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30 Days of Shakespeare, Day 9 (albeit one day late)

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Alas, there was a wagon and I fell off, mostly because I couldn't decide on my favourite tragedy. So I will attempt to do so for purposes of this post.

Day #9: Your favourite tragedy - King Lear


So, this meme is either encouraging repeat answers (presumably one's favourite play will fall into one of the three categories) or something slightly more creative, so I will endeavour to go the latter route. Assume Othello is here in spirit while I talk a bit more about...King Lear!

I first read King Lear in the same AP English class where I first properly encountered Richard III. And, totally unsurprisingly, I loved Edmund. He's got this dynamic personality that really wakes up the Gloucester storyline at the beginning, and for a very long time, I just didn't get Edgar at all.

What seems to me particularly tragic about Lear is how completely avoidable it really is. Lear's decision at the beginning of the play is never really explained; nor is his treatment of his daughters; nor, indeed, is Cordelia's insistence on not playing her sister's games in public. As a king's daughter, one would assume she'd been drilled in etiquette and knew very well that defying the king is something one did behind closed doors. But that isn't what happens, and if it didn't happen, we wouldn't have a play, so there. Well, we might still have the Edmund show, I suppose.

I find the effect of Lear rather similar to the effect of Othello for that reason -- I keep wanting to grab characters and yell at them to stop being idiots and just communicate with each other, for goodness' sake. But while Othello is a slow buildup to the carnage of Act V, Lear starts with the functional equivalent of a mushroom cloud and follows the fallout.

And, dear God, is it bleak. But it's just so masterfully done, and if there is one thing that made me finally learn to love Edgar, it was that he is, as I mentioned on Day 3, one of the few bright spots in that unrelenting darkness. He is what Cordelia might be if she were there (and, if I may interrupt myself, everyone should read These Late Eclipses, which makes one tiny tweak to the events of the play, and suddenly everything changes).

I also love that we aren't given all the answers. We don't know why Goneril and Regan hate their father and sister. We know absolutely nothing about Lear's wife or the mothers of Edmund and Edgar. (And, yes, I did read A Thousand Acres for aforementioned AP English class, and, despite wanting to kill just about everybody for the first several hundred pages, it did catch up to me in the end.) We don't know what kind of king Edgar will make -- of the two, Edmund is definitely the more politically savvy, but Edgar has the advantage of being a basically decent human being. So I do hold out hope for England at the end of the play, albeit only a scrap. Which is, I'm afraid, more than one can say for Othello. That ending just hurts.

ETA: I totally forgot to mention the RSC production, which is terrible considering it reignited my love for this play. I know people who were able to see it live (of whom I am insanely jealous), but I watched it when it aired on PBS last year and was summarily blown away by the sheer brilliance that is Ian McKellen's Lear. Really, the entire cast was very good (I didn't even mind Romola Garai, whom everyone else seems to hate), but his Lear turned me into a sobbing wreck by the final scene, and well on my way by the end of Act III. So, if you haven't seen it, WATCH IT.



Day #1: Your favourite play - Othello and Richard III
Day #2: Your favourite character - Lady Elizabeth Grey in 3 Henry VI and Richard III
Day #3: Your favourite hero - Othello
Day #4: Your favourite heroine - Juliet from Romeo and Juliet and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing
Day #5: Your favorite villain - Richard of Gloucester
Day #6: Your favourite villainess female villain - Joan la Pucelle
Day #7: Your favourite clown - Feste from Twelfth Night
Day #8: Your favourite comedy - Much Ado About Nothing
Day #9: Your favourite tragedy - King Lear
Day #10: Your favourite history
Day #11: Your least favourite play
Day #12: Your favourite scene
Day #13: Your favourite romantic scene
Day #14: Your favourite fight scene
Day #15: The first play you read
Day #16: Your first play you saw
Day #17: Your favourite speech
Day #18: Your favourite dialogue
Day #19: Your favourite movie version of a play
Day #20: Your favourite movie adaptation of a play
Day #21: An overrated play
Day #22: An underrated play
Day #23: A role you've never played but would love to play
Day #24: An actor or actress you would love to see in a particular role
Day #25: Sooner or later, everyone has to choose: Hal or Falstaff?
Day #26: Your favourite couple
Day #27: Your favourite couplet
Day #28: Your favourite joke
Day #29: Your favourite sonnet
Day #30: Your favourite single line
Current Location:
Desk
Current Mood:
awake awake
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On 29th July 2010 19:28 (UTC), lareinenoire replied:
Yes, all of that does make a lot of sense -- especially the idea of Cordelia being a stepsister on top of being the baby sister. It does make sense that Regan and Goneril would join forces against her, and there's certainly nothing in the text to contradict that interpretation.

And I saw your post -- yes, they are all just excellent, aren't they? I fell for Edmund the moment I read the 'Thou, nature, art my goddess' speech, and there is just something compellingly awful about both Goneril and Regan.
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On 29th July 2010 21:48 (UTC), fuunsaiki replied:
Haha! OH HAI THAR! I chose Regan for my villainess (as a bratty younger sister myself, I feel she's just got Goneril pipped for evilness), and in a comments discussion, I wrote about Cordelia, "I rather suspect only daughter of beloved mistress/second wife." I like how it makes so much sense and unrelated people come up with it completely independently of each other, which suggests it makes even more sense than we realise.
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On 29th July 2010 21:25 (UTC), miss_morland commented:
Is it bad that what I remember most from this play is the Eye Thing? *shudders*
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On 29th July 2010 21:44 (UTC), lareinenoire replied:
Oh, the eye thing is awful! It makes me squirm even to read that scene!
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On 29th July 2010 22:28 (UTC), fuunsaiki replied:
You wanna REALLY squirm? I could describe how Rupert Goold did that scene. Even *I* was repulsed. <3 ;)
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On 29th July 2010 23:16 (UTC), bewarethespork commented:
*Jay Stamp of Approval* You have no idea how big my foolish grin was as I read this. I love King Lear so much. ♥ :D
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