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The Reinvention of King Lear

The Reinvention of King Lear

On any given night within the global theatre community, chances are good that somewhere upon a stage there is at least one production of a Shakespearean play being performed, and whether it is Hamlet set in Nazi Germany (Eine Klein Hamlet) or The Tempest reworked as children’s theatre (The Island of Anyplace), this production is, more often than not, a new interpretation of the ancient text. While the average audience member may never have heard of modern masters like Albee, Beckett, or Chekov, no matter their station in life or how far away that we get from the Elizabethan era, they have heard of William Shakespeare. Moreover, there are theatre practitioners who dedicate the entirety of their careers to the performing or directing of his plays. Still others make their careers out of teaching or writing about the famed playwright. All of this, of course, is common knowledge. Some consider Shakespeare to be the gauge by which all other theatre is measured. We know this, and I will by no means be labeled as a visionary for making such a statement. It is obvious, but because of this sheer epidemic fanaticism, Shakespeare’s plays have been, and are, a key center of invention and debate since the poet himself penned the plays in the seventeenth century.

Perhaps of all of Shakespeare’s master works The Tragedy of King Lear has received the most scholarly debate and bold interpretation, often to the point of complete reinvention, throughout theatrical history. The tragedy was first performed in 1605 or at the end of 1606 depending on who is speaking. The earliest printed version of the play appears in the celebrated First Quarto of 1608. This account stands in direct conflict wi…

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…d. Although, admittedly, it is doubtful that they will ever fully be answered.

Works Cited and Consulted

Artaud, Antonin. The Theatre and Its Double. Grove Press Inc. New York. 1958

Billington, Michael. Gielgud: His Greatest Triumphs. “The Age.” May 24, 2000.

Brook, Peter. The Empty Space. 1st Touchstone edition. Simon and Schuster Inc. 1996.

Noguchi, Isamu. Isamu Noguchi On the Dance. “Texts by Isamu Noguchi.”

Partee, Dr. Morriss Henry. Shakespeare Improved. University of Utah English Dept.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of King Lear. Jay L. Halio. Ed. The New Cambridge Shakespeare. Cambridge University Press. New York. 1992.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of King Lear. “Folio of 1623.” Internet Shakespeare Editions.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of King Lear. “Quarto of 1608.” Internet Shakespeare Editions.

traglear The Tragic Truth of King Lear

The Tragic Truth of King Lear

King Lear is another story of a soul in torment, a “purgatorial” story. Again the tragic writer has internalized a commonplace action, the facts of which were legendary and presumably known to Shakespeare’s audience. Like the Poet of Job, who dramatized the tragic alternatives to the folk story, and like Marlowe, who saw the elements of tragic dilemma in the story of Faustus, Shakespeare transformed the tale of the mythical, pre-Christian King Lear (“who ruled over the Britons in the year of the world 3105, at what time Joas ruled in Judah”) into a dramatic action whose shape and quality define Christian tragedy in its full development. This is not to say (as it should now be clear) that the play accords with Christian doctrine — certainly not the Christian view of death and salvation, although the values of the Christian ethics are abundantly illustrated. Nor does the term “Christian tragedy” make a statement about the author’s faith or lack of it. It suggests the meeting in a single dramatic action of the non-Christian (Greek, pagan, or humanist) with the Christian to produce a world of multiplied alternatives, terrible in its inconclusiveness — as, for instance, the “terrifying ambiguity” with which Faustus confronts us — in which the certainties of revealed Christianity lose the substance of faith and become only tantalizing possibilities hovering about but not defining the action, like Horatio’s “flights of angels” or the “holy water” of Cordelia’s tears. Marlowe followed out the old story, even to the devils carrying off Faustus amidst thunder; but his actual Hell is humanist (“Where we are is hell,” said Mephistophilis) and, like the Heaven Faustus reached for in the end, functions in the play less as an objective Christian belief than as a way of dramatizing inner reality. The one absolute reality that Faustus discovered, and the absolute reality all tragedy affirms and to which Christian tragedy gives new emphasis and infinite dimension, was the reality of what Christianity calls the soul — that part of man, or element of his nature, which transcends time and space, which may have an immortal habitation, and which is at once the seat and the cause of his greatest struggle and greatest anxiety. Compared with Faustus, King Lear shows this situation in a much vaster ramification, until it seems to touch the highest (“the gods that keep the dreadful pudder o’er our heads”) and the lowliest, and is finally caught up in a Greeklike fate that carries the action to a swift and terrible conclusion.

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