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.
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!
So here’s the numerical breakdown…
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
OK, don’t forget: we’ve got a fun little contest for May, and one great prize to tempt you into playing.
It’s a simple question, really:
Yesterday, I discussed the use of “mad” and “madness” in King Lear. And back in February of last year, when I was discussing Twelfth Night, I delved into the use “mad”-related language in that play. Back then, when I was diving into the concordance findings for “mad” language (and that play), I had somehow ignored King Lear altogether.
At that point, I noted
When you tally up the columns, you find that while Hamlet has the most “mad/distract” references in the Canon (as we’ll see over the course of the next couple of months, this should come as no surprise as the main character claims to be feigning madness throughout the play), Twelfth Night isn’t too far behind (with the mad confusion of the double set of twins in The Comedy of Errors making frequent reference to the concept as well).
Well, now if you take into account King Lear, you find that this play–with a mad king and a character also feigning madness–still falls a distant fourth behind the melancholy Dane and the two mad-character-less comedies.
|word||Twelfth Night||Comedy of Errors||Hamlet||King Lear|
|mad||22 (21)||25 (19)||21 (18)||17 (14)|
|mads (verb)||1 (1)||0 (0)||0 (0)||1 (1)|
|madly||0 (0)||2 (2)||0 (0)||0 (0)|
|madma(e)n||7 (7)||2 (2)||0 (0)||4 (4)|
|madness||6 (5)||2 (2)||22 (18)||4 (4)|
|sub-total||36 (34)||31 (25)||43 (36)||26 (23)|
|distract-||4 (4)||2 (2)||6 (6)||1 (1)|
|total||40 (38)||33 (27)||49 (42)||27 (24)|
What to make of that?
The play King Lear asks some very interesting questions in regards to madness: What is madness? What does it mean to be mad? But reading the play forces us today to ask if what we consider to be madness is what is meant by Shakespeare and his characters when they use the term.
[WARNING: The the first half of the following podcast contains adult language, sexual imagery, and stuff to make you say, “Man, that’s a dirty play.” You HAVE been warned. SKIP TO THE 10:10 MARK IF EASILY OFFENDED.]
This week’s podcast continues our three month-long discussion of King Lear with a look at bawdy in the play, then in in the second half we’ll talk about nothing.
Today, just a couple of quick King Lear questions (with only tentative answers)…
In the opening scene, before it all heads downhill, there are two suitors for Cordelia, the princes of France and Burgundy…
The last week or so, I’ve been playing around with the concordance (a reference material that counts and chronicles every use of particular word within a collection of works. For use in this blog, I like to use the one over at OpenSource Shakespeare.). So far, we’ve looked at nature and nothing. And today I want to look at what many see as primary motif in King Lear: vision and eyesight.
I checked out the usages of the following eyesight-related terms (and their variants): eye, see, watch, behold, spy, vision, and blind. And King Lear is the winner. In Lear, those phrases are used in 142 speeches. By comparison, our second and third place plays (The Winter’s Tale and Hamlet) are nearly tied with 140 and 139 speech appearances, respectively. That’s not exactly a landslide.