Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

King Lear

King Lear is generally regarded as one of William Shakespeare's greatest tragedies. It is based on Lear, a legendary king of pre-Roman Britain. The part of King Lear has been played by many great actors, but is generally considered a role to be taken on only by those who have reached an advanced age.

The play begins with King Lear taking the decision to abdicate the throne and divide his kingdom equally between his three daughters: Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. The eldest two are married, but Cordelia is much sought after as a bride, partly because she is her father's favourite. However, when Lear attempts to auction off his kingdom to the most admiring bidder, the plan backfires. Cordelia refuses to outdo the flattery of her elder sisters, and Lear, in a fit of pique, divides her share of the kingdom between Goneril and Regan, and Cordelia is banished -- although the King of France insists in wedding her, even after she is disinherited.

Almost as soon as Lear gives up the throne, he finds that Goneril and Regan are no longer willing to defer to him, and arguments ensue. The Earl of Kent, who has spoken up for Cordelia and been banished for his pains, returns, disguising himself as a servant in order to protect the king, to whom he remains loyal. Meanwhile, Goneril and Regan fall out with one another over their attraction to Edmund -- and are forced to deal with an army from France, led by Cordelia, sent to restore Lear to his throne.

Another sub-plot involves the Earl of Gloucester, whose two sons, the good Edgar and the evil Edmund, are at loggerheads, the bastard Edmund having concocted false stories about his legitimate half-brother. Edgar is forced into exile, affecting lunacy. Edmund engages in liaisons with Goneril and Regan, and Gloucester is blinded by Regan's husband, but is saved from death by Edgar, whose voice he fails to recognise.

The plot is extremely convoluted, and Lear is generally regarded as a "difficult" play, with many incongruities. For example, the character of Lear's Fool, important in the first act, disappears without explanation. A popular explanation for this is that the actor playing the Fool also played Cordelia. The two characters are never on stage at the same time, and dual-roling was popular in Shakespeare's time.

Besides the subplot involving the Earl of Gloucester and his two sons, the principal innovation Shakespeare made to this story was the death of Cordelia and Lear at the end. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this tragic ending was much criticised, and alternative versions were written and performed, in which the leading characters survived and Edgar and Cordelia were married.

King Llyr was a semi-legendary king who reigned in Cornwall and Devonshire in present-day England. According to the semi-legendary history preserved in Nennius, Llyr may have been taken as a prisoner to Rome, and this traditional lore may be the origin of Shakespeare's play. Lear may also be Lir, a god of the sea in Celtic mythology; there, Lir's children include Bran and Mannanan, eponymous creator of the Isle of Man.

Shakespeare's main source was an earlier play, King Leir.

Table of contents
1 Movie Adaptations
2 See also
3 External links

Movie Adaptations

Despite its difficult plot, King Lear has been made into a movie numerous times.

The 1915 play Hobson's Choice by Harold Brighouse is a comic version which updates the story to Manchester in the 1880s. A film version was made by David Lean in 1954.

Akira Kurosawa adapted this play for the basis of his 1985 movie Ran.

A modern retelling, set on a farm in Iowa, was the 1997 A Thousand Acres. This movie attempted to explain the elders sisters' hatred of their father.

Patrick Stewart played John Lear in a 2002 made-for-TV adaptation, The King of Texas, set in frontier Texas.

See also

External links