Thursday, May 26, 2011

King Lear? An impossible play!

Is King Lear a play that can't be performed? It does have its problems, and according to Slate's Jessica Winter, those problems can be murder. As a matter of fact, in the 17th Century a rewrite was published that dominated the stage for over a century or so, where Edgar and Cordelia get married and live happily ever after, as does Lear himself. In this Slate article, Winter puts together a more perfect Lear comprising a piece of this one and a piece of that one. It's fun to watch the different versions, as you might expect. And you can draw your own conclusions about whether anyone will ever get it right all at the same time.

And let's face it. As Winter says, it doesn't sound promising:

"Nineteenth-century essayist Charles Lamb declared that staging Lear 'has nothing in it but what is painful and disgusting,' concluding, 'The Lear of Shakespeare cannot be acted.' Nearly two centuries later, Harold Bloom concurred: 'You shouldn't even go and see somebody try and act the part,' the scholar said, 'because it's unactable… I've never seen a Lear that worked.' Beginning with a vain, irrational king rejecting both his favorite child and his most faithful servant on a whim, ending with a mad, uncrowned derelict dying of a broken heart—with a detour wherein another foolish old man's eyes are gouged out—King Lear is a shocking spectacle of two families eating themselves alive."

Read Winter's quest to build the perfect production of Lear, The King and I.

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