Monday, September 1, 2008

King Lear by Shakespeare

After my success with Much Ado About Nothing, I dug out my CDs of King Lear  (purchased years ago) and decided to give them a try. In spite of the stellar cast (Judi Dench, Emma Thompson, Kenneth Brannagh, etc.) I was floundering to understand the story. It was confusing to try to discern each speaker just by their voice. So I checked out the book from the library and gave it another try. After all, WORLD magazine in its 2003 summer issue named it one of the top 5 masterpieces of Western literature. A quote from their review:

This play is probably the bard´s most moving and most profound. What is left when your country comes apart, when your family comes apart through your own fault, when you lose your very mind? Only self-sacrificial love.

I liked the play much better the second time through, but I still found it unusually difficult trying to remember which sister was which and which man was her husband. Who was really insane and who was just pretending? The illegitimate son and the legal son had similar names (Edgar and Edmund) and I had to keep reminding myself who was the good guy and who was the bad one. The only thing that kept me going was the World review AND the juicy quotes that I kept scribbling onto my bookmark. Truthfully, I was a little overwhelmed with the tragic ending.

Some favorite quotes: When Albany tells Goneril to stop being so cruel and conniving he tells her to "be-monster not thy features". (!) Cordelia kisses her crazed father and asks "Restoration to hang its medicine on her lips." Albany´s quote in Act 5, scene 4 has been my theme for the week: Our present business is general woe! Of course, my friends and relatives aren´t dying all over the place so I should be grateful. The best line of all comes in Act 4, scene 1. "The worst is not, so long as we can say, This is the worst!"

The word lover in me came away from the play somewhat confused, yet at the same time deeply satisfied. Now I think I´ll give the CDs another listen. Of course, the very best thing to do would be to SEE the play!


Anonymous said...

I've never read the play, but long before seeing it for the first time, a discussion in a literary criticism class opened it up for me and helped me really glean a lot from it when I did see it.

The professor was discussing objectionable elements in literature, and in the discussion about violence, he pointed out that some violent scenes are justified. He mentioned (if I am remembering correctly) that in King Lear is one of the most violent scenes in stage history when the earl of Gloucester's eyes are gouged out, but that scene is justified in a literary sense by the fact that he had used his eyes for lustful purposes. Then I don't remember if he said this or if I deduced it later, but Lear's insanity at the end was "poetic justice" for using his mind wrongly in seeking flattery from his daughters at the beginning.

I've forgotten so much of it, I'd love to see it again. I can't imagine keeping everyone straight when listening to it, though if I made a list of characters beforehand that might help. But I found it a stirring play.

Anonymous said...

I've found reading Shakespeare is like building mental muscle--the more I do it, the easier it gets. Lear is one of his toughest tragedies, and I read it for a class, where it helped to do it in small installments. I've also found that a quick second read of the play helps me to sort things out, sometimes.