethan and Jacobean periods...

; The London Prodigal (1605); Arcadia (1580–1590), by Sir Philip Sidney, from which Shakespeare took the main outline of the Gloucester subplot; Montaigne's Essays, which were translated into English by John Florio in 1603; An Historical Description of Iland of Britaine, by William Harrison
William Harrison (clergyman)
William Harrison was an English clergyman, whose Description of England was produced as part of the publishing venture of a group of London stationers who produced Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles...

; Remaines Concerning Britaine, by William Camden
William Camden
William Camden was an English antiquarian, historian, topographer, and officer of arms. He wrote the first chorographical survey of the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and the first detailed historical account of the reign of Elizabeth I of England.- Early years :Camden was born in London...

 (1606); Albion
Albion
Albion is the oldest known name of the island of Great Britain. Today, it is still sometimes used poetically to refer to the island or England in particular. It is also the basis of the Scottish Gaelic name for Scotland, Alba...

's England
, by William Warner
William Warner (poet)
William Warner was an English poet.-Life:William Warner was born in London about 1558. He was educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, but left the university without taking a degree. He practised in London as an attorney, and gained a great reputation among his contemporaries as a poet...

, (1589); and A Declaration of egregious Popish Impostures, by Samuel Harsnett
Samuel Harsnett
Samuel Harsnett , born Samuel Halsnoth, was an English writer on religion and Archbishop of York from 1629.- Early life :...

 (1603), which provided some of the language used by Edgar while he feigns madness. King Lear is also a literary variant of a common fairy tale
Fairy tale
A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features such folkloric characters, such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, dwarves, giants or gnomes, and usually magic or enchantments. However, only a small number of the stories refer to fairies...

, Love Like Salt, Aarne-Thompson type 923, in which a father rejects his youngest daughter for a statement of her love that does not please him.

The source of the subplot involving Gloucester, Edgar, and Edmund is a tale in Philip Sidney
Philip Sidney
Sir Philip Sidney was an English poet, courtier and soldier, and is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan Age...

's Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia
Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia
The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, also known simply as the Arcadia or the Old Arcadia, is a long prose work by Sir Philip Sidney written towards the end of the sixteenth century, and later published in several versions. It is Sidney's most ambitious literary work, by far, and as significant in...

, with a blind Paphlagonia
Paphlagonia
Paphlagonia was an ancient area on the Black Sea coast of north central Anatolia, situated between Bithynia to the west and Pontus to the east, and separated from Phrygia by a prolongation to the east of the Bithynian Olympus...

n king and his two sons, Leonatus and Plexitrus.

Changes from source material


Besides the subplot involving the Earl of Gloucester and his sons, the principal innovation Shakespeare made to this story was the death of Cordelia and Lear at the end. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this tragic ending was much criticised, and alternative versions were written and performed, in which the leading characters survived and Edgar and Cordelia were married (despite the fact that Cordelia was already married to the King of France).

Date and text



Although an exact date of composition cannot be given, many academic editors of the play date King Lear between 1603 and 1606. The latest it could have been written is 1606, because the Stationers' Register
Stationers' Register
The Stationers' Register was a record book maintained by the Stationers' Company of London. The company is a trade guild given a royal charter in 1557 to regulate the various professions associated with the publishing industry, including printers, bookbinders, booksellers, and publishers in England...

 notes a performance on 26 December 1606. The 1603 date originates from words in Edgar's speeches which may derive from Samuel Harsnett
Samuel Harsnett
Samuel Harsnett , born Samuel Halsnoth, was an English writer on religion and Archbishop of York from 1629.- Early life :...

's Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures (1603). In his Arden edition, R.A. Foakes argues for a date of 1605–6, because one of Shakespeare's sources, The True Chronicle History of King Leir, was not published until 1605; close correspondences between that play and Shakespeare's suggest that he may have been working from a text (rather than from recollections of a performance). Conversely, Frank Kermode, in the Riverside Shakespeare, considers the publication of Leir to have been a response to performances of Shakespeare's already-written play; noting a sonnet by William Strachey
William Strachey
William Strachey was an English writer whose works are among the primary sources for the early history of the English colonisation of North America...

 that may have verbal resemblances with Lear, Kermode concludes that "1604-5 seems the best compromise".

The modern text of King Lear derives from three sources: two quartos, published in 1608 (Q1) and 1619 (Q2) respectively, and the version in the First Folio of 1623 (F1). The differences between these versions are significant. Q1 contains 285 lines not in F1; F1 contains around 100 lines not in Q1. Also, at least a thousand individual words are changed between the two texts, each text has a completely different style of punctuation, and about half the verse lines in the F1 are either printed as prose or differently divided in the Q1. The early editors, beginning with Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope was an 18th-century English poet, best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer. He is the third-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare and Tennyson...

, simply conflated the two texts, creating the modern version that has remained nearly universal for centuries. The conflated version is born from the presumption that Shakespeare wrote only one original manuscript, now unfortunately lost, and that the Quarto and Folio versions are distortions of that original.

As early as 1931, Madeleine Doran
Madeleine Doran
Madeleine Doran was an American literary critic and poet who taught at the University of Wisconsin–Madison from the early 1930s until her retirement in the 1970s. Doran's work combined historical and formalist impulses...

 suggested that the two texts had basically different provenances, and that these differences between them were critically interesting. This argument, however, was not widely discussed until the late 1970s, when it was revived, principally by Michael Warren and Gary Taylor. Their thesis, while controversial, has gained significant acceptance. It posits, essentially, that the Quarto derives from something close to Shakespeare's foul papers
Foul papers
Foul papers is a term that refers to an author's working drafts, most often applied in the study of the plays of Shakespeare and other dramatists of English Renaissance drama. Once the composition of a play was finished, a transcript or "fair copy" of the foul papers was prepared, by the author or...

, and the Folio is drawn in some way from a promptbook, prepared for production by Shakespeare's company or someone else. In short, Q1 is "authorial"; F1 is "theatrical." In criticism, the rise of "revision criticism" has been part of the pronounced trend away from mid-century formalism. The New Cambridge Shakespeare has published separate editions of Q and F; the most recent Pelican Shakespeare edition contains both the 1608 Quarto and the 1623 Folio text as well as a conflated version; the New Arden edition edited by R.A. Foakes is not the only recent edition to offer the traditional conflated text.

Analysis and criticism


The words “nature,” “natural” and “unnatural” occur over forty times in the play. There was a debate in Shakespeare’s time about what nature really was like, a debate that pervades the play and finds symbolic expression in Lear’s changing attitude to Thunder. John F. Danby, in his Shakespeare’s Doctrine of Nature – A Study of King Lear (1949), argues that Lear dramatises, among other things, the current meanings of “Nature.” There are two strongly contrasting views of Nature in the play: that of the Lear party (Lear, Gloucester, Albany, Kent), exemplifying the philosophy of Bacon
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Albans, KC was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, author and pioneer of the scientific method. He served both as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England...

 and Hooker
Richard Hooker
Richard Hooker was an Anglican priest and an influential theologian. Hooker's emphases on reason, tolerance and the value of tradition came to exert a lasting influence on the development of the Church of England...

, and that of the Edmund party (Edmund, Cornwall, Goneril, Regan), akin to the views later formulated by Hobbes. Along with the two views of Nature, Lear contains two views of Reason, brought out in Gloucester and Edmund’s speeches on astrology (1.2). The rationality of the Edmund party is one with which a modern audience more readily identifies. But the Edmund party carries bold rationalism to such extremes that it becomes madness: a madness-in-reason, the ironic counterpart of Lear’s “reason in madness” (IV.5.167) and the Fool’s wisdom-in-folly. This betrayal of reason lies behind the play’s later emphasis on feeling.

The two Natures and the two Reasons imply two societies. Edmund is the New Man, a member of an age of competition, suspicion, glory, in contrast with the older society which has come down from the Middle Ages, with its belief in co-operation, reasonable decency, and respect for the whole as greater than the part. King Lear is thus an allegory. The older society, that of the medieval vision, with its doting king, falls into error, and is threatened by the new machiavellianism
Machiavellianism
Machiavellianism is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, "the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct", deriving from the Italian Renaissance diplomat and writer Niccolò Machiavelli, who wrote Il Principe and other works...

; it is regenerated and saved by a vision of a new order, embodied in the king’s rejected daughter. Cordelia, in the allegorical scheme, is threefold: a person; an ethical principle (love); and a community. Nevertheless, Shakespeare’s understanding of the New Man is so extensive as to amount almost to sympathy. Edmund is the last great expression in Shakespeare of that side of Renaissance individualism – the energy, the emancipation, the courage – which has made a positive contribution to the heritage of the West. “He embodies something vital which a final synthesis must reaffirm. But he makes an absolute claim which Shakespeare will not support. It is right for man to feel, as Edmund does, that society exists for man, not man for society. It is not right to assert the kind of man Edmund would erect to this supremacy.”

The play offers an alternative to the feudal-machiavellian polarity, an alternative foreshadowed in France’s speech (I.1.245–256), in Lear and Gloucester’s prayers (III.4. 28–36; IV.1.61–66), and in the figure of Cordelia. Until the decent society is achieved, we are meant to take as role-model (though qualified by Shakespearean ironies) Edgar, "the machiavel of goodness," endurance, courage and "ripeness."

Since there are no literal mothers in King Lear, Coppélia Kahn provides a psychoanalytic interpretation of the “maternal subtext” found in the play. According to Kahn, Lear in his old age regresses to an infantile disposition, and now seeks for a love that is normally satisfied by a mothering woman. Her characterisation of Lear is that of a child being mothered, but without real mothers, his children become the daughter-mother figures. Lear’s contest of love serves as the binding agreement; his daughters will get their inheritance provided they care for him, especially Cordelia, whose “kind nursery” he will greatly depend on. Her refusal to love him more than a husband is often interpreted as a resistance from incest
Incest
Incest is sexual intercourse between close relatives that is usually illegal in the jurisdiction where it takes place and/or is conventionally considered a taboo. The term may apply to sexual activities between: individuals of close "blood relationship"; members of the same household; step...

, but Kahn also inserts the image of a rejecting mother. The situation is now a reversal of parent-child roles, in which Lear’s madness is essentially a childlike rage from being deprived of maternal care. Even when Lear and Cordelia are captured together, this madness persists as Lear envisions a nursery in prison, where Cordelia’s sole existence is for him. However, it is Cordelia’s death that ultimately ends his fantasy of a daughter-mother, as the play ends with only male characters left.

Freud asserted that Cordelia symbolises Death. Therefore, when the play begins with Lear rejecting his daughter, it can be interpreted as him rejecting death; Lear is unwilling to face the finitude of his being. The play’s poignant ending scene, wherein Lear carries the body of his beloved Cordelia, was of great importance to Freud. In this scene, she causes in Lear a realisation of his finitude, or as Freud put it, she causes him to “make friends with the necessity of dying”. It is logical to infer that Shakespeare had special intentions with Cordelia’s death, as he was the only writer to have Cordelia killed (in the version by the anonymous author, she continues to live happily, and in Holinshed’s, she restores her father and succeeds him).

A study by psychologist Rachel E. Goldsmith and others suggests that Lear's temporary amnesia of his daughters' betrayal is consistent with psychogenic amnesia
Psychogenic amnesia
Psychogenic amnesia, also known as functional amnesia or dissociative amnesia, is a memory disorder characterized by extreme memory loss that is caused by extensive psychological stress and that cannot be attributed to a known neurobiological cause...

.

Opening



The play opens with a formal ceremony in which King Lear seemingly divides his kingdom among his daughters according to their avowals of their love for him. If this were a test, it would make most sense for Lear to hear out all three daughters before starting to divide the kingdom. David Ball posits an alternate interpretation. He bases this analysis on the conversation between Kent and Gloucester which are the first seven lines of the play and serve to help the audience understand the context of the drama about to unfold.
Ball interprets this statement to mean that the court already knows how the King is going to divide his kingdom; that the outcome of the ceremony is already decided and publicly known.

Alternatively, it has been suggested that the King's "contest" has more to do with his control over the unmarried Cordelia.

Tragic ending



The adaptation
Adaptation
An adaptation in biology is a trait with a current functional role in the life history of an organism that is maintained and evolved by means of natural selection. An adaptation refers to both the current state of being adapted and to the dynamic evolutionary process that leads to the adaptation....

s that Shakespeare made to the legend of King Lear to produce his tragic version are quite telling of the effect they would have had on his contemporary audience. The story of King Lear was familiar to the average English Renaissance theatre
English Renaissance theatre
English Renaissance theatre, also known as early modern English theatre, refers to the theatre of England, largely based in London, which occurred between the Reformation and the closure of the theatres in 1642...

 goer (as were many of Shakespeare's sources) and any discrepancies between versions would have been immediately apparent.

Shakespeare's tragic conclusion gains its sting from such a discrepancy. The traditional legend and all adaptations preceding Shakespeare's have it that after Lear is restored to the throne, he remains there until "made ripe for death" (Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser was an English poet best known for The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. He is recognised as one of the premier craftsmen of Modern English verse in its infancy, and one of the greatest poets in the English...

). Cordelia, her sisters also dead, takes the throne as rightful heir, but after a few years is overthrown and imprisoned by nephews, leading to her suicide.

Shakespeare shocks his audience by bringing the worn and haggard Lear onto the stage, carrying his dead youngest daughter. He taunts them with the possibility that she may live yet with Lear saying, "This feather stirs; she lives!" But Cordelia's death is soon confirmed.

This was indeed too bleak for some to take, even many years later. King Lear was at first unsuccessful on the Restoration stage, and it was only with Nahum Tate
Nahum Tate
Nahum Tate was an Irish poet, hymnist, and lyricist, who became England's poet laureate in 1692.-Life:Nahum Teate came from a family of Puritan clergymen...

's happy-ending version of 1681 that it became part of the repertory. Tate's Lear, where Lear survives and triumphs, and Edgar and Cordelia get married, held the stage until 1838. Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson , often referred to as Dr. Johnson, was an English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer...

 endorsed the use of Tate's version in his edition of Shakespeare's plays (1765): "Cordelia, from the time of Tate, has always retired with victory and felicity. And, if my sensations could add anything to the general suffrage, I might relate that I was many years ago so shocked by Cordelia's death, that I know not whether I ever endured to read again the last scenes of the play till I undertook to revise them as an editor."

Cordelia and the Fool


The Fool
Shakespearian fool
The Shakespearean fool is a recurring and character type in the works of William Shakespeare.Shakespearean fools are usually clever peasants or commoners that use their wits to outdo people of higher social standing. In this sense, they are very similar to the real fools, clowns, and jesters of...

, important in the first half of the play, disappears without explanation in the third act.

A popular explanation for the Fool's disappearance is that the actor playing the Fool also played Cordelia. The two characters are never on stage simultaneously, and dual-roling was common in Shakespeare's time. However, the Fool would have been played by Robert Armin
Robert Armin
Robert Armin was an English actor, a member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men. He became the leading comedy actor with the troupe associated with William Shakespeare following the departure of Will Kempe around 1600...

, the regular clown
Clown
Clowns are comic performers stereotypically characterized by the grotesque image of the circus clown's colored wigs, stylistic makeup, outlandish costumes, unusually large footwear, and red nose, which evolved to project their actions to large audiences. Other less grotesque styles have also...

 actor of Shakespeare's company, who is unlikely to have been cast as a tragic heroine. Even so, the play does ask us to at least compare the two; Lear chides Cordelia for foolishness in Act I; chides himself as equal in folly
Folly
In architecture, a folly is a building constructed primarily for decoration, but either suggesting by its appearance some other purpose, or merely so extravagant that it transcends the normal range of garden ornaments or other class of building to which it belongs...

 in Act V; and as he holds the dead Cordelia in the final scene, says, "And my poor fool is hanged" ("fool" could be taken as either a direct reference to the Fool, or an affectionate reference to Cordelia herself, or it could refer to both the Fool and Cordelia).

17th and 18th Centuries



Shakespeare wrote the role of Lear for his company's chief tragedian, Richard Burbage
Richard Burbage
Richard Burbage was an English actor and theatre owner. He was the younger brother of Cuthbert Burbage. They were both actors in drama....

, for whom Shakespeare was incrementally writing older characters as their careers progressed. It has been speculated either that the role of the Fool was written for the company's clown Robert Armin
Robert Armin
Robert Armin was an English actor, a member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men. He became the leading comedy actor with the troupe associated with William Shakespeare following the departure of Will Kempe around 1600...

, or that it was written for performance by one of the company's boys
Boy player
Boy player is a common term for the adolescent males employed by Medieval and English Renaissance playing companies. Some boy players worked for the mainstream companies and performed the female roles, as women did not perform on the English stage in this period...

, doubling the role of Cordelia. Only one specific performance of the play during Shakespeare's lifetime is known: before the court of King James I
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

 at Whitehall on 26 December 1606. Its original performances would have been at The Globe
Globe Theatre
The Globe Theatre was a theatre in London associated with William Shakespeare. It was built in 1599 by Shakespeare's playing company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, and was destroyed by fire on 29 June 1613...

, where there were no sets in the modern sense, and characters would have signified their roles visually with props and costumes: Lear's costume, for example, would have changed in the course of the play as his status diminished: commencing in crown and regalia; then as a huntsman; raging bareheaded in the storm scene; and finally crowned with flowers in parody of his original status.

All theatres were closed down by the puritan
Puritan
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

 government on 6 September 1642. Upon the restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

 of the monarchy in 1660, two patent companies (the King's Company
King's Company
The King's Company was one of two enterprises granted the rights to mount theatrical productions in London at the start of the English Restoration. It existed from 1660 to 1682.-History:...

 and the Duke's Company
Duke's Company
The Duke's Company was one of the two theatre companies that were chartered by King Charles II at the start of the English Restoration era, when the London theatres re-opened after their eighteen-year closure during the English Civil War and the Interregnum.The Duke's Company had the patronage of...

) were established, and the existing theatrical repertoire divided between them. And from the restoration until the mid nineteenth-century the performance history of King Lear is not the story of Shakespeare's version, but instead of The History of King Lear
The History of King Lear
The History of King Lear is an adaptation by Nahum Tate of William Shakespeare's King Lear. It first appeared in 1681, some seventy-five years after Shakespeare's version, and is believed to have replaced Shakespeare's version on the English stage in whole or in part until 1838.Unlike Shakespeare's...

, a popular adaptation by Nahum Tate
Nahum Tate
Nahum Tate was an Irish poet, hymnist, and lyricist, who became England's poet laureate in 1692.-Life:Nahum Teate came from a family of Puritan clergymen...

. Its most significant deviations from Shakespeare were to omit the Fool entirely, to introduce a happy ending in which Lear and Cordelia survive, and to develop a love story between Cordelia and Edgar (two characters who never interact in Shakespeare) which ends with their marriage. Like most Restoration adapters of Shakespeare, Tate saw himself as improving the crude works of Shakespeare's untutored genius, saying of his task that he found the tragedy: "a heap of jewels, unstrung and unpolish't; yet so dazzling in their disorder, that I soon perceiv'd I had seiz'd a treasure." Other changes included giving Cordelia a confidante named Arante, bringing the play closer to contemporary notions of poetic justice
Poetic justice
Poetic justice is a literary device in which virtue is ultimately rewarded or vice punished, often in modern literature by an ironic twist of fate intimately related to the character's own conduct.- Origin of the term :...

, and added titilating material such as amorous encounters between Edmund and both Regan and Goneril, and a scene in which Edgar rescues Cordelia from Edmund's attempted kidnap and rape. The play ends with a celebration of "the King's blest Restauration", an obvious reference to Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

.

In the early 18th Century, some writers began to express objections to this (and other) Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare. For example, in The Spectator
The Spectator (1711)
The Spectator was a daily publication of 1711–12, founded by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele in England after they met at Charterhouse School. Eustace Budgell, a cousin of Addison's, also contributed to the publication. Each 'paper', or 'number', was approximately 2,500 words long, and the...

on 16 April 1711 Joseph Addison
Joseph Addison
Joseph Addison was an English essayist, poet, playwright and politician. He was a man of letters, eldest son of Lancelot Addison...

 wrote "King Lear is an admirable Tragedy ... as Shakespeare wrote it; but as it is reformed according to the chymerical Notion of poetical Justice in my humble Opinion it hath lost half its Beauty." Yet on the stage, Tate's version prevailed.

David Garrick
David Garrick
David Garrick was an English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer who influenced nearly all aspects of theatrical practice throughout the 18th century and was a pupil and friend of Dr Samuel Johnson...

 was the first actor-manager to begin to cut back on elements of Tate's adaptation in favour of Shakespeare's original: he retained Tate's major changes, including the happy ending, but removed many of Tate's lines, including Edgar's closing speech. He also reduced the prominence of the Edgar-Cordelia love story, in order to focus more on the relationship between Lear and his daughters. His version had a powerful emotional impact: Lear driven to madness by his daughters was (in the words of one spectator, Arthur Murphy) "the finest tragic distress ever seen on any stage" and, in contrast, the devotion shown to Lear by Cordelia (a mix of Shakespeare's, Tate's and Garrick's contributions to the part) moved the audience to tears.

The first professional performances of King Lear in North America are likely to have been those of the Hallam Company (later the American Company) which arrived in Virginia in 1752 and who counted the play among their repertoire by the time of their departure for Jamaica in 1774.

19th Century


Charles Lamb
Charles Lamb
Charles Lamb was an English essayist, best known for his Essays of Elia and for the children's book Tales from Shakespeare, which he produced with his sister, Mary Lamb . Lamb has been referred to by E.V...

 established the Romantics
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

' attitude to King Lear in his 1811 essay "On the Tragedies of Shakespeare, considered with reference to their fitness for stage representation" where he says that the play "is essentially impossible to be represented on the stage", preferring to experience it in the study. In the theatre, he argues, "to see Lear acted, to see an old man tottering about the stage with a walking-stick, turned out of doors by his daughters on a rainy night, has nothing in it but what is painful and disgusting" yet "while we read it, we see not Lear but we are Lear, – we are in his mind, we are sustained by a granduer which baffles the malice of daughters and storms."

King Lear was politically controversial during the period of George III
George III of the United Kingdom
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death...

's madness, and as a result was not performed at all in the two professional theatres of London from 1811 to 1820: but was then the subject of major productions in both, within three months of his death. The nineteenth century saw the gradual reintroduction of Shakespeare's text to displace Tate's version. Like Garrick
David Garrick
David Garrick was an English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer who influenced nearly all aspects of theatrical practice throughout the 18th century and was a pupil and friend of Dr Samuel Johnson...

 before him, John Philip Kemble
John Philip Kemble
John Philip Kemble was an English actor. He was born into a theatrical family as the eldest son of Roger Kemble, actor-manager of a touring troupe. His elder sister Sarah Siddons achieved fame with him on the stage of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane...

 had introduced more of Shakespeare's text, while still preserving the three main elements of Tate's version: the love story, the omission of the Fool, and the happy ending. Edmund Kean
Edmund Kean
Edmund Kean was an English actor, regarded in his time as the greatest ever.-Early life:Kean was born in London. His father was probably Edmund Kean, an architect’s clerk, and his mother was an actress, Anne Carey, daughter of the 18th century composer and playwright Henry Carey...

 played King Lear with its tragic ending in 1823, but failed and reverted to Tate's crowd-pleaser after only three performances. At last in 1838 William Macready at Covent Garden performed Shakespeare's version, freed from Tate's adaptions. The restored character of the Fool was played by an actress, Priscilla Horton
Priscilla Horton
Priscilla Horton, later Priscilla German Reed , was a popular English singer and actress, known for her role as Ariel in W. C. Macready's production of The Tempest in 1838 and "fairy" burlesques at Covent Garden Theatre. Later, she was known, along with her husband, Thomas German Reed, for...

, as, in the words of one spectator, "a fragile, hectic, beautiful-faced, half-idiot-looking boy." And Helen Faucit
Helena Faucit
Helena Saville Faucit, Lady Martin was an English actress.-Early life:Born in London, she was the daughter of actors John Saville Faucit and Harriet Elizabeth Savill. Her parents divorced when she was a girl, and her mother married William Farren in 1825...

's final appearance as Cordelia, dead in her father's arms, became one of the most iconic of Victorian images. John Forster, writing in the Examiner
Examiner
The Examiner was a weekly paper founded by Leigh and John Hunt in 1808. For the first fifty years it was a leading intellectual journal expounding radical principles, but from 1865 it repeatedly changed hands and political allegiance, resulting in a rapid decline in readership and loss of...

on 14 February 1838, expressed the hope that "Mr Macready's success has banished that disgrace [Tate's version] from the stage for ever." But even this version was not close to Shakespeare's: the nineteenth-century actor-managers heavily cut Shakespeare's scripts: ending scenes on big "curtain effects" and reducing or eliminating supporting roles to give greater prominence to the star. One of Macready's innovations – the use of Stonehenge
Stonehenge
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about west of Amesbury and north of Salisbury. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of a circular setting of large standing stones set within earthworks...

-like structures on stage to indicate an ancient setting – proved enduring on stage into the twentieth century, and can be seen in the 1983 television version starring Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier
Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, OM was an English actor, director, and producer. He was one of the most famous and revered actors of the 20th century. He married three times, to fellow actors Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Plowright...

.

In 1843, the Act for Regulating the Theatres came into force, bringing an end to the monopolies of the two existing companies and, by doing so, increased the number of theatres in London. At the same time, the fashion in theatre was "pictorial": valuing visual specatcle above plot or characterisation and often required lengthy (and time consuming) scene changes. For example, Henry Irving
Henry Irving
Sir Henry Irving , born John Henry Brodribb, was an English stage actor in the Victorian era, known as an actor-manager because he took complete responsibility for season after season at the Lyceum Theatre, establishing himself and his company as...

's 1892 King Lear offered spectacles such as Lear's death beneath a cliff at Dover, his face lit by the red glow of a setting sun; at the expense of cutting 46% of the text, including the blinding of Gloucester. But Irving's production clearly evoked strong emotions: one spectator, Gordon Crosse, wrote of the first entrance of Lear, "a striking figure with masses of white hair. He is leaning on a huge scabbarded sword which he raises with a wild cry in answer to the shouted greeting of his guards. His gait, his looks, his gestures, all reveal the noble, imperious mind already degenerating into senile irritability under the coming shocks of grief and age."

The importance of pictorialism to Irving, and to other theatre professionals of the Victorian era, is exemplified by the fact that Irving had used Ford Madox Brown
Ford Madox Brown
Ford Madox Brown was an English painter of moral and historical subjects, notable for his distinctively graphic and often Hogarthian version of the Pre-Raphaelite style. Arguably, his most notable painting was Work...

's painting Cordelia’s Portion as the inspiration for the look of his production, and that the artist himself was brought in to provide sketches for the settings of other scenes. A reaction against pictorialism came with the rise of reconstructive movement, believers in a simple style of staging more similar to that which would have pertained in renaissance theatres, whose chief early exponent was the actor-manager William Poel
William Poel
William Poel was an English actor, theatrical manager and dramatist best known for his presentations of Shakespeare.-Life and career:...

. Poel was influenced by a performance of King Lear directed by Jocza Savits at the Hoftheater in Munich in 1890, set on an apron stage
Apron stage
The apron is any part of the stage that extends past the proscenium arch and into the audience or seating area. The Elizabethan stage, which was a raised platform with the audience on three sides, is the outstanding example....

 with a three-tier Globe
Globe Theatre
The Globe Theatre was a theatre in London associated with William Shakespeare. It was built in 1599 by Shakespeare's playing company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, and was destroyed by fire on 29 June 1613...

-like reconstruction theatre as its backdrop. Poel would use this same configuration for his own Shakespearean performances in 1893.

20th and 21st Centuries


The character of Lear in the nineteenth century was often that of a frail old man from the opening scene, but Lears of the twentieth century often began the play as strong men displaying regal authority, including John Gielgud
John Gielgud
Sir Arthur John Gielgud, OM, CH was an English actor, director, and producer. A descendant of the renowned Terry acting family, he achieved early international acclaim for his youthful, emotionally expressive Hamlet which broke box office records on Broadway in 1937...

, Donald Wolfit
Donald Wolfit
Sir Donald Wolfit, KBE was a well-known English actor-manager.-Biography:Wolfit, who was "Woolfitt" at birth was born at New Balderton, near Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire and attended the Magnus Grammar School and made his stage début in 1920...

 and Donald Sinden
Donald Sinden
Sir Donald Alfred Sinden CBE is an English actor of theatre, film and television.-Personal life:Sinden was born in Plymouth, Devon, England, on 9 October 1923. The son of Alfred Edward Sinden and his wife Mabel Agnes , he grew up in the Sussex village of Ditchling, where their home doubled as the...

. Cordelia, also, evolved in the twentieth century: earlier Cordelias had often been praised for being sweet, innocent and modest, but twentieth-century Cordelias were often portrayed as war leaders. For example, Peggy Ashcroft
Peggy Ashcroft
Dame Peggy Ashcroft, DBE was an English actress.-Early years:Born as Edith Margaret Emily Ashcroft in Croydon, Ashcroft attended the Woodford School, Croydon and the Central School of Speech and Drama...

, at the RST
Royal Shakespeare Theatre
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre is a 1,040+ seat thrust stage theatre owned by the Royal Shakespeare Company dedicated to the British playwright and poet William Shakespeare. It is located in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon - Shakespeare's birthplace - in the English Midlands, beside the River Avon...

 in 1950, played the role in a breastplate and carrying a sword. Similarly, the Fool evolved through the course of the century, with portrayals often deriving from the music hall
Music hall
Music Hall is a type of British theatrical entertainment which was popular between 1850 and 1960. The term can refer to:# A particular form of variety entertainment involving a mixture of popular song, comedy and speciality acts...

 or circus
Circus
A circus is commonly a travelling company of performers that may include clowns, acrobats, trained animals, trapeze acts, musicians, hoopers, tightrope walkers, jugglers, unicyclists and other stunt-oriented artists...

 tradition.

By mid-century, the actor-manager tradition had declined, to be replaced by a structure where the major theatre companies employed professional directors as auteurs. The last of the great actor-managers, Donald Wolfit
Donald Wolfit
Sir Donald Wolfit, KBE was a well-known English actor-manager.-Biography:Wolfit, who was "Woolfitt" at birth was born at New Balderton, near Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire and attended the Magnus Grammar School and made his stage début in 1920...

, played Lear on a Stonehenge-like set in 1944 and was praised by James Agate
James Agate
James Evershed Agate was a British diarist and critic. In the period between the wars, he was one of Britain's most influential theatre critics...

 as "the greatest piece of Shakespearean acting since I have been privileged to write for the Sunday Times". Wolfit supposedly drank eight bottles of Guinness
Guinness
Guinness is a popular Irish dry stout that originated in the brewery of Arthur Guinness at St. James's Gate, Dublin. Guinness is directly descended from the porter style that originated in London in the early 18th century and is one of the most successful beer brands worldwide, brewed in almost...

 in the course of each performance.

At Stratford-upon-Avon in 1962, Peter Brook
Peter Brook
Peter Stephen Paul Brook CH, CBE is an English theatre and film director and innovator, who has been based in France since the early 1970s.-Life:...

 (who would later film the play with the same Lear, Paul Scofield
Paul Scofield
David Paul Scofield, CH, CBE , better known as Paul Scofield, was an English actor of stage and screen...

) set the action simply, against a huge, empty white stage. The effect of the scene where Lear and Gloucester meet, two tiny figures in rags in the midst of this emptiness, was said (by the scholar Roger Warren) to catch "both the human pathos ... and the universal scale ... of the scene."

In 1974, Buzz Goodbody
Buzz Goodbody
Mary Ann "Buzz" Goodbody was an English theatre director.She was educated at Roedean and the University of Sussex. A product of the political and cultural upheavals of the 1960s, Goodbody regarded herself as a radical and a revolutionary who was involved in the feminist movement...

 directed Lear, a deliberately appreviated title for Shakespeare's text, as the inaugural production of the RSC
Royal Shakespeare Company
The Royal Shakespeare Company is a major British theatre company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. The company employs 700 staff and produces around 20 productions a year from its home in Stratford-upon-Avon and plays regularly in London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and on tour across...

's studio theatre The Other Place
The Other Place (theatre)
The Other Place was a black box theatre on Southern Lane, near to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. It was owned and operated by the Royal Shakespeare Company....

. The performance was conceived as a chamber piece, the small intimate space and proximity to the audience enabled detailed psychological acting, which was performed with simple sets and in modern dress. Peter Holland has speculated that this company/directoral decision – namely choosing to present Shakespeare in a small venue for artistic reasons when a larger venue was available – may at the time have been unprecedented.

Brook's vision of the play proved influential, and directors have gone further in presenting Lear as (in the words of R. A. Foakes) "a pathetic senior citizen trapped in a violent and hostile environment". When John Wood
John Wood (English actor)
John Wood, CBE was an English actor.-Biography:Wood was born in Derbyshire and studied law at Jesus College, Oxford where he was president of the Oxford University Dramatic Society. Changing to drama, Wood became known as a stage actor, appearing in numerous West End productions as well as on...

 took the role in 1990, he played the later scenes in clothes that looked like cast-offs, inviting deliberate parallels with the uncared-for in modern Western societies. Indeed, modern productions of Shakespeare's plays often reflect the world in which they are performed as much as the world for which they were written: and the Moscow theatre scene in 1994 provided an example, when two very different productions of the play (those by Sergei Zhonovach and Alexei Borodin), very different from one another in their style and outlook, were both reflections on the break-up of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

.

Like other Shakespearean tragedies, King Lear has proved amenable to conversion into other theatrical traditions. In 1989, David McRuvie and Iyyamkode Sreedharan adapted the play then translated it to Malayalam, for performance in Kerala
Kerala
or Keralam is an Indian state located on the Malabar coast of south-west India. It was created on 1 November 1956 by the States Reorganisation Act by combining various Malayalam speaking regions....

 in the Kathakali
Kathakali
Kathakali is a highly stylized classical Indian dance-drama noted for the attractive make-up of characters, elaborate costumes, detailed gestures and well-defined body movements presented in tune with the anchor playback music and complementary percussion...

 tradition – which itself developed around 1600, contemporary with Shakespeare's writing. The show later went on tour, and in 2000 played at Shakespeare's Globe
Shakespeare's Globe
Shakespeare's Globe is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, an Elizabethan playhouse in the London Borough of Southwark, located on the south bank of the River Thames, but destroyed by fire in 1613, rebuilt 1614 then demolished in 1644. The modern reconstruction is an academic best guess, based...

, completing (in Anthony Dawson's words) "a kind of symbolic circle". Perhaps even more radical was Ong Keng Sen
Ong Keng Sen
Ong Keng Sen is a Singaporean director of the theatre group TheatreWorks, which was founded in Singapore in 1985.Ong is a member of the Asia-Europe Network, which promotes the artistic exchange between Asia and Europe...

's 1997 adaptation of King Lear, which featured six actors each performing in a separate Asian acting tradition and in their own separate languages. A pivotal moment occurred when the Jingju performer playing Older Daughter (a conflation of Goneril and Regan) stabbed the Noh
Noh
, or - derived from the Sino-Japanese word for "skill" or "talent" - is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Many characters are masked, with men playing male and female roles. Traditionally, a Noh "performance day" lasts all day and...

-performed Lear whose "falling pine" deadfall, straight face-forward into the stage, astonished the audience, in what Yong Li Lan describes as a "triumph through the moving power of noh performance at the very moment of his character's defeat".

A number of women have played male roles in King Lear; most commonly the Fool, who has been played (among others) by Judy Davis
Judy Davis
Judy Davis is an Australian actress best known for her roles in Husbands and Wives, Barton Fink, A Passage to India and in the TV miniseries Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows....

 and Emma Thompson
Emma Thompson
Emma Thompson is a British actress, comedian and screenwriter. Her first major film role was in the 1989 romantic comedy The Tall Guy. In 1992, Thompson won multiple acting awards, including an Academy Award and a BAFTA Award for Best Actress, for her performance in the British drama Howards End...

 but also, significantly, Lear himself, played by Marianne Hoppe
Marianne Hoppe
Marianne Hoppe was a most distinguished German theatre and film actress.-Life and work:Born in Rostock, Marianne Hoppe became a leading lady of stage and films in Germany. She was born into a wealthy land owning family and was initially privately educated on her father's private estate...

 in 1990 and by Kathryn Hunter
Kathryn Hunter
Kathryn Hunter is an award-winning English actress and theatre director.Hunter was born in New York to Greek parents but brought up in the UK...

 in 1996-7.

Screen


The first film of King Lear was a five minute German version made around 1905, which has not survived. The oldest extant version is a ten-minute studio-based version from 1909 by Vitagraph, which made (in Luke McKernan's words) the "ill-advised" decision to attempt to cram in as much of the plot as possible. Two silent versions, both titled Re Lear, were made in Italy in 1910. Of these, the version by director Gerolamo Lo Savio was filmed on location, and it dropped the Edgar sub-plot and used frequent intertitling to make the plot easier to follow than its Vitagraph predecessor. A contemporary setting was used for Louis Feuillade
Louis Feuillade
Louis Feuillade was a prolific and prominent French film director from the silent era. Between 1906 and 1924 he directed over 630 films...

's 1911 French adaptation Le Roi Lear Au Village, and in 1914 in America, Ernest Warde expanded the story to an hour, including spectacles such as a final battle scene.

The only two significant big-screen performances of Shakespeare's text date from the early 1970s: Grigori Kozintsev
Grigori Kozintsev
Grigori Mikhaylovich Kozintsev was a Jewish Ukrainian, Soviet Russian theatre and film director. He was named People's Artist of the USSR in 1964.He studied in the Imperial Academy of Arts...

 was working on his Korol Lir
King Lear (1971 USSR film)
King Lear is a 1971 Soviet film directed by Grigori Kozintsev, based on William Shakespeare's play King Lear.-Cast:* Jüri Järvet - King Lear * Elza Radzina - Goneril* Galina Volchek - Regan* Valentina Shendrikova - Cordelia...

at the same time as Peter Brook
Peter Brook
Peter Stephen Paul Brook CH, CBE is an English theatre and film director and innovator, who has been based in France since the early 1970s.-Life:...

 was filming his King Lear. Brook's film starkly divided the critics: Pauline Kael
Pauline Kael
Pauline Kael was an American film critic who wrote for The New Yorker magazine from 1968 to 1991. Earlier in her career, her work appeared in City Lights, McCall's and The New Republic....

 said "I didn't just dislike this production, I hated it!" and suggested the alternative title "Night of the Living Dead
Night of the Living Dead
Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 American independent black-and-white zombie film and cult film directed by George A. Romero, starring Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea and Karl Hardman. It premiered on October 1, 1968, and was completed on a USD$114,000 budget. After decades of cinematic re-releases, it...

"
. Yet Robert Hatch in The Nation
The Nation
The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States. The periodical, devoted to politics and culture, is self-described as "the flagship of the left." Founded on July 6, 1865, It is published by The Nation Company, L.P., at 33 Irving Place, New York City.The Nation...

thought it as "excellent a filming of the play as one can expect" and Vincent Canby in The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

 called it "an exalting Lear, full of exquisite terror". The film drew heavily on the ideas of Jan Kott
Jan Kott
Jan Kott was a well-known Polish critic and theoretician of the theatre.Born in Warsaw in 1914, Kott moved to the United States in 1966 and lectured at Yale and Berkeley. A poet, translator, and critic, he was also one of the finest essayists of the Polish school...

, in particular his observation that King Lear was the precursor of absurdist theatre
Theatre of the Absurd
The Theatre of the Absurd is a designation for particular plays of absurdist fiction, written by a number of primarily European playwrights in the late 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, as well as to the style of theatre which has evolved from their work...

: in particular, the film has parallels with Beckett
Samuel Beckett
Samuel Barclay Beckett was an Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet. He wrote both in English and French. His work offers a bleak, tragicomic outlook on human nature, often coupled with black comedy and gallows humour.Beckett is widely regarded as among the most...

's Endgame
Endgame (play)
Endgame, by Samuel Beckett, is a one-act play with four characters, written in a style associated with the Theatre of the Absurd. It was originally written in French ; as was his custom, Beckett himself translated it into English. The play was first performed in a French-language production at the...

. Critics who dislike the film particularly draw attention to its bleak nature from its opening: complaining that the world of the play does not deteriorate with Lear's suffering, but commences dark, colourless and wintry, leaving (in Douglas Brode's words) "Lear, the land, and us with nowhere to go". Cruelty pervades the film, which does not distinguish between the violence of ostensibly good and evil characters, presenting both savagely. Paul Scofield
Paul Scofield
David Paul Scofield, CH, CBE , better known as Paul Scofield, was an English actor of stage and screen...

, as Lear, eschews sentimentality: this demanding old man with a coterie of unruly knights provokes audience sympathy for the daughters in the early scenes, and his presentation explicitly rejects the tradition (as Daniel Rosenthal describes it) of playing Lear as "poor old white-haired patriarch".

By contrast, Korol Lir
King Lear (1971 USSR film)
King Lear is a 1971 Soviet film directed by Grigori Kozintsev, based on William Shakespeare's play King Lear.-Cast:* Jüri Järvet - King Lear * Elza Radzina - Goneril* Galina Volchek - Regan* Valentina Shendrikova - Cordelia...

has been praised, for example by critic Anikst Alexander, for the "serious, deeply thoughtful" even "philosophical approach" of director Grigori Kozintsev
Grigori Kozintsev
Grigori Mikhaylovich Kozintsev was a Jewish Ukrainian, Soviet Russian theatre and film director. He was named People's Artist of the USSR in 1964.He studied in the Imperial Academy of Arts...

 and writer Boris Pasternak
Boris Pasternak
Boris Leonidovich Pasternak was a Russian language poet, novelist, and literary translator. In his native Russia, Pasternak's anthology My Sister Life, is one of the most influential collections ever published in the Russian language...

. Making a thinly-veiled criticism of Brook in the process, Alexander praised the fact that there were "no attempts at sensationalism, no efforts to 'modernise' Shakespeare by introducing Freudian themes, Existentialist ideas, eroticism, or sexual perversion. [Kozintsev]... has simply made a film of Shakespeare's tragedy." Dmitri Shostakovich
Dmitri Shostakovich
Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was a Soviet Russian composer and one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century....

 provided an epic score, its motifs including an (increasingly ironic) trumpet fanfare for Lear, and a five-bar "Call to Death" marking each character's demise. Kozintzev described his vision of the film as an ensemble piece: with Lear, played by a dynamic Yuri Yarvet
Jüri Järvet
Jüri Järvet was an Estonian actor. His name sometimes appears as Yuri Yevgenyevich Yarvet, an incorrect back-transliteration from the Russian transliteration . His birthname was Georgi Kuznetsov, and he took the Estonian form in 1938.Järvet is best known in the West for the role of Dr...

, as first among equals in a cast of fully developed characters. The film highlights Lear's role as king by including his people throughout the film on a scale no stage production could emulate, charting the central character's decline from their god to their helpless equal; his final descent into madness marked by his realisation that he has negelected the 'poor naked wretches'. As the film progresses, ruthless characters – Goneril, Regan, Edmund – increasingly appear isolated in shots, in contrast to the director's focus, throughout the film, on masses of human beings.

Jonathan Miller
Jonathan Miller
Sir Jonathan Wolfe Miller CBE is a British theatre and opera director, author, physician, television presenter, humorist and sculptor. Trained as a physician in the late 1950s, he first came to prominence in the 1960s with his role in the comedy revue Beyond the Fringe with fellow writers and...

 has twice directed Michael Hordern
Michael Hordern
Sir Michael Murray Hordern was an English actor, knighted in 1983 for his services to the theatre, which stretched back to before the Second World War.-Personal life:...

 in the title role for English television, the first for the BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

's Play of the Month
Play of the Month
Play of the Month is a BBC television anthology series featuring productions of classic and contemporary stage plays which were usually broadcast on BBC1. Each production featured a different work, often using prominent British stage actors in the leading roles...

in 1975 and the second for the BBC Television Shakespeare
BBC Television Shakespeare
The BBC Television Shakespeare was a set of television adaptations of the plays of William Shakespeare, produced by the BBC between 1978 and 1985.-Origins:...

in 1982. Horden received mixed reviews, and was considered a bold choice due to his history of taking much lighter roles. Also for English television, Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier
Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, OM was an English actor, director, and producer. He was one of the most famous and revered actors of the 20th century. He married three times, to fellow actors Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Plowright...

 took the role in a 1983 TV production for Granada Television
Granada Television
Granada Television is the ITV contractor for North West England. Based in Manchester since its inception, it is the only surviving original ITA franchisee from 1954 and is ITV's most successful....

. It was his last screen appearance in a Shakespearean role, its pathos deriving in part from the physical frailty of Olivier the actor.

In 1985 a major screen adaptation of the play appeared: Ran
Ran (film)
is a 1985 Japanese-French jidaigeki film written and directed by Akira Kurosawa. The film starred Tatsuya Nakadai as Hidetora Ichimonji, an aging Sengoku-era warlord who decides to abdicate as ruler in favor of his three sons. It also stars Mieko Harada as the wife of Ichimonji's eldest son...

, directed by Akira Kurosawa
Akira Kurosawa
was a Japanese film director, producer, screenwriter and editor. Regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema, Kurosawa directed 30 filmsIn 1946, Kurosawa co-directed, with Hideo Sekigawa and Kajiro Yamamoto, the feature Those Who Make Tomorrow ;...

. At the time the most expensive Japanese film ever made, it tells the story of Hidetora, a fictional sixteenth-century Japanese warlord, whose attempt to divide his kingdom among his three sons leads to an estrangement with the youngest, and ultimately most loyal, of them, and eventually to civil war. In contrast to the cold drab greys of Brook and Kozintsev, Kurosawa's film is full of vibrant colour: external scenes in yellows, blues and greens, interiors in browns and ambers, and Emi Wada
Emi Wada
is a renowned Japanese costume designer.She has created costumes for the Akira Kurosawa film Ran, which earned her an Academy Award for costume design, the Peter Greenaway film Prospero's Books, and the Zhang Yimou films Hero and House of Flying Daggers...

's Oscar-winning colour-coded costumes for each family member's soldiers. Hidetora has a back-story: a violent and ruthless rise to power, and the film portrays contrasting victims: the virtuous characters Sue and Tsurumaru who are able to forgive, and the vengeful Kaede (Mieko Harada), Hidetora's daughter-in-law and the film's Lady Macbeth
Lady Macbeth
Lady Macbeth may refer to:*Lady Macbeth, from William Shakespeare's play Macbeth**Queen Gruoch of Scotland, the real-life Queen on whom Shakespeare based the character...

-like villain.

The play's plot, or major elements from it, have frequently been used by film makers. Joseph Mankiewicz
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Joseph Leo Mankiewicz was an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. Mankiewicz had a long Hollywood career and is best known as the writer-director of All About Eve , which was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won six. He was brother to screenwriter and drama critic Herman J...

' 1949 House of Strangers
House of Strangers
House of Strangers is a film noir, and is the first of three film versions of Jerome Weidman's novel I'll Never Go There Anymore, each scripted by Phillip Yordan...

is often considered a Lear adaptation, but the parallels are more striking in its 1954 Western remake Broken Lance
Broken Lance
Broken Lance is a 1954 Western film made by Twentieth Century-Fox, directed by Edward Dmytryk and produced by Sol C. Siegel. The movie stars Spencer Tracy and features Katy Jurado, Richard Widmark, Robert Wagner, Jean Peters, Eduard Franz, Hugh O'Brian and Earl Holliman.Shot in color and...

in which a cattle baron played by Spencer Tracy
Spencer Tracy
Spencer Bonaventure Tracy was an American theatrical and film actor, who appeared in 75 films from 1930 to 1967. Tracy was one of the major stars of Hollywood's Golden Age, ranking among the top ten box office draws for almost every year from 1938 to 1951...

 tyrannises over his three sons, of whom only the youngest, Joe, played by Robert Wagner
Robert Wagner
Robert John Wagner is an American actor of stage, screen, and television.A veteran of many films in the 1950s and 1960s, Wagner gained prominence in three American television series that spanned three decades: It Takes a Thief , Switch , and Hart to Hart...

, remains loyal. A scene in which a character is threatened with blinding in the manner of Gloucester forms the climax of the 1973 parody horror Theatre of Blood
Theatre of Blood
Theatre of Blood is a horror film starring Vincent Price as vengeful actor Edward Lionheart and Diana Rigg as his daughter Edwina Lionheart. The cast includes such distinguished actors as Harry Andrews, Coral Browne, Robert Coote, Jack Hawkins, Michael Hordern, Arthur Lowe, Joan Hickson, Robert...

. Comic use is made of Sir's inability to physically carry any actress cast as Cordelia opposite his Lear in the 1983 film of the stage play The Dresser
The Dresser
The Dresser is a 1983 film which tells the story of an aging actor's personal assistant, who struggles to keep his charge's life together. It is based on a screenplay by Ronald Harwood, in turn based on his successful 1980 West End and Broadway play of the same name.The film was directed by Peter...

. John Boorman
John Boorman
John Boorman is a British filmmaker who is a long time resident of Ireland and is best known for his feature films such as Point Blank, Deliverance, Zardoz, Excalibur, The Emerald Forest, Hope and Glory, The General and The Tailor of Panama.-Early life:Boorman was born in Shepperton, Surrey,...

's 1990 Where the Heart Is
Where the Heart Is (1990 film)
Where the Heart Is is a 1990 romantic comedy film directed by John Boorman, and starring Dabney Coleman and Uma Thurman.-Plot summary:Stewart McBain is a successful self-made demolitions expert who blows up buildings for a living. In the midst of one such project, a group of protesters stops the...

features a father who disinherits his three spoilt children. Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola is an American film director, producer and screenwriter. He is widely acclaimed as one of Hollywood's most innovative and influential film directors...

 deliberately incorporated elements of Lear in his 1990 sequel The Godfather Part III
The Godfather Part III
The Godfather Part III is a 1990 American gangster film written by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, and directed by Coppola. It completes the story of Michael Corleone, a Mafia kingpin who tries to legitimize his criminal empire...

, including Michael Corleone's attempt to retire from crime throwing his domain into anarchy, and most obviously the death of his daughter in his arms. Parallels have also been drawn between Andy Garcia
Andy García
Andrés Arturo García Menéndez , professionally known as Andy García, is a Cuban American actor. He became known in the late 1980s and 1990s, having appeared in several successful Hollywood films, including The Godfather: Part III, The Untouchables, Internal Affairs and When a Man Loves a Woman...

's character Vincent and both Edgar and Edmund, and between Talia Shire
Talia Shire
Talia Shire is an American actress most known for her roles as Connie Corleone in The Godfather films and Adrian Balboa in the Rocky series.-Personal life:...

's character Connie and Kaede in Ran
Ran (film)
is a 1985 Japanese-French jidaigeki film written and directed by Akira Kurosawa. The film starred Tatsuya Nakadai as Hidetora Ichimonji, an aging Sengoku-era warlord who decides to abdicate as ruler in favor of his three sons. It also stars Mieko Harada as the wife of Ichimonji's eldest son...

.

In 1997, Jocelyn Moorhouse
Jocelyn Moorhouse
Jocelyn Denise Moorhouse is an Australian writer and film director born in Victoria, Australia on 4 September 1960.Moorhouse did her HSC year in 1978 at Vermont High School, which is the same high school that Gillian Armstrong attended a few years earlier. She went on to direct films such as Proof,...

 directed A Thousand Acres
A Thousand Acres (film)
A Thousand Acres is an American motion picture drama directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, and starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jason Robards....

, based on Jane Smiley
Jane Smiley
Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist.-Biography:Born in Los Angeles, California, Smiley grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and graduated from John Burroughs School. She obtained an A.B. at Vassar College, then earned an M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the...

's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, set in 1990s Iowa. The film is described, by scholar Tony Howard, as the first adaptation to confront the play's disturbing sexual dimensions. The story is told from the viewpoint of the elder two daughters, Ginny played by Jessica Lange
Jessica Lange
Jessica Phyllis Lange is an American actress who has worked in film, theatre and television. The recipient of several awards, including two Academy Awards, four Golden Globes and one Emmy, Lange is regarded as one of the première female actors of her generation.Lange was discovered by producer...

 and Rose played by Michelle Pfeiffer
Michelle Pfeiffer
Michelle Marie Pfeiffer is an American actress. She made her film debut in 1980 in The Hollywood Knights, but first garnered mainstream attention with her performance in Brian De Palma's Scarface . Pfeiffer has won numerous awards for her work...

, who were sexually abused by their father as teenagers. Their younger sister Caroline, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Jennifer Jason Leigh is an American film and stage actress, best known for her roles in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Single White Female, Last Exit to Brooklyn, Georgia and Short Cuts...

 had escaped this fate and is ultimately the only one to remain loyal.

The play was again adapted to the world of gangsters in Don Boyd
Don Boyd
Donald William Robertson Boyd Hon D.Litt is a Scottish film director, producer, screenwriter and novelist...

's 2001 My Kingdom
My Kingdom (film)
My Kingdom is a 2001 British crime film directed by Don Boyd and starring Richard Harris, Lynn Redgrave and Jimi Mistry.It premiered at the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival but failed to make an impression The following year My Kingdom grossed $2,607 on its opening weekend in Los Angeles...

, a version which differs from all others in commencing with the Lear character, Sandeman, played by Richard Harris
Richard Harris
Richard St John Harris was an Irish actor, singer-songwriter, theatrical producer, film director and writer....

, in a loving relationship with his wife. But her violent death marks the start of an increasingly bleak and violent chain of events (influenced by co-writer Nick Davies' documentary book Dark Heart) which in spite of the director's denial that the film had "serious parallels" to Shakespeare's play, actually mirror aspects of its plot closely. Unlike Shakespeare's Lear, but like Hidetora and Sandeman, the central character of Uli Edel's 2002 American TV adaptation King of Texas
King of Texas
King of Texas is a 2002 American television film based on William Shakespeare's King Lear directed by Uli Edel.-Plot:The film takes the plot of William Shakespeare's King Lear and places it in the Republic of Texas during the 19th century. Stewart stars as John Lear, a wealthy cattle baron and...

, John Lear played by Patrick Stewart
Patrick Stewart
Sir Patrick Hewes Stewart, OBE is an English film, television and stage actor, who has had a distinguished career in theatre and television for around half a century...

, has a back-story centred on his violent rise to power. Daniel Rosenthal comments that the film was able, by reason of having been commissioned by the cable channel TNT, to include a bleaker and more violent ending than would have been possible on the national networks. 2003's Channel 4
Channel 4
Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster which began working on 2 November 1982. Although largely commercially self-funded, it is ultimately publicly owned; originally a subsidiary of the Independent Broadcasting Authority , the station is now owned and operated by the Channel...

-commissioned two-parter Second Generation set the story in the world of Asian manufacturing and music in England.

Secondary Sources



  • Armstrong, Alan Unfamiliar Shakespeare in Wells and Orlin pp. 308–319.
  • Burt, Richard Backstage Pass(ing): Stage Beauty, Othello and the Make-up of Race in Burnett and Wray pp. 53–71.
  • Dawson, Anthony B. International Shakespeare in Wells and Stanton pp. 174–193.
  • Gay, Penny Women and Shakespearean Performance in Wells and Stanton pp. 155–173.
  • Gillies, John & Ryuta Minami, Ruri Li and Poonam Trivedi Shakespeare on the Stages of Asia in Wells and Stanton pp. 259–283.
  • Greenhalgh, Susan and Robert Shaughnessy Our Shakespeares: British Television and the Strains of Multiculturalism in Burnett and Wray pp. 90–112.
  • Guntner, J. Lawrence Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear on Film in Jackson (a) pp. 117–134, especially the section King Lear: A Play For Our Times pp. 128–132.
  • Holland, Peter Shakespeare in the Twentieth-Century Theatre in deGrazia and Wells pp. 199–215.
  • Howard, Tony Shakespeare's Cinematic Offshoots in Jackson (a) pp. 295–313.
  • Jackson, Russell (b) Shakespeare and the Cinema in deGrazia and Wells pp. 217–233.
  • Jackson, Russell (c) Shakespeare on the Stage from 1660 to 1900 in Wells (a) pp. 187–212.
  • Lan, Yong Li Shakespeare and the Fiction of the Intercultural in Hodgdon and Worthen pp. 527–549.
  • Lehmann, Courtney The Postnostalgic Renaissance: The 'Place' of Liverpool in Don Boyd's My Kingdom in Burnett and Wray pp. 72–89.
  • Marsden, Jean I. Improving Shakespeare: from the Restoration to Garrick in Wells and Stanton pp. 21–36.
  • Moody, Jane Romantic Shakespeare in Wells and Stanton pp. 37–57.
  • Potter, Lois Shakespeare in the Theatre, 1660–1900 in deGrazia and Wells pp. 183–198.
  • Schoch, Richard W. Pictorial Shakespeare in Wells and Stanton pp. 58–75.
  • Shaw, George Bernard
    George Bernard Shaw
    George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

     and Edwin Wilson (ed.) Shaw on Shakespeare (1961) Applause ISBN 1-55783-561-6
  • Tatspaugh, Patricia Performance History: Shakespeare on the Stage 1660–2001 in Wells and Orlin pp. 525–549.
  • Taylor, Gary (b) Shakespeare Plays on Renaissance Stages in Wells and Stanton pp. 1–20.
  • Taylor, Michael The Critical Tradition in Wells and Orlin pp. 323–332.
  • Thomson, Peter The Comic Actor and Shakespeare in Wells and Stanton pp. 137–154.
  • Warren, Roger Shakespeare on the Twentieth-Cantury Stage in Wells (a) pp. 257–272.


External links


  • King Lear – plaintext file at Project Gutenberg
    Project Gutenberg
    Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to "encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks". Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books...

    .
  • King Lear – Searchable, online version of the text.
  • BBC audio file. In Our Time
    In Our Time (BBC Radio 4)
    In Our Time is a live BBC radio discussion series exploring the history of ideas, presented by Melvyn Bragg since 15 October 1998.. It is one of BBC radio's most successful discussion programmes, acknowledged to have "transformed the landscape for serious ideas at peak listening time"...

    , BBC Radio 4
    BBC Radio 4
    BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

    discussion.
  • Photos of a production of King Lear
  • King Lear study guide, themes, quotes, character analyses, multimedia, teaching guide
  • Joyce Carol Oates on King Lear