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King Lear (Signet Classic Shakespeare) by…

King Lear (Signet Classic Shakespeare) (edition 1999)

by William Shakespeare

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Title:King Lear (Signet Classic Shakespeare)
Authors:William Shakespeare
Info:Rebound by Sagebrush (1999), School & Library Binding, 275 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Drama, Literature, Classics,

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King Lear by William Shakespeare

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William Shakespeare

King Lear

Penguin Popular Classics, Paperback [1994].

12mo. 160 pp. Edited by G. B. Harrison. Introduction to the play and two essays about Shakespeare and the Elizabethan theatre [pp. 7-20]. The Works of Shakespeare [p. 6]. Notes [pp. 138-55]. Glossary [pp. 156-60].

Written, c. 1606.
Q1, 1608.
Q2, 1619 [misdated "1608" on the title page].
F1, 1623.
Edited by G. B. Harrison, 1937.
Revised, 1949.
Penguin Popular Classics, 1994.


The Works of Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
The Elizabethan Theatre
The Tragedy of King Lear (Introduction)

The Tragedy of King Lear
Act I, Scenes 1-5
Act II, Scenes 1-2
Act III, Scenes 1-7
Act IV, Scenes 1-7
Act V, Scenes 1-3



We wish that we could pass this play over, and say nothing about it. All that we can say must fall far short of the subject; or even of what we ourselves conceive of it. To attempt to give a description of the play itself or of its effect upon the mind, is mere impertinence: yet we must say something.

So begins William Hazlitt the chapter on King Lear from his unjustly forgotten study Characters of Shakespear’s Plays (1817). There is, indeed, not much to say about this play. You have to read and see it for yourself. It’s a very personal experience. I have little to add to what I have already said, and that little is mostly about the editorial work in this edition, but for what it’s worth here it is.

The fulsome praise King Lear has received for centuries is nothing short of astonishing. Hazlitt flatly called it “the best of all Shakespeare’s plays, for it is the one in which he was the most in earnest.” Charles Lamb, whom Hazlitt quotes at length, famously deemed the play too sublime for the stage. G. B. Harrison, a severe Shakespearean critic, considered King Lear one of the only two plays by the Bard (the other one being Othello) that may be considered “deep tragedies”. Indeed, he went as far as to call it “the finest specimen of deep tragedy in English drama, and, for that very reason, not one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays.” (Interesting remark!) Harold Goddard, a Bardolator par excellence, almost choked with exaltation: “the culmination of Shakespeare, “the darkest document in the supreme poetry of the world”, etc. Ironically enough, this adulation started in 1681 with Nahum Tate’s travesty, happy ending and all. There is no evidence that King Lear made much of an impact for most of the seventeenth century.[1]

King Lear used to be my least favourite among Will’s Big Five tragedies (the conventional Big Four plus Antony and Cleopatra), but after this re-reading I am not so sure anymore. Certainly, this is a difficult play. The language is intellectually challenging; G. B. H. calls it “the most difficult and concentrated of all Shakespeare’s plays”[2]. The plot is complex and not always easy to follow, with plenty of scenes and a large cast of characters (at least seven major ones). The whole thing is emotionally exhausting with its relentless probing into family, human nature and metaphysics. The scenes with Lear – the banishing of Cordelia (I.1.) and the reunion with her (IV.7.), the curse on Goneril (I.4.), the storm (III.2., III.4.), the meeting with the blind Gloucester (IV.6.) and his death (V.3.) – range from intense to shattering. There is virtually no comic relief: the Fool’s riddles and Lear’s madness are the closest to it, and that’s still pretty far. The Gloucester-Edmund-Edgar subplot is hardly less dramatic, harrowing or even tragic.

King Lear, it seems to me, is unique among Shakespeare’s tragic heroes for at least two reasons. First of all, he is completely alone on the way of his tragic downfall. Yes, I know he has Kent, the Fool and finally Cordelia. That’s not what I mean. Lear has nobody to precipitate his degradation. Macbeth has his Lady, Antony has Cleopatra, Othello has Iago. Hamlet is alone, but he at least feels the pressure of circumstances beyond his control (the murder of his father, the hasty marriage of his mother to the murderer). Lear has nothing but himself to blame. And old age, perhaps. I say “perhaps” because if Goneril and Regan are to be believed – in the end of the first scene (I.1.) when they are alone and have no reason to be hypocritical – old age has only aggravated a “long-ingraffed condition” of rash temper and slender self-knowledge:

Goneril: You see how full of changes his age is, the observation we have made of it hath not been little; he always lov’d our sister most, and with what poor judgement he hath cast her off, appears too grossly.
Regan: ‘Tis the infirmity of his age, yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.
Goneril: The best and soundest of his time hath been but rash, then must we look from his age, to receive not alone the imperfections of long-ingraffed condition, but therewithal with the unruly waywardness, that infirm and choleric years bring with them.

Second and perhaps more important, Lear is the only Shakespearean tragic hero who is put at a great disadvantage to win the reader’s sympathy. All of them are flawed creatures. They must be, or there would be no tragedy. Othello’s gullibility, Hamlet’s vacillation and Antony’s dotage can be quite exasperating. Yet none of them makes such a nuisance of himself for two full acts as Lear does. He is insufferable. The way he treats Cordelia and Goneril is beyond the pale. He banishes the former dowerless (“thy truth then be thy dower”) and he curses the latter with sterility (“Dry up in her the organs of increase”). And why? Because Cordelia refuses to participate in a preposterous charade and Goneril refuses to endure his profligate knights. Lear’s treatment of Kent is even more unforgivable. Gloucester is rightly baffled (I.2.): “and the noble and true-hearted Kent banish’d; his offence, honesty. ‘Tis strange.” Less important but still relevant to Lear’s downfall is his decision to abdicate but retain a retinue of hundred knights and live alternatively with his daughters. This, like so much else, is made clear in the tremendous opening scene by Lear himself:

Know, that we have divided
In three our Kingdom: and ‘tis our fast intent,
To shake all care and business from our age,
Conferring them on younger strengths, while we
Unburthen’d crawl toward death.


Ourself by monthly course,
With reservation of an hundred knights,
By you to be sustain’d, shall our abode
Make with you by due turn, only we shall retain
The name, and all th’ addition to a King:
The sway, revenue, execution of the rest,
Beloved sons be yours, which to confirm,
This coronet part between you.

It is interesting to note that the second part comes after the confrontation with Cordelia. But we mustn’t make too much of this. Lear’s foolishness and vanity are his tragic flaws in the first place anyway. Actors or productions who present Lear as mad, or senile, from the beginning are guilty of huge dramatic error. Lear is the entire cause of his own undoing; old age may have aggravated his faults, but it didn’t create them. Thus he is in striking contrast to Gloucester whose downfall is carefully prepared by Edmund. For my part, this is the main reason why Shakespeare went to so much trouble with this subplot. The similarities are so obvious (two sons, three daughters; blindness, madness; redemption and death in both cases) that they hardly need be pointed out. The only difference – but what a difference! – is that Gloucester’s gullibility is compounded by Edmund’s treachery.

Four centuries later, there is curious ambiguity about Gloucester. What are his tragic flaws, that he fathered a bastard or that he loved him as much as the legitimate Edgar? We all like to believe that Shakespeare was an enlightened humanist way ahead of his time, but the truth is that we haven’t the least idea about Shakespeare’s character. It might be that he was very much a man of his own time, but we are apt to judge by the standards of our own, and vastly different, times and thus misrepresent him. Most likely, the truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle.

(The same thing, by the way, applies to the famous astrological soliloquy (I.2.) of Edmund, Shakespeare’s second smartest and most charismatic villain. From a modern point of view, Edmund’s rational disbelief in idiotic superstitions is highly commendable. But it might be that Shakespeare put these words in his mouth solely to make him more disagreeable to his highly superstitious audience. Did he play to the gallery? Did he share Edmund’s contempt for astrology? We’ll never know.)

Gloucester seldom receives much attention, but he is more than a blurred mirror of Lear. Even if we assume that he is not entirely altruistic when he goes out in the storm to search for the King and lead him to shelter (III.4.), this very scene contains one touching moment that reflects very well on Gloucester as a human being. This is before his eyes are plucked out (III.7.) and he learns (from Regan) that it was Edmund, not Edgar, who plotted against him. Gloucester seems to have suspected this, if only subconsciously, for he blurts out to Kent three scenes earlier:

Thou say’st the King grows mad, I’ll tell thee friend,
I am almost mad myself. I had a son,
Now outlaw’d from my blood: he sought my life,
But lately: very late: I lov’d him, friend,
No father his son dearer: truth to tell thee,
The grief hath craz’d my wits. What a night’s this?

Gloucester, like pretty much everyone else in this play (with the possible exception of Kent and Cordelia), is not a static character. Even Edmund is granted “some good [...] / Despite my own nature” in the end (V.3.). Regan and Goneril begin as hypocritical and scheming sisters, but they are also close friends ready to support each other. In the end, they are seducers, murderers, grasping harpies and, above all, bitter enemies.

Lear’s personal odyssey is naturally much the most spectacular. It is a fascinating issue that every reader must decide for his- or herself at which point, if there is a precise point, Lear is transformed from a “stupid old fart”, as Laurence Olivier aptly called him, into a tragic symbol worthy of our compassion. I should think this happens gradually during his madness in Acts III and IV, when he sees his ungrateful daughters everywhere, in the storm, in Poor Tom, in the blind Gloucester, and realises that your own blood can reduce you to a brute beast better than anybody else. “I am a man / More sinn’d against, than sinning”, he cries in the storm (III.2.) and sums up his predicament with insightful lucidity than only madness can bring.

There are some early signs, though, that Lear is an essentially good man corrupted by pride and ego. “I did her wrong” he mutters, out of the blue, during one early (I.5.) chat with the Fool. It’s not clear whom he means, the banished Cordelia or the cursed Goneril, but it’s one them for sure, more probably the former. The devotion of Kent, who stakes his life in the opening scene by defending Cordelia and calling the King “mad” and “old man” (unbelievable breach of etiquette!), is another early proof that there must be more to Lear than silly thirst for flattery and raging temper.

G. B. Harrison’s editorial work is typically sparse but of the highest quality. Ideally, his introduction and notes here should be read together with his chapter in Shakespeare’s Tragedies (1951). There is some repetition, of course, but a good deal of the material is unique. For instance, the dark and depressing Zeitgeist which must have influenced Shakespeare, what with the death of Elizabeth I (1603), the great Gunpowder Plot (1605) and various plague outbreaks and celestial sightings, can be found only in the book-length study. But the editorial stuff in this Penguin Popular Classics edition is still rich in content and written with the witty brevity typical of G. B. H.

The introduction deals mostly with dating, sources and textual matters. Documentary evidence from 26 November 1607 (Register of Stationers’ Company) tells us that the play was acted during the Christmas holidays of 1606. Internal evidence (Gloucester’s “these late eclipses in the sun and moon” in I.2.) suggests it was recently written, probably in the spring and summer of the same year. The story of King Lear (or Leir) was a well-known fable from the old “chronicles” and a stage version of it had been acted in 1594. This play (or another one, who knows?) was published in 1605 as True Chronicle History of King Leir and his three daughters, Gonorill, Ragan and Cordella and possibly gave Shakespeare the idea of his own version. But that was it. Will “took very little from the old play, which bears as little resemblance as can be to his tragedy, except for the one incident of Lear kneeling for Cordelia’s forgiveness, and even this the author of King Leir made unintentionally comic.” Mr Harrison quotes part of this great rarity, and it is worth reproducing here:

Leir: ...show a loving daughter’s part,
It comes of God and her, not my desert.

Cor: No doubt she will, I dare be sworn she will.
Leir: How know you that, not knowing what she is?
Cor: My self a father have a great way hence
Used me as ill as ever you did her;
Yet, that his reverend age I once might see,
I’ld creep along, to meet him on my knee.

Leir: O, no men’s children are unkind but mine.
Cor: Condemn not all, because of others’ crime:
But look, dear father, look, behold and see
Thy loving daughter speaketh unto thee.
She kneels.
Leir: O, stand thou up, it is my part to kneel,
And ask forgiveness for my former faults.
He kneels.
Cor: O, if you wish I should enjoy my breath,
Dear father, rise, or I receive my death.
He riseth.
Leir: Then I will rise, to satisfy your mind,
But kneel again, till pardon be resigned.
He kneels.
Cor: I pardon you: the word beseems not me:
But I do say so, for to ease your knee.
You gave me life, you were the cause that I
Am what I am, who else had never been.

Leir: But you gave life to me and to my friend
Whose days had else, had an untimely end.

G. B. H. adds ironically: “They continue this kneeling competition for another forty lines.” Simply compare this prolix and melodramatic version with Shakespeare’s “reworking” and you will know, as in the case of all such comparisons (e.g. Brooke’s turgid verse in Romeus and Juliet), why the Bard has eclipsed his contemporaries completely for the last four centuries. It’s easy to find the text online, but it’s short enough to be quoted here complete (IV.7.):

Cordelia: How does my royal Lord? How fares your Majesty?
Lear: You do me wrong to take me out o’ th’ grave:
Thou art a soul in bliss, but I am bound
Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears
Do scald, like molten lead.

Cordelia: Sir, do you know me?
Lear: You are a spirit I know, where did you die?
Cordelia: Still, still, far wide.
Doctor: He’s scarce awake, let him alone awhile.
Lear: Where have I been? Where am I? Fair daylight?
I am mightily abus’d; I should e’en die with pity
To see another thus. I know not what to say:
I will not swear these are my hands: let’s see;
I feel this pin prick, would I were assur’d

Of my condition.
Cordelia: O look upon me, sir,
And hold your hands in benediction o’er me:
You must not kneel.

Lear: Pray do not mock me:
I am a very foolish fond old man,
Fourscore and upward, not an hour more, nor less:
And to deal plainly,
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
Methinks I should know you, and know this man;
Yet I am doubtful: for I am mainly ignorant
What place this is: and all the skill I have
Remembers not these garments: nor I know not
Where I did lodge last night. Do not laugh at me,
For, as I am a man, I think this Lady
To be my child Cordelia.

Cordelia: And so I am: I am.
Lear: Be your tears wet? yes ‘faith: I pray weep not;
If you have poison for me, I will drink it:
I know you do not love me, for your sisters
Have, as I do remember, done me wrong.
You have some cause, they have not.

Cordelia: No cause, no cause.
Lear: Am I in France?
Kent: In your own kingdom sir.
Lear: Do not abuse me.

Moving simplicity doesn’t get any better than that. But the point to appreciate here is Shakespeare’s craftsmanship as a dramatist. He transformed the whole story of Lear as he did the reunion with Cordelia. It was his idea, for instance, to introduce the Gloucester subplot, though he may have got the idea from Philip Sidney’s Arcadia. The plot of King Lear is, admittedly, too complicated for the page, let alone the stage. But though you can complain about murkiness on the action-packed surface, everything in the great depths is crystal clear.

Textually speaking, G. B. H. follows the First Folio more closely than is usual today, including the awkward punctuation which he considers dramatically relevant. He dismisses the Quarto (it’s one, reprinted twice) as “very badly printed”, but he does include those 300 lines or so from it that are missing from the First Folio. These are nicely enclosed in square brackets, so you can see they are relatively inessential – except one short scene (IV.3.) which is important for the plot. The Folio text, though obviously based on the Quarto, is thoroughly revised and corrected. Whether this revision was done by Shakespeare and his colleagues, we cannot know. But G. B. H. is probably right to prefer this version as the one closest to what was acted by the King’s Men.

The endnotes are rather less extensive than in most modern editions, but they do repay careful study. G. B. Harrison’s awesome erudition can always be relied on to surprise with a perceptive observation about the plot, the characters, the language or the historical background. Transitions from verse to prose, for instance, which usually indicate a change of mood. Consider Edmund’s soliloquies from Act II. The first, on “bastardy”, is in verse, and its passionate anger is a very effective foil for the mocking vein of the second (on “contemporary credulity”, as G. B. H. puts it). Another telling example occurs in the very end of the first scene (I.1.) when Regan and Goneril, as quoted above, suddenly switch to prose to discuss their father’s retirement with “cynical frankness”.

G. B. H. does expect you to know the basics of Shakespearean English, but he is generous with his explanations of the rest – most of the play, that is. Occasionally, when a phrase (probably a topical joke lost forever) cannot be explained, he honestly admits defeat. But for the most he deals with the elaborate and cryptic language with his customary authority. Both the main text and the notes are worth any amount of time and effort you care to spend on them. To take but a single example, Lear’s “set my rest / On her [Cordelia’s] kind nursery” (I.1.) is a poignant phrase, but it does become something more when you know that “set my rest”, in addition to its obvious meaning, was also a term in the card game primero which meant “to stake all”. Some of Mr Harrison’s interpretations are rather personal and probably controversial. For instance, Kent’s remark “None of these rogues and cowards / But Ajax is their fool” (II.2.) is explained as a crowning insult that’s supposed to mean a “stinking braggart”. The explanation is rather convoluted, but it does explain Cornwall’s rage and his immediate order Kent to be put in the stocks.

Unlike some editors, G. B. H. is relatively restrained interpretation-wise. But the little he does say is worth considering, and often beautifully written. The obsession with nature and nothing, quite obvious yet curiously seldom discussed, is described “as a kind of knell which tolls insistently throughout the play.” This is quite true. The word “nothing” is used 34 times; “nature” tops that with 41. This cannot be incidental. Nor can it be a coincidence that both fathers begin their tragic journeys of self-discovery with the word “nothing”, nor that in both cases it is obsessively repeated (I.1., I.2.):

Lear: Now our Joy,
Although our last and least; to whose young love,
The vines of France, and milk of Burgundy,
Strive to be interess’d. What can you say, to draw
A third, more opulent than your sisters? Speak.

Cordelia: Nothing my lord.
Lear: Nothing?
Cordelia: Nothing.
Lear: Nothing will come of nothing, speak again.

Gloucester: What paper were you reading?
Edmund: Nothing my Lord.
Gloucester: No? What needed then that terrible dispatch of it into your pocket? the quality of nothing, hath not such need to hide itself. Let’s see: come, if it be nothing, I shall not need spectacles.

Lear’s famous line “Nothing will come of nothing” is one of the supreme dramatic ironies in Shakespeare. For everything, of course, comes from Cordelia’s “nothing”. A little later (I.4.), Lear himself is reduced to nothing, perhaps a necessary condition to become something greater than before. “Thou hast pared thy wit o’ both sides and left nothing i’ th’ middle.” So observes, brutally yet truthfully, the Fool; and then adds, meaning Goneril: “Here comes one o’ the parings.” When Edgar decides to become Poor Tom (II.3.), he also says “Edgar I nothing am.” The significant difference, of course, is that Edgar’s nothingness, like Hamlet’s “antic disposition”, is deliberate and superficial. Lear’s is forced upon him, deep and cathartic.

Nature is more ambiguous and more difficult to interpret. Again, however, it cannot be a coincidence that both Edmund (I.2.) and Lear (I.4.) call on Nature as their goddess, the first to justify his “bastardy”, the second to lay his terrifying curse on Goneril. There is little difference between them at this moment. Edmund is the quintessential “natural man”, not because he is a bastard (i.e. “natural child”), but because he is a man of animal ruthlessness, egotism and lack of empathy. But so, before his healing madness, is Lear. It was a brilliant idea of Shakespeare’s to level thus the “hero” and the “villain” before Nature. The passages are some of the highlights of the play and very much worth quoting. See what you can make of them:

Thou Nature art my goddess, to thy Law
My services are bound, wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of Nations to deprive me?
For that I am some twelve, or fourteen moonshines
Lag of a brother? Why bastard? Wherefore base?
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous, and my shape as true,
As honest madam’s issue? Why brand they us
With base? With baseness bastardy? Base, base?
Who in the lusty stealth of Nature, take
More composition, and fierce quality,
Than doth within a dull stale tired bed
Go to th’ creating a whole tribe of fops
Got ‘tween a sleep, and wake? Well then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land;
Our father’s love, is to the bastard Edmund,
As to th’ legitimate: fine word: legitimate.
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top th’ legitimate: I grow; I prosper:
Now Gods, stand up for bastards.

Hear Nature, hear dear Goddess, hear:
Suspend thy purpose, if thou didst intend
To make this creature fruitful:
Into her womb convey sterility,
Dry up in her the organs of increase,
And from her derogate body never spring
A babe to honour her. If she must teem,
Create her child of spleen, that it may live
And be a thwart disnatur'd torment to her.
Let it stamp wrinkles in her brow of youth,
With cadent tears fret channels in her cheeks,
Turn all her mother’s pains and benefits
To laughter, and contempt: that she may feel
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child.

One of the minor pleasures of re-reading is noticing a wealth of minor details. Some of them prove to be the cause of rather major reshaping of the always shifting, never static, dynamic relationships between the characters. This time, for instance, I found Albany’s change of heart less unconvincing than before. From his very first appearance (I.4.), it is clear he is better disposed towards the King than his vicious wife. More importantly, there is a marked tension between him and Goneril. In other words, his change of heart has started before the beginning of the play, and we see only its end.

I was even more surprised to note, very much thanks to G. B. H., that it is Edmund who first pretends to be a madman. At the first meeting with his brother (I.2.), who “comes like the catastrophe of the old comedy”, Edmund quickly decides that “my cue is villainous melancholy, with a sigh of Tom O’ Bedlam.” What a masterstroke of Shakespearean irony! Later, it was Edgar’s impersonation of the same “character” that kept him alive until he finally took Edmund’s life. It’s worth adding that Poor Tom is at once a plausible and a safe disguise. Those begging lunatics, let out from the Bedlam (Bethlehem) Madhouse, were “one of the terrors of the countryside”, G. B. H. tells us. One easily believes that when reading Edgar’s description (II.2.):

Of Bedlam beggars, who with roaring voices,
Strike in their numb’d and mortified arms
Pins, wooden-pricks, nails, sprigs of rosemary:
And with this horrible object, from low farms,
Poor pelting villages, sheep-cotes, and mills,
Sometime with lunatic bans, sometime with prayers,
Enforce their charity.

Much as I admire G. B. H., of course I don’t always agree with him. That is part of the fun. It’s usually more productive, too. I don’t think, for instance, that Cordelia suffers from “paralysis of will”, an essential inability to express her deep feelings in public. Well, after the fateful “Nothing, my lord”, she has no trouble to explain her position. I should think Cordelia suffers from nothing more – and nothing less – than incurable honesty. “So young, my lord, and true.” Nor do I think the fool is “but a half-wit”. Quite the opposite, he is one of the sanest and smartest people on the stage. G. B. H. even claims that the “well meaning but perpetual fretting by the fool is partly a cause of Lear’s madness”. Again, I would say exactly the opposite. The Fool is the last anchor of Lear’s sanity. He even attempts to cure Lear’s folly, but of course his jibes are not enough. The King must pass through “the wheel of fire”.

G. B. H. once said that “the lesson, motive and motto of Lear” is contained in Gloucester’s famous words (IV.1.): “As flies to wanton boys, are to th’ Gods, / They kill us for their sport.”[3] I do not think so. I think Lear’s equally famous “Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard-hearts?” (III.6.) is a better choice. We now know there is, as did Lear (unconsciously) four and a half centuries before genetics, but we are still very much at sea how hard hearts are born and how much they become hardened later. We can share Lear’s perplexity, as well as Edgar’s final words:

The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say:
The oldest hath borne most, we that are young,
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

[1] For a brief history of reception and an amusing summary of Tate’s version, see the introduction to the play by G. K. Hunter in Four Tragedies, Penguin Classics, 1994, pp. 549-51.
[2] Shakespeare’s Tragedies [1951], Routledge, 1966, p. 163.
[3] Ibid., p. 159. ( )
  Waldstein | Sep 15, 2017 |
One of Shakespeare's best, the story of a has-been King slowly sinking into madness, driving away those loyal to and loved by him and trusting himself with his treacherous daughters. A side story of brother rivalry and betrayal brings everything full circle - classic of a Shakespeare tragedy, nearly everyone dies (or is insinuated as to be passing soon) at the end. ( )
  J9Plourde | Jun 13, 2017 |
This is especially devastating because (sorry, Aristotle's Poetics, but indeed because) it departs from the conventions of good Greek tragedy. Nobody's led astray slickly by their tragic flaw;* Lear's ennobled by suffering perhaps but at the start he's no philosopher king (as I'd envisioned) but a belching, beer can crushing Dark Ages thug lord who definitely brings it on himself, but not in any exquisite "his virtue was his fall" way. Cordelia is, not an ungrateful, but an ungracious child whose tongue is a fat slab of ham and who can't even manage the basic level of social graces to not spark a family feud that leaves everyone killed (surely a low bar!!). Goneril and Regan are straight-up venial malice, Shakespeare's Pardoner and Summoner; Edmund, obviously, charismatic, but a baaaad man; and the default good guys, the ones with the chance to win the day and transform this blood-filled torture show into two hours' pleasing traffic of the stage, obviously fumble it bigly (Albany, unbrave and too subtle; Kent, brave and too unsubtle; Gloucester, a spineless joke; and what is Edgar doing out in that wilderness when he should be teaming up with Cordelia and Kent to plan an invasion that's a MacArthuresque comeback and not a disaster, to go down as the plucky band of good friends who renewed the social compact with their steel and founded a second Camelot, a new England). They're not all monsters, and there are frequent glimmers of greatness, but they fuck it all up; in other words, they're us.

And then Lear's madness has much too much of, like, an MRA drum circle meeting, with the Fool and Kent and Edgar/John o'Bedlam (that's a name, that) farting around the wastes going "Fuckin' bitches, can't live with em, can't smack em one like they deserve" (though of course this is a Shakespearean tragedy, so everyone pretty much gonna get smacked one sooner or later). Not tragic flaws, in other words, but just flaws, with only glimmers of the good, and all the more devastating for that because all the more real. It's haaard to keep it together for a whole lifetime and not degenerate into a sad caricature of you at your best, or you as you could have been, and I wonder how many families start out full of love and functional relations and wind up kind of hating each other in a low key way just because of the accretion of mental abrasions plus the occasional big wound and because life is long.

This seems like a family that just got tired of not hating each other, standing in for a social order that's gotten tired of basically working from day to day, and everyone's just itching to flip the table and ruin Thanksgiving. I have little faith, post-play, that Edgar or Albany in charge will salvage the day--historically, of course, their analogues did not--and it's gonna be a long hard road to a fresh start (we don't of course try to find one such in the actual history--I mean, 1066?--pretty sure fresh starts don't happen in actual history--but I trust the general point is clear). This seems like the most plausible/least arbitrary of Shakespeare's tragedies, I am saying here, and thus also the most desolate, and one with lessons for any family (cf., say, Hamlet, with its very important lessons for families where the mother kills the dad and marries his brother and the dad's ghost comes back to tell the son to kill his uncle, a niche market to say the least), and one that I'll revisit again and again.

*Side note, my friend Dan calls me "My favourite Hamartian," and I'm recording that here because we may grow apart and I may forget that but I never want to forget really and so, hope to find it here once more ( )
2 vote MeditationesMartini | Jan 8, 2017 |
Even with a convoluted plot, Shakespeare can't really do any wrong. Following the folly and descent into madness of the titular King after he divides his kingdom between his daughters, King Lear is fascinating even if you don't always follow it minutely. The anguish and rage of Lear is compelling, and witnessing him turned upon by those he has favoured makes this one of Shakespeare's most unrelentingly dark plays. Cordelia has a hard-nosed grace, and her two sisters scheme all too realistically.

The rest of the characters became rather muddled in my mind: I lost touch of who of Edmund or Edgar I should be rooting for, and don't think I ever saw much difference between the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall, or the various retinues. Because of this muddle in my mind, a lot of the subplot with Gloucester was lost on me. This is one of those instances where Shakespeare's archaic prose helps to derail the reader rather than excite him.

That said, amidst the tangled strands of plot there are some great scenes charged with pure emotion. When a common servant draws his sword to try and prevent his master gouging out his rival's eyes, simply because he finds it abhorrent, we are there with him. We are chilled when we listen to Lear's eloquent promises of vengeance, and are swept along with his mad anguished ravings of loss at the end. (According to the introduction of my Wordsworth Classics edition, Samuel Johnson found the ending of the play so tragic he was reluctant to read it (pg. 16).) Even though it is hard to follow, you still finish King Lear with the feeling that you've read something astonishing. ( )
1 vote MikeFutcher | Dec 28, 2016 |
Psycho women, eyes gouged out, and crazy people. I obviously loved this. ( )
  Sareene | Oct 22, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shakespeare, Williamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Shakespeare, Williammain authorall editionsconfirmed
Baudissin, Wolf Heinrich GrafTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brissaud, PierreIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brooke, C. F. TuckerEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Buck, Philo M.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eccles, MarkEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foakes, R. A.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Günther, FrankTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hallqvist, Britt G.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Ridley, M. R.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rolfe, William J.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Werstine, PaulEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wieland, Christoph MartinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wolfit, DonaldIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wright, Louis B.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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I thought the king had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall.
Although the last, not least.
Nothing will come of nothing.
How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is

To have a thankless child!
Oh, that way madness lies; let me shun that.
The worst is not

So long as we can say, "This is the worst."
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This entry is for the COMPLETE "King Lear" only. Do not combine it with abridgements, simplified adaptations or modernizations, Cliffs Notes or similar, or videorecordings of performances, and please separate any that are here.

It should go without saying that this work should also not be combined with any other plays or combinations of plays, or any of its many adaptations (audio, video, reworking, etc.).
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Hinn aldurhnigni konungur Lér hefur ákveðið að skipta konungsríki sínu á milli dætra sinna þriggja, og skal hlutur hverrar dóttur fara eftir því hvað ást hennar á honum er mikil. En hvað vottar skýrast um ást barna til foreldra? Auðsveipni og fagurgali eldri systranna tveggja eða sjálfstæði og hreinskilni Kordelíu þeirrar yngstu? Æfur af reiði yfir því sem Lér telur skort á ást, afneitar hann Kordelíu og skiptir ríkinu í tvennt á milli eldri systranna. Í hönd fara tímar grimmúðlegrar valdabaráttu, svikráða og upplausnar og það líður ekki á löngu þar til eldri systurnar hafa hrakið föður sinn á burt.Meistaraverk Shakespeares veitir einstaka innsýn í heim hinna valdaþyrstu, blekkingar þeirra og klæki. Tímalaust listaverk fullt af visku um átök kynslóðanna, drambið, blinduna, brjálsemina og það að missa allt. Lér konungur er kynngimagnað og stórbrotið leikrit, einn frægasti harmleikur  Shakespeares. Verkið á erindi við fólk á öllum tímum og er sviðsett í leikhúsum um víða veröld á ári hverju.Hér er á ferð ný þýðing Þórarins Eldjárns á þessu sígilda meistaraverki sem gerð er í tilefni af uppsetningu Þjóðleikhússins á verkinu leikárið 2010-2011.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 074348276X, Mass Market Paperback)

Folger Shakespeare Library

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Each edition includes:

• Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play

• Full explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play

• Scene-by-scene plot summaries

• A key to famous lines and phrases

• An introduction to reading Shakespeare's language

• An essay by an outstanding scholar providing a modern perspective on the play

• Illustrations from the Folger Shakespeare Library's vast holdings of rare books

Essay by Susan Snyder

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., is home to the world's largest collection of Shakespeare's printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:02 -0400)

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An ageing king makes a capricious decision to divide his realm among his three daughters according to the love they express for him. When the youngest daughter refuses to take part in this charade, she is banished, leaving the king dependent on her manipulative and untrustworthy sisters.… (more)

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