Media Thursday: a tale of two Lears

So the end of last week was a kind of confluence of King Lear viewing experiences. Last Thursday evening, NT Live had one of its worldwide cinema broadcasts of a performance of the Chichester Festival Theatre production of Lear that had been transferred to London, so that more people could see what Ian McKellen has said will be his last live theater-Shakespeare. Then, the very next day, Amazon Prime released the BBC production of the play with Anthony Hopkins leading a star-studded cast.

So let’s take a gander, shall we?

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King Lear: good-bye to the mad king…

So. King Lear.

Where does one begin? With a bad joke, perhaps? Shouldn’t this play’s title (or at least subtitle) be “Much Ado About Nothing”?


Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

When I began this project, the play stood like a monolith, huge, implacable, and most likely un-stage-able. I had remembered it as long, stuffed so full of ideas, that it was better on the page than the stage. You simply couldn’t have a production that was great.

Memory is weird like that. It can create a behemoth in your mind, when what you’re dealing with is really a giraffe. Taller than the rest, at times a little gawky and unwieldy, but ultimately graceful in its own way.

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Podcast 129: King Lear: Wrap-Up, plus production concepts



This week’s podcast concludes our three month-long discussion of King Lear with a wrap-up of the play, a production concept and cast, and contest winner!

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King Lear: mind-blowing midpoint

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at King Lear.

There are 2960 lines in in the play, which means the midpoint is at line 1480, or at Act Two, Scene Four, line 285. According to Dr. Rodes’ theory, you could find at this midpoint (or within twenty lines either way) a speech that perfectly sums up a major theme of the play. The 20-line leeway was to help remove the differences in prose line lengths between individual editions.

This midpoint takes place toward the end of the scene at Gloucester’s estate when Lear has arrived, attempts to complain about Goneril to the visiting Regan, only to have the sisters team up against him.

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Stage directions in the dialogue – King Lear edition

Shakespeare is notoriously stingy with his stage direction (or, as I pondered last weekend, at times problematic). King Lear is no different than the other plays in this respect. Sure, we get some atypically descriptive ones like “Cornwall puts out one of Gloucester’s eyes” (III.vii.69 stage direction … or its twin, “He puts out Gloucester’s other eye” [III.vii.82 s.d.]), but mostly it’s confined to “enter,” “exit,” “exeunt” (multiple exit), and the odd “they fight” and “dies.”

But actors just don’t stand around on stage, stock-still and empty-handed. And that’s where the dialogue can help the would-be actor or director find some business for the the actor to do (or in some cases, for a designer to create).

Here are but a handful from King Lear… (most are pretty obvious)

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Lear’s lessons from the lines (scansion)

As I wrap up discussion of the plays, I like to take a quick look back on some of the more noteworthy clues I’ve noticed in the lines of the play. Not necessarily the words within the lines, mind you, not the diction, but rather the syntax, the scansion, the pauses. King Lear is no different.

Some of these are–to borrow a phrase from a blog entry earlier in the month–apropos of nothing..but still of interest (to me at least) nonetheless.

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And how do you stage THAT?

Just a quick hit for today: Act Five, Scene Two, of King Lear, is a strange one. At only 11 lines, it’s the shortest scene in the play. It’s also the penultimate scene of the play, the only scene in which the war takes place on stage–sort of.

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King Lear: How many wits does it take to…

Just a quick hit…

A couple of days back, as I was discussing the nuance between “madness” in King Lear, and something more–possibly even Alzheimer’s disease–I noted the use of the word “wit” and “wits.” Most of these instances are pretty straightforward. There are two, however, that are a little more specialized.

And both are spoken by Edgar as part of his Poor Tom o’Bedlam persona.

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