King Lear Play Guide


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King Lear Play Guide

  1. 1. King Learby William Shakespeare Play Guide The Professional Theatre in Residence at UMKC
  2. 2. Editor/Contributing Writer: Laura Smith Muir Executive Editor: Peter Altman Design: Nancy Arehart PremerSpecial acknowledgement to Thomas Canfield for his contributions to this Play Guide, Shakespeare’s Sources for Lear, TheCourt Fool in History and King Lear, and The Celtic Era: A Brief Pictorial History. Dr. Canfield earned his Ph.D. in RenaissanceDrama from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He currently teaches English at Grantham University and served asDramaturg for the Kansas City Repertory Theatre production of King Lear. Published January 2007
  3. 3. William Shakespeare’s King Lear directed by Larry Carpenter Play GuideTable of Contents4 Characters in the Play5 Synopsis10 William Shakespeare: Biography12 Shakespeare’s Lear14 Shakespeare’s Sources for King Lear18 The Court Fool in History and King Lear23 The Celtic Era: A Pictorial Album27 The Life and Times of Shakespeare: A Chronology32 Focus on Production: An Interview with Larry Carpenter34 Bibliography
  4. 4. Characters in the Play King Lear: Ruler of Celtic Britain. About 80 years old, the father of three daughters. Goneril: Lear’s strong-willed eldest daughter, wife of the Duke of Albany. Regan: Lear’s treacherous second daughter and wife to the Duke of Cornwall. Cordelia: Lear’s youngest daughter. At the beginning of the play, she has yet to marry and has two suitors, the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France. Duke of Albany: Goneril’s husband. Duke of Cornwall: Regan’s husband. Earl of Gloucester: A prominent lord. Edgar’s father and the father of an ille- gitimate son, Edmund. Earl of Kent: A faithful supporter of Lear who is banished by the king after he protests against the king’s treatment of Cordelia. Edmund: Gloucester’s illegitimate son. Edgar: Legitimate son of Gloucester. Oswald: Goneril’s servant. The Fool: Lear’s court jester who is devoted to the king and Cordelia.4
  5. 5. King Lear Synopsis It is the night of a lunar eclipse in Celtic Britain and the aging King Learhas decided to relinquish his royal throne and divide his kingdom between histhree daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. His surprise stipulation is thateach daughter must prove her love to him by public declaration in order toreceive her third of his land and power. Goneril, the oldest, speaks first, declaring that she loves Lear “dearer thaneye-sight, space and liberty…No less than life.” Regan continues the flattery,adding, “I am alone felicitate in your dear highness’ love.” Lear then asksCordelia, the youngest and his favorite, “what can you say to win a third moreopulent than your sisters? Speak.” Cordelia, indignant at having to prove her Lear considerslove and refusing to flatter her father, proclaims “I love your Majesty accord-ing to my bond, no more nor less.” Her father urges her to mend her speech Kent’s advice“lest you mar your fortunes” but she says she cannot. treasonous and Unjustly enraged, Lear withdraws his offer to give Cordelia her share ofhis realm. His longtime ally the Earl of Kent implores his king to reconsider, banishes him onbut Lear is steadfast. He calls forth the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall, hus-bands of Goneril and Regan, and passes his coronet to them, investing them threat of death.jointly with his power, and says that he will alternate living in their house-holds. Kent again urges Lear to reconsider but his loyalty and sound adviceare ignored; Lear declares Kent’s advice treasonous and banishes him onthreat of death. Lear has called for the King of France and the Duke of Burgundy, bothlong-time suitors of the now impoverished Cordelia. He offers Cordelia firstto Burgundy but, without the dowry of land, as previously agreed; the dukedeclines. Acknowledging Cordelia’s discredit, Lear then beseeches France to“direct your liking a more worthier way than on a wretch whom Nature isashamed almost to acknowledge hers.” France, however, is impressed byCordelias steadfastness and says that he considers Lear’s youngest daughter“herself a dowry.” He takes her as Queen of France, explaining, “Thy dower-less daughter, King, thrown to my chance, is Queen of us, of ours, and our fairFrance.” Lear’s court exits, leaving behind Regan, Goneril, France, andCordelia who entreats her sisters to “Love well our father: to your professedbosoms I commit him.” France and Cordelia exit. Later that night, as the eclipse wanes, Edmund, bastard son of the Earl ofGloucester, vows to himself to secure the land his father has given to his legit-imate son Edgar. His scheme involves a clumsy attempt to hide a letter from 5
  6. 6. Gloucester that was supposedly written by his half-brother Edgar. Falling into Edmund’s trap, Gloucester demands to see the letter. Edmund’s forgery of his brother’s hand states that Edgar believes their aging father should turn over his fortune to his sons and let them manage his affairs. Gloucester is enraged, but Edmund calms him. Later, Edmund warns Edgar that he is in trouble with their father, “Bethink yourself wherein you may have offended him.” After Edgar’s departure, the wily Edmund reflects on his situation which he believes is soon to change in his favor: “Let me, if not by birth, have lands by wit.” At Goneril’s house on a subsequent day, she accuses her father of disruptive behavior and instructs her steward, Oswald, to act coldly towards Lear and his knights. Meanwhile, the banished Kent arrives, disguised as a servant, intend- ing to continue to be of service to Lear, behind the scenes. “Now, banished Kent, if thou canst serve where thou dost stand condemned, so may it come, my mas- ter, whom though lov’st shall find thee full of labours.” Lear demands to see Goneril, but she instructs Oswald to say she is ill; Lear’s Fool jeers at him for giving his lands to his unappreciative daughters. Finally, Goneril enters and begins arguing with her father about an outbreak of The banished quarrelling and rioting in his retinue of 100 men, accusing him of protecting the miscreants and being too old to keep his knights in order. Furious, Lear leaves, Kent arrives proclaiming to Albany, Goneril’s husband, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth disguised as a it is to have a thankless child!” Lear vows to take refuge at Regan’s, declaring “I have another daughter, servant, who, I am sure, is kind and comfortable,” unaware that Goneril is at that moment intending to writing to her sister. That night, at Gloucesters castle, Edmund convinces Edgar that he is in dan- continue to be ger and urges him to flee: “My father hath set guard to take my brother…O Sir! of service to Fly this place.” Edmund then wounds himself to make it look as if Edgar has attacked him. Gloucester, misguidedly thankful for Edmunds support, vows to Lear, behind capture Edgar and reward Edmund. the scenes. Meanwhile Regan and Cornwall arrive to discuss their ensuing war against Lear, using Gloucester’s dispute with his son as fuel. Edgar is accused of being a companion of Lear’s riotous knights. Regan vows that if Lear “come to sojourn at my house, I’ll not be there.” In the predawn hours, Kent arrives at Gloucesters with a message from Lear and meets Oswald (whom Kent dislikes and mistrusts) who is carrying a mes- sage from Goneril. Kent attacks Oswald, but Cornwall and Regan break up the fight and Cornwall puts Kent in the stocks. Gloucester tries to intervene, “Pray, do not, Sir,” replies Kent. While all this is ensuing, Edgar decides he must flee and disguise himself as a beggar for his own safety.6
  7. 7. Lear now arrives, and finds Kent in the stocks. At first, Regan and Cornwallrefuse to see her father claiming fatigue from the night’s travels. Finally, theyagree to see Lear, and Regan chides him to the brink, telling him that he “shouldbe ruled and led” and encouraging him to return to Goneril’s. Soon, Gonerilarrives and together the sisters admonish Lear for his behavior, accusing him ofweakness; they push Lear to the brink of sanity, and he comments, “I gave youall…made you my guardians…” Lear, in a rage, leaves Gloucester’s castle andsets out into a building storm. Gloucester is concerned for his safety, but Kent cautionsCornwall urges him to “Shut up your doors my Lord; ‘tis a wild night…comeout o’th’storm.” Lear to show Gloucester complains to Edmund that Lear’s daughters and their husbands patience withhave commandeered his home for their own use and “charged me, on pain ofperpetual displeasure, neither to speak of him [Lear], entreat from him, or any his daughters,way sustain him.” But Gloucester vows to search for his old master even if itcosts him his life. and Edgar, in On the Heath, Lear and the Fool are buffeted by the raging storm when Kent an aside, takesarrives, still in disguise. He finds shelter for the King, whose sanity is faltering—“My wits begin to turn.” Lear refuses to enter. Unexpectedly, Edgar, disguised pity on theas Poor Tom, a madman, comes out of the hovel. Recognizing the King and his old king.Fool, Poor Tom engages the men but Lear sees only references to his daughtersin Tom’s rages and begins tearing off his clothes. The group sees an approach-ing torch and Kent calls out for the man to identify himself. It is Gloucester whohas arrived. He entreats Lear to enter the hut explaining, “My duty cannot obeyyour daughters’ hard commands to bar my doors…I have ventured to come seekyou out and bring you where both fire and food is ready.” Back at Gloucester’s, Cornwall tells Edmund that he will seek revengeagainst Gloucester for his sympathy for Lear. Cornwall urges Edmund to betrayhis father, claiming, “though shalt find a dearer father in my love.” During the night, Gloucester has brought Lear, Edgar (as Poor Tom) and theFool to an isolated farmhouse. Lear, half- mad, continues his rant against hisdaughters, prosecuting them in a mock trial. Kent cautions Lear to showpatience with his daughters, and Edgar, in an aside, takes pity on the old king.Gloucester urges Kent to immediately take Lear to Dover, where protectionawaits him. “If though should’st dally half an hour, his life…stand[s] in assuredloss.” Together, they leave for Dover. Meanwhile, the storm is blowing itself out and Cornwall, Regan, Goneriland Edmund return to Gloucester’s house with their servants. Cornwall tellsGoneril that an army from France has landed at Dover, and tells his knights toseek out the traitor Gloucester. Goneril says to pluck out his eyes. Cornwalltakes his leave and tells Edmund, who is now calling himself Earl of Gloucester, 7
  8. 8. to say behind. “The revenges we are bound to take upon your traitorous father are not fit for your beholding.” Gloucester, now a prisoner, is returned to his home where he is interrogated about his alleged treason and his loyalty to “the lunatic king.” Cornwall savage- ly plucks out Gloucester’s eyes. Blinded, Gloucester calls out to his son Edmund for mercy but Regan exclaims, “Thou call’st on him that hates thee; it was he that made the overture of thy treasons to us.” Gloucester is turned out of his home, but is followed by two servants who plan to help him. On the Heath the following morning, Goneril’s servant leads Gloucester to the farmhouse and comes upon Poor Tom (Edgar). Gloucester sends the servant away and asks Tom to lead him to the edge of the high cliffs at Dover. That afternoon, Edmund pledges his loyalty and love to Goneril. When her husband Albany learns that the daughters have mistreated their father (Lear) he lashes out at Goneril, “You are not worth the dust which the rude wind blows in A French your face,” Their conversation is interrupted by a messenger who brings news that Cornwall is dead from a fatal jab he received from a protesting knight dur- knight and ing his savage attack on Gloucester. Albany, feeling sorry for Gloucester and some com- learning of Edmunds treachery with his wife, vows revenge. At a French camp near Dover, Cordelia sends out a sentry to find her errantrades approach father. That night, at Regan’s nearby encampment, Regan shares her concerns and, finding with Oswald (who has delivered a letter to the encampment) that her sister might be in love with Edmund, whom Regan (now a widow) would like to marry. “My Lear, try to Lord is dead; Edmund and I have talk’d and more convenient is he for my hand convince him than for your Lady’s.” In the countryside near Dover, Edgar describes the perilous drop off the cliff to go to to the blind Gloucester who jumps, thinking he will die. In fact, he falls but a Cordelia, but short distance. Realizing he is alive, Gloucester cries out, “Alack, I have no eyes. Is wretchedness deprived that benefit to endself by death?” Now tellingLear runs away. Gloucester he is a beggar, Edgar helps his father up. Lear, now fully mad, approaches and speaks to them. Gloucester recognizes Lear’s voice. A French knight and some comrades approach and, finding Lear, try to convince him to go to Cordelia, but Lear runs away. Oswald comes across Edgar and Gloucester and threatens to kill them. Edgar, though, kills Oswald in a fight; he then discovers a letter that proves that Goneril plans to murder Albany and marry Edmund. “O indistinguish’d space of woman’s will! A plot upon her virtuous husband’s life; and the exchange my brother!” Edgar takes Gloucester’s hand and leads him away. At the French camp near Dover, Kent, who has continued to serve as Lear’s protector, and Cordelia discuss Lear’s condition with a doctor. When Lear8
  9. 9. awakes, he seems saner than before and recognizes his formerly favorite daugh-ter. Lear questions whether or not Cordelia has plans to poison him, “I know youdo not love me; for your sisters have, as I do remember, done me wrong: Youhave some cause, they have not.” That night at the British camp near Dover, Regan interrogates Edmundabout his possible love for her sister. “Dear my lord, be not familiar with her.”Goneril and Albany enter. Albany tells them that Lear is with Cordelia. Gonerilsays the sisters and their forces must band together to battle Cordelia and theFrench troops. Still disguised, Edgar pulls Albany aside and presents a letter thathe believes will change the course of action. Edmund enters, soliloquizing to Trying to makehimself about having pledged his love to both sisters. If Albany is killed in bat- up for sometle, both sisters will be widows. Edmund vows to show no mercy to Lear andCordelia. of his actions, Lear and Cordelia are captured in battle by Edmund who orders them taken Edmundto prison and instructs a Captain to kill them. Albany, Goneril and Regan arriveand argue about the battle. Regan complains of stomach pains and is taken to reveals that heher tent. has ordered his Edgar, the rightful heir to the title of his father Earl of Gloucester, arrivesand challenges Edmund’s claim to the title. They fight and Edmund is injured. Captain to hangGoneril cries out to save Edmund but Albany intervenes and reveals Goneril’sletter; Goneril hastily leaves. Edmund and Edgar continue to argue and Edgar Cordelia andadmits to protecting Lear. A knight rushes in carrying a bloody knife. Goneril kill Lear.has poisoned Regan and then stabbed herself. Both sisters are dead. Trying tomake up for some of his actions, Edmund reveals that he has ordered his Captainto hang Cordelia and kill Lear. Edmund dies of his wounds. Lear emerges, carrying the body of Cordelia in his arms, and cries out “Aplague upon you, murderers, traitors all.” Grief stricken, he dies. The future ofhis kingdom rests in the hands of Albany, the aging Kent, and Edgar. 9
  10. 10. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) nly a small collection of documents about theO life of William Shakespeare has come downthrough the centuries to us, but available materialsstate that he was born in 1564 and grew up inStratford-upon-Avon, a prosperous English markettown in the county of Warwickshire northwest ofLondon. His father, John Shakespeare, was a glovemaker and a prominent citizen of Stratford whoeventually held the position of mayor. No known sur-viving formal records of the playwright’s life existdating from the time between his christening in 1564at Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church and his marriagein 1582 to Anne Hathaway, a woman eight years hissenior. The couple’s daughter Susannah was born sixmonths after their wedding, and twins, Hamnet andJudith, were born in 1585. How Shakespeare sup-ported himself in his early adulthood and when orwhy he left Stratford for the London theatrical worldhave been the subject of much scholarly speculation. By 1592, Shakespeare had achieved some promi-nence in London both as an actor and as an author,especially of history plays; he also had published along narrative poem, The Rape of Lucrece. The Portrait of Shakespeare, circa 1610.Taming of the Shrew (circa 1593) gained him furtherrecognition. By about this time he also had becomea member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a theatrecompany (renamed the King’s Men during the reignof James I which began in 1603) of which he was aprincipal actor, playwright and shareholder for thenext 20 years. In 1598, Shakespeare’s company wasevicted from its playhouse and then built the GlobeTheatre in South London near the Thames River. It was at the Globe that Shakespeare producedhis most famous tragedies: Hamlet (1600), Othello(circa 1604), Macbeth (1606), and King Lear (circa1606). The first performances of Antony and Photo of William Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, England.10
  11. 11. Cleopatra, Coriolanus, and Timon of Athens most likely occurred during 1607 and1608. Late in his life, Shakespeare produced a series of plays—includingCymbeline (circa 1609), The Winter’s Tale (circa 1610), and The Tempest (1612)—to which scholars have attached different labels; sometimes these have beenreferred to as “tragicomedies,” but in recent years they have most usually beendescribed as “romances.” In 1613, the Globe Theatre caught fire and burned to the ground. About thistime, Shakespeare returned to Stratford, where his wife and children still lived.(Like the playwright’s early years, this move has long been the subject of extensivescholarly conjecture.) Made financially prosperous by his years in the theatre, he died a wealthy Stratford landowner at age 52, in 1616, and is buried in the same Stratford church where he had been christened. Although many of Shakespeare’s plays were extremely popular in England during the playwright’s life- time, it was not until the 18th century—more than 100 years after his death—that his work began to exert a major influence internationally. His plays now are producedModel of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre worldwide more than those of any other dramatist. Since the mid-19th century, it has occasionally been argued that someone elseof nobler lineage and greater education must have written his works, because somehave found it inconceivable that a man of modest family background and only agrammar school education could have written the 37 masterpieces credited toShakespeare. Nevertheless, the literary canon which every season is celebrated bytheatrical companies worldwide continues to bear his name, as do Shakespearefestivals all around the English-speaking parts of the globe. 11
  12. 12. Shakespeare’s Lear he first recorded performance of King Lear by William Shakespeare was on T December 26, 1606, before King James I at Whitehall in London. There has been much disagreement, however, about exactly when Shakespeare wrote the tragedy many have judged his greatest masterpiece. Although some think Lear may have been created as early as 1604, most scholars now believe that Lear was written in 1605 or 1606. Natural events support the later date; in the play, Gloucester refers to eclipses of the sun and moon, and such eclipses actually occurred in Britain in September and October 1605. Long before Shakespeare wrote his account of the struggles and madness of Lear, the story had appeared in pre-Roman English folklore and fairytales as King Lyr, or Ler. The tale was included in Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles (published Cover of First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s works published in 1623.12
  13. 13. 1577, 1587) and in John Higgins’s A Mirror for Magistrates (1574). An anony-mous play, The Chronicle History of King Leir, was written sometime in the1500s and published in 1605, and Shakespeare is very likely to have been famil-iar with it. Shakespeare’s Lear first appeared in print as The True Chronicle of theHistory of the Life and Death of King Lear and His Three Daughters, publishedin quarto in 1608. A more theatrical version of the text, The Tragedy of KingLear, appeared in 1623 in the First Folio, the first published collection ofShakespeare’s plays. Over the centuries, these two early editions of King Learhave frequently been combined into one edition, although many modern schol-ars and editors posit that each version has its individual integrity. In 1681, Shakespeare’s King Lear waseclipsed by a new adaptation written by NahumTate, an Irish poet and writer for the stage whocreated a popular series of versions of Elizabethandramas. In his retelling of Lear, Tate eliminatedthe character of the Fool and the blinding ofGloucester and he created a happy ending for thestory by marrying Cordelia and Edgar and restor-ing Lear to his throne. In that era, the populace didnot necessarily regard the integrity of dramaticmaterial as particularly essential, which may helpto explain why many critics and audiencesapplauded Tate’s adaptation. His reworked KingLear was praised by Samuel Johnson, one ofEngland’s most influential 18th century literarycommentators, and acted by esteemed performersof the Georgian period including David Garrick; itwas also a famous vehicle for Edmund Kean. Itwasn’t until the mid–19th century thatShakespeare’s account of King Lear was restoredto the British stage with a production staring actorWilliam Charles Macready. Now, more than 400 years later, Shakespeare’spresentation of the King of Britain, his three Cover of a version of King Lear as adapted by Nahum Tate in 1681.daughters, and the strife he unleashes when he gives up his royal power, isregarded increasingly by scholars and critics as one of the greatest of all theatri-cal achievements. Despite being perhaps the most bleak and pessimistic of his tragedies, itspsychological complexities speak directly to the modern audience and contem-porary sensibilities. 13
  14. 14. Shakespeare’s Sources for King Lear opular commentators and academic experts around the world have P celebrated Shakespeare’s genius for 400 years. Yet theatre audiences do not often realize that the most esteemed playwright in world history, whom they adore for his great dramatic plots and poetic language, was in fact a very liber- al borrower from a variety of sources. A significant portion of Shakespeare’s true greatness does not exist in the originality of his stories, which he typically derived and reconstructed, but rather is due to his artistic transformation–through language and character development–of materials by Scholars have earlier authors masterfully conscripted for his own use. The Tragedy of King recognized in Lear is a perfect example of Shakespeare’s inspired adaptation of sources, and also typifies his skill in employing older elements to create works of dramatic Lear’s motif of art which completely overshadow their originals in craftsmanship and brilliance.three sisters, two Numerous early versions of the basic Lear story existed hundreds of years before Shakespeare’s play was written in the early seventeenth century, and thisof whom are evil has caused frustration for scholars seeking to answer the sphinx-like riddle of exactly which sources Shakespeare had on hand when composing his work. In and one who is King Lear, for example, the general theme of filial ingratitude and the contrast good, affinities between the treatment of their aged parents by good and selfish children are common features found in ancient tales from Asian tradition. The motif of a lovebetween the play test as a basis for the division of a parent’s property comes from European folk- lore, several variants developing a tale in which a daughter first tells her fatherand the fairy tale that she loves him as much as salt, and then dissipates his anger by demonstrat- of Cinderella. ing that this means he is essential to her life. Scholars have also recognized in Lear’s motif of three sisters, two of whom are evil and one who is good, affini- ties between the play and the fairy tale of Cinderella. The name “Lear” itself appears to originate in Celtic tradition, with characters called Ler, Leir or Lyr. The earliest extant written down version of the Lear story–one that Shakespeare could have known—is the Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), a work composed in Latin by Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1100-c. 1155), a twelfth-century monk and historian. In this text, a pseudo-his- torical figure called Leir, eleventh king of the Britons and legendary founder of the city of Leicester, plans to divide his kingdom among his three daughters —Gonorilla, Regau and Cordeilla–who are put to a verbal test and given rule over their father’s land according to their relative professions of affection. The youngest daughter, when she refuses to flatter her father, is disinherited and afterwards marries the king of the Franks. No English translation of this work was available in Shakespeare’s day, but he might have read it in its original Latin or, just as likely, received the story as it was retold by numerous later writers 14 who borrowed from the Historia. For example, Geoffrey’s work forms the basis
  15. 15. of two verse romance chronicles which retell the Lear story: the Anglo-NormanRoman de Brut (1155) by Wace—translated into English by William Caxtonbefore Shakespeare’s time—and Brut by Layamon, one of the first major textswritten in Middle English. Three centuries later, the Lear story was again briefly retold by JohnHardyng in his Chronicles (1436), but it was a renewed interest in the story by In the 1574Tudor chroniclers and versifiers of the next century that gave the tale truly wide-spread circulation. Obviously, such more contemporary sources have greater edition of Aprobability of having been familiar to Shakespeare. For example, the story ofLear was recounted by Robert Fabyan in his New Chronicles of England and Mirror forFrance (1516), and it appears as well in Polydore Vergil’s Anglicae Historiae Magistrates,(1534), a work which introduces Cordilla’s argument for transferring her pri-mary devotion from her father to her husband after marriage–a detail which also a verseappears in Shakespeare’s version. Later, elements from both Hardyng andFabyan were appropriated by John Stow in his Summarie of Englyshe biography ofChronicles (1563) and Annales (1592). various figures In the 1574 edition of A Mirror for Magistrates, a verse biography of vari-ous figures from English history, John Higgins reiterated the tale of Leire as from Englishpart of a collection of early legends of Britain. In Higgins’s version, which history, Johndraws upon Geoffrey of Monmouth as a primary source and contains many sim-ilar details, the dead Cordilla provides a first-person narrative account–in the Higgins retoldform of a verse complaint—of her disinheritance and the subsequent disgrace the tale of Leireinflicted on her father by her sisters. Eventually, Leire comes to France andrequests his estranged daughter’s assistance. Once reconciled, Cordilla aids him as part of ain reestablishing his rule for three years and, after Leire dies, she rules the coun-try for five additional years—until the sons of Gonerell and Ragan imprison her collection ofin a dungeon, eventually leading her to commit suicide in despair. early legends Other possible sources for the play are William Warner’s Albion’s England(1586), a long verse chronicle containing a version of the Lear story, as well as of Britain.the 1587 second edition of Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England,Scotland, and Wales, a work which Shakespeare clearly used as a staple sourcenot only for King Lear, but also for Macbeth, Cymbeline and several of hisEnglish history plays. It was not until 1590, with the publication of two of the most famous EnglishRenaissance poems—Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queene and Sir PhilipSidney’s The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia—that plausible antecedentsfor Shakespeare’s play represent literary and artistic modes rather than histori-cal writing. This is also where it becomes possible that Shakespeare becomesthe source for subsequent works dealing with the story, in the view ofsome scholars. 15
  16. 16. Book II of Spenser’s unfinished epic allegory celebrates the virtue of Temperance in the character of a knight named Sir Guyon. In Canto X, Sir Guyon reads a “chronicle of Briton kings” while sojourning at the House of Alma. This seven-stanza section of the lengthy epic is notable especially for the mode of Cordelia’s death; it is in Spenser that, for the first time known, the man- There is no ner of her death is specified as being through hanging, by her own hand. Sidney’s work is also notable for being a primary source for the secondary doubt that Gloucester plot in King Lear. One episode in Book II is set in “a certain hollow rocke” where the two main characters are compelled to take shelter from the hail Shakespeare and wind of a “tempests furie.” There, they encounter a king who has been alien- freely adapted ated from his legitimate son by the false accusation of his bastard son–who has usurped his father’s title and blinded him. Subsequently, the rightful son, some language described as “poorely arayed” and “extreamely weather-beaten,” rescues hisand plot details father and prevents him from committing suicide by leaping from a cliff. The single most important and immediate source for the main plot of of an earlier Shakespeare’s tragedy, however, is The True Chronicle Historie of King Leir and play to his own his Three Daughters: Gonorill, Ragan, and Cordella, a chronicle play (author unknown) published in 1605 (although there is evidence that it was performed ends, making it by the Queen’s Men before 1594). Because this play draws upon many of the same historical sources that Shakespeare may have used independently for his superior. own work, the problem of scholarly attribution is tangled. There is no doubt that Shakespeare freely adapted some language and plot details of the earlier play to his own ends, making it superior. However, unlike Shakespeare’s play, King Leir features a prevalent Christian emphasis. Another major difference is the fact that the king and Cordella do not die in Leir but survive and live happily. The king goes off with his companions at the conclusion, leaving Cordella to reign in his place. Her two sisters—called Gonorill and Ragan—also do not die, but instead become fugitives. Two important features in Shakespeare’s play, the parallel plot of Gloucester and the character of the Fool, do not appear in Leir. For the mad verbiage Edgar employs when disguised as Poor Tom O’Bedlam, Shakespeare may have been indebted to a work published in 1603 by Samuel Harsnett (1561-1631). Harsnett was Chaplain to the Bishop of London and later became Archdeacon of Essex and subsequently Archbishop of York. His tract A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures is a detailed account of several heretical exorcisms conducted by Roman Catholic priests in England during 1585-86. In Shakespearean Negotiations, Stephen Greenblatt notes that Shakespeare appropriated from Harsnett “the names of the foul fiends by whom Edgar . . . claims to be possessed” as well as “some of the language of madness, several of the attributes of hell and a number of colorful adjectives.” In the same year that Harsnett’s work was published, two other possible16 sources for Shakespeare’s play also emerged, namely John Florio’s translation of
  17. 17. Michel de Montaigne’s Essais and an account of the highly publicized courtcase in October involving Sir Brian Annesley. Scholars have noted that morethan one hundred words from Florio’s translation do not appear anywhere inShakespeare’s writing before King Lear, and that two of Montaignes famousessays, “Of Solitariness” and “An Apology for Raymond Sebonde,” apparentlyrefer to themes similar to those which Shakespeares deals with in Lear. In thelawsuit involving Annesley, an ex-servant of Queen Elizabeth I who owned avaluable estate in Kent, the eldest of his three daughters, Lady Grace Wildgoose,attempted to have her father certified as incompetent so that she and her hus-band could take over the management of his affairs. Although the role played byAnnesley’s second daughter in the affair is unknown, his youngest daughter,Cordell, opposed the malevolent designs of her elder sisters by appealing to Sir A discontentedRobert Cecil. observer, the The Annesley case, moreover, does not stand alone as a possible legal histo-ry source of themes expressed by Shakespeare’s play. Another case involved Sir malcontent isWilliam Allen, Lord Mayor of London from 1571-72. Growing old and frail, often aAllen decided to divide his estates and wealth between his three married daugh-ters, arranging to stay with each in turn. The trio eventually resented the charge melancholicof his upkeep and argued that Allen was rude to their servants. After cursing his anti-hero with adaughters for their mistreatment of him, Allen died in misery. Yet one more literary and dramatic source for King Lear may be the work of dark, sarcasticJohn Marston (1576-1634), the English poet, playwright and satirist. Some view of life.scholars have identified the mad speeches of Lear as being influenced byMarston’s book of satires, The Scourge of Villanie (1598), but more important-ly they have seen his play The Malcontent (1604) as a source for the saturninepersonality and psychology of Edmund. The malcontent, a character type whichfrequently appears in Renaissance drama, stands apart from the society sur-rounding him, usually having separated himself by choice. A discontentedobserver, the malcontent is often a melancholic anti-hero with a dark, sarcasticview of life. In Edmund’s case, it should be noted in fairness, this separation isnot only by nature but also due to illegitimate birth. While the quest to unearth Shakespeare’s sources provides much interestingmaterial for study and research, it is often a difficult and inconclusive endeavorresulting in more questions than solutions. The same evidence can point toopposing interpretations. King Lear is by no means an exception to the typicalproblem of identifying the originals of Shakespeare’s work, and is perhaps anindication of the playwright’s genius by showing how he combined elementsfrom a wide variety of previous authors. Ultimately, for the true lover of dramat-ic art, the products of Shakespeare’s craft usually soar above any of his histori-cal or literary sources, and their excellence far surpasses the quality of the raw 17materials the playwright exploited for their composition.
  18. 18. The Court Fool in History and King Lear“Everything is folly in this world, except to play the fool.” —Giacomo Leopardi, Italian poet and philosopher (1798-1837) Foolscap ing Lear features a remarkable character such figures can be found in many cultures. AK whom, at first glance, seems to run counter tothe play’s identity as a naturalistic tragedy. pygmy clown performed in the court of Pharaoh Dadkeri-Assi during Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty (c. 2500Stemming from a long and complicated historical B.C.). Court jesters are known to have existed inand literary heritage, the court fool is a central China as early as 1818 B.C. Fools have been docu-figure in various Shakespeare plays and functions as mented at the courts of Philip of Macedon, the leg-an integral force of Lear’s dramatic art. endary Caliph of Baghdad Harun al-Rashid, and in The idea of the professional fool or jester that the royal household of Montezuma. In fact, afterresides in the imagination of most modern audience Cortez conquered the Aztecs of Mexico in 1520,members developed in the Middle Ages, although fools, dwarf clowns and hunchbacked buffoons were18
  19. 19. among the treasures he brought back to Pope ered entertaining due to a mental deficiency orClement VII. Many scholars have noted connections grotesque physical abnormality. During the Romanbetween Harlequin and Pulcinello, the comic ser- Empire, wealthy men kept half-witted and deformedvants of Commedia dell’Arte tradition, and the type slaves as jesters for entertainment during feasts.of the Fool. Fools often were crippled, humped, twisted or The traditional duties of a medieval fool were to dwarfed, and in some societies fools were deliber-amuse his or her master in order to prevent oppres- ately malformed, since abnormal mascots weresion from state affairs, and to assist in the lords thought to protect against the evil eye. Because foolsdigestion by providing mealtime entertainment. The were non-essential household servants, they werejester’s skills generally included dancing, juggling, status symbols not only for monarchs but also foracrobatics, singing, playing musical instruments, wealthy nobles of lower rank. In some instances,and extempore rhyming wordplay. Yet the fool often peasant families would bind a young childshad another important role, as expressed by Erasmus limbs–resulting in physical deformity–in order toin his “Letter to Martin Dorp” (1515): “The sorts of induce the local lord to adopt the child into hisfools which princes of former times introduced into household. This practice was known as “beggingtheir courts were there for the express purpose of him a fool.”exposing and thereby correcting certain minor faults In contrast to the “natural,” the “artificial” foolthrough their frank speech.” possessed a quick wit and the ability to engage in By the thirteenth century, European court lively repartee. Such fools were cunning and sarcas-clowns had adopted a fairly typical uniform. Royal tic entertainers, but the treatment of any courtfools often had bald or shaved heads and wore head- dependant varied according to the master. A royalgear resembling a monk’s cowl or a fool’s cap–which fool was considered parasitic, in that he relied sole-was mounted with bells or asses ears and often ly and totally on the monarch for his existence. Heturned-up or horned to resemble the comb of a roos- could be a scapegoat for his master’s anger, but inter. Lear’s Fool, of course, calls this apparel a “cox- general he was treated as well as other courtcomb.” Many jesters wore a parti-color or motley “pets”–such as hounds and horses–in whose class hecostume consisting of a robe and tight breeches of belonged. Since a jester wasnt expected to followcontrasting colors. This distinctive garb typically contemporary social graces, his presumed inno-denoted the fool’s bifurcated nature as having one cence allowed him to speak his mind. This freedomfoot in reality and another in the world of imagina- often took the form of criticizing the state or evention. Some jesters at times carried a bauble–a staff or his own master.mock scepter mounted with bells, mirrors, or a Royal fools sometimes achieved significantridiculous miniature head (often ornamented with influence and power, and many amassed wealth.asses ears). The more grotesque baubles terminated Some of the more privileged court jesters had theirin a deflated pig’s bladder fashioned in the shape of own servants, ate at the same table as their mastersa penis–which was used to make mock sexual ges- and even operated as spies for the monarch. Becausetures and to castigate members of the court. a fool’s status was isolated from the rest of the court, Fools tended to exist in two classes, being either his singular standing both mirrored and parodied the“natural” (sometimes termed “innocent”) or “artifi- exclusive position of the ruler. The fool’s marginal-cial,” indicating that their ludicrous behavior was ized place outside the court hierarchy allowed him toeither real or feigned. “Natural” fools were consid- come closer to the throne than anyone else and to be 19
  20. 20. taken into royal confidence without being perceived clown who appears to be older than the king himself,as a political threat. and as a traditional medieval court jester. Most The names of many official jesters in the courts scholars believe that the first actor to play the role ofof Europe are preserved in historical records. In Lear’s Fool was Robert Armin, a member ofEngland, the long list of jesters extends from Hitard, Shakespeare’s company who wrote Foole uponthe fool of Edmund Ironside (ruled 934-46) to Foole (1600), a pamphlet which tells us a great dealMuckle John, the fool of Charles I (ruled 1625- about jesters in the Elizabethan age.1649) who was the last official royal jester. With the Many of Shakespeare’s characters have beenbeheading of Charles I and the coming of the Puritan identified in the generalized tradition of the clownCommonwealth under Oliver Cromwell–accompa- or fool, including Dogberry in Much Ado Aboutnied by the abandonment of belief in divine Nothing, Launcelot Gobbo in The Merchant ofright–the English court fool went out of fashion. Venice and Falstaff. In the purest sense, however, One of the best known English Renaissance Shakespeare’s most notable fools appear in thefools was Will Somers, the legendary jester to Henry comedies: Touchstone in As You Like It, Feste inVIII who is credited with bringing about the down- Twelfth Night, and Lavatch in All’s Well That Endsfall of Cardinal Wolsey. Somers went on to serve Well. In such works, the playwright’s characteriza-under Edward VI and Mary, and lived into the reign tion of the fool as a dramatic device seems to haveof Elizabeth I. In addition to a motley crowd of court been quite original. In the decade beforeentertainers, including an Italian fool named Shakespeare’s play was produced, court foolsMonarcho, Elizabeth employed several dwarfs dur- appeared in Robert Greene’s Friar Bacon and Friaring her reign. One dwarf, Thomasina, was habitual- Bungay and in his Scottish History of James IV; butly attired in fine clothing made from the Queens H.F. Lippincott notes that “there are no fools whichcast-off dresses. Under James I, the ruler when King resemble Shakespeare’s in the pre-ShakespeareanLear was first performed, England saw the appear- English drama, and none of the Shakespearean foolsance of Archibald Armstrong who came with the is found in the known literary sources for the plays.”king from Scotland in 1603. Designated in official Like Rigoletto, the hunchbacked jester to theaccounts as joculator domini regis, Armstrong was Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s opera, the unnamed Foolone of the most boisterous and impudent fools ever in Lear is distinct from the other court fools inknown at the British court. By the time James’s son Shakespeare because he appears in tragic rather thanCharles I came to power, Armstrong had been grant- comic circumstances. During the Restoration, thised 1000 acres of land in Ireland, a pension of two apparent disparity in the tone of the play ran count-shillings a day and a royal patent for making tobac- er to the neoclassical dictum of a clear separationco pipes. between the genres of tragedy and comedy, thus The Fool in King Lear is one of the most puz- proving distasteful to fashionable critics. In his 1681zling figures in the play, and the role traditionally revision of Lear, Nahum Tate completely eliminatedhas been open to a wide range of theatrical interpre- the Fool, with long-lasting repercussions: the char-tations. Over the ages, Lear’s Fool has been inter- acter remained absent from all London productionspreted as a sprightly gymnast and as a hobbling for a century and a half, until 1838 when Williamarthritic, and the character has been modeled on Charles Macready produced a new-style version ofboth a monkey and a pet spaniel. The Fool has been the play. After envisioning the Fool as a “sort ofperformed as a saucy adolescent knave, a rustic fragile, hectic, beautiful-faced boy,” Macready set- tled on a woman in the role.20
  21. 21. because Lear’s Fool is such a major char- acter in the play, his purpose goes beyond that of a minor comic foil to the course of tragic events. In Lear’s jester, we see the paradox of the “wise fool.” Although he makes his liv- ing by witty speeches and comic behavior, the Fool’s primary role in the play is that of a speaker of unpleasant truths. In this sense, he is not so much the provider of merry interludes that we–and Lear–antici- pate, but instead he is a “bitter fool” who enlightens the king about the harsh facts of the world. Goneril refers to him as an “all- licens’d Fool,” meaning that he is afforded the broad freedom to do and say what he likes in the presence of his betters. Even so, his biting speeches and acid commen- tary on Lear’s rash behavior–and on the disrespect of their father by Goneril and Regan–readily result in threats of the whip. Countering the expectations of his master to be a light-hearted court enter- tainer, the Fool maintains his diplomatic distance by speaking in oblique riddles, catch phrases, proverbs and snatches of song–yet his best efforts continually skirt the risk of being incendiary.Tom Derry and Muckle John The word “fool” appears 49 times in King Lear, Shakespeare undoubtedly had a well-considered more frequently than in any other Shakespeare playpurpose for including Lear’s Fool in the play, and theexcept for Twelfth Night. Yet as Kent notes in 1.4, themingling of comic elements within a serious plot is use of such terminology in the play is “not altogeth-a typical feature of his tragedies. Anyone familiar er fool.” In the inverted, topsy-turvy world of thiswith the Porter in Macbeth or the Gravedigger tragedy, all the admirable characters are addressedclowns of Hamlet can attest to this fact. Such comic as fools or alluded to as being foolish includingcharacters often provide a brief interlude in the trag- Lear, Albany, Kent, Edgar, Gloucester and Cordelia.ic course of events, increasing the appeal of the playThe most sweeping reference to folly is spoken byand momentarily releasing the audience from the Lear himself, who refers in his madness to thetension of the gathering tragedy. The juxtaposition human condition as “this great stage of fools” (4.6).of comic elements within a tragic structure also The Fool points out to Lear that he has “mad’stamplifies the poignancy of the tragedy itself through thy daughters thy mothers” and “gav’st them thy rod,contrast, as many critics have suggested. However, 21
  22. 22. and put’st down thine own breeches” (1.4), and his deserting Lear in the king’s darkest hour; the Foolprophetic speeches evoke a medieval debate on the being stabbed by the insane Lear during the mockproper relationship between youth and old age. The trial after being mistaken for one of the “unnatural”brief reference in 1.2 to the chiding of the Fool by daughters; and the Fool dying alone and abandonedGoneril’s servant is one of the indications of a in the hovel of mysterious causes while his master isdecline in Lear’s power. Goneril uses the king’s taken away. No matter how stage productions choosedefense of his Fool–which entails Lear physically to depict his exit, the Fool’s enigmatic character andstriking back at her gentleman–as an excuse for hav- equivocal nature continue after 400 years to helping Lear’s own actions “come to question.” Unlike make King Lear one of the most complex andhis metaphorically-blind master, the Fool clearly rewarding challenges for directors and actors in thesees Lear’s predicament and is able to make, if literature of the theatre.somewhat cryptically, both his master and the audi-ence conscious of the magnitude of the king’s errorsand his fallen status after he abdicates. On one level, the Fool functions as Lear’s con-science after he disowns Cordelia for being honestin lieu of the false vows of Goneril and Regan. Itcould be argued that the Fool not only points outLear’s folly and change in sovereign status, but thathis lucid insight also spurs Lear on to the harsh real-ization of “filial ingratitude” that accelerates theking’s spiraling madness. Scholars have often been troubled by the factthat the Fool disappears barely halfway throughoutthe play. However, perhaps Shakespeare at this pointconsidered the Fool no longer dramatically neces-sary, Lear having learned the hard way the necessarylesson about loving devotion versus sycophantic lipservice that the Fool sought so earnestly to teach.The advent of Edgar in the assumed guise of themad Poor Tom O’Bedlam, in a sense, replaces andovershadows the madcap musings of Lear’s courtfool. Most importantly, Lear’s madness gains fullforce after the Fool disappears; the king can handleno more instruction concerning his rash actions,thereby rendering the Fool’s presence superfluous. Because the Fool remains an enigmatic charactereven in his exit, there have been various methods ofportraying his disappearance from the stage. Someinterpretations have included the Fool cravenly22
  23. 23. The Celtic Era A Pictorial AlbumOne of the most popular schools of thought regarding the Celtic calendar maintains that the year wasdivided into thirteen months. This theory, developed by Robert Graves, argues that the months corre-sponded to the vowels of the Ogham or Celtic tree alphabet. Represented (clockwise from top) are thebirch, rowan, ash, alder, willow, hawthorn, oak, holly, hazel, vine, ivy, reed and elder. 23
  24. 24. During the final stages of the Iron Age (c. 6th century B.C.), the La Tène culture gradually trans- formed into the explicitly Celtic culture of early historical times. The original Celtic homeland flourished in parts of what is now France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Over the next few centuries, the Celts migrated into modern-day Britain, Ireland, Spain, northern Italy and Greece. To the east, the Celts spread as far as Turkey and the Ukraine.“Plate sin with gold, / And the strong lanceof justice hurtless breaks” —King Lear IV.6.Celtic wheel design on the Battersea shield,a red-glass inlaid bronze shield used forornamental and ceremonial purposes.Found buried in the Thames River, thisshield dates from the third to late first cen-tury B.C. Currently located in the BritishMuseum, London.24
  25. 25. “Fortune, good night: smile once more: turn thy wheel!” —King Lear II.2. Detail from a bronze shield mount dating from the fifth century B.C. Found in Tal-y-llyn, Wales. Located in the Cardiff National Museum. “O you are men of stones: / Had I your tongues and eyes, Ild use them so / That heavens vault should crack” — King Lear V.3. This Celtic two-faced (Janiform) sculp- ture of uncertain and disputed age is located on Boas Island in County Fermanagh, Ireland.“These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend nogood to us”—King Lear I.2. A second century A.D. Celticcalendar discovered in Coligny, France. Possibly the old-est Celtic solar/lunar ritual calendar, this framed bronzesheet measures 5 by 3.5 feet. The calendar is written inthe Gaulish language (similar to Welsh) using Roman-style letters and numerals. It was originally mounted ona wall but later smashed and buried. 25
  26. 26. “Now, gods, that we adore, whereof comes this?” —King Lear I.4. The Gundestrup cauldron (c. 1st century B.C.) was discovered ritually buried in a bog in Denmark. Made of silver and weighing close to 19 pounds, it is covered inside and out with depictions of male and female divine beings and their attendants.“Horns whelkd and waved like theenridged sea” —King Lear IV.6. Detail ofthe Gundestrup cauldron. The antler-headed god Cernunnos holds a ram-headed snake and a torque. He wearsanother torque around his neck, a long-sleeved shirt, belt, knee breeches andlaced shoes. Surrounding him are plantsand wild animals, including a boar anda deer.26
  27. 27. The Life and Times of Shakespeare A ChronologyYear Playwright World History1564 William Shakespeare is born to John Galileo Galilei is born. Shakespeare and Mary Arden of British playwright Christopher Marlowe is born. Stratford-upon-Avon, England, their third child and first son. (Traditionally, England, Spain, Portugal, France, and the Netherlands Shakespeare’s Day is celebrated on undertake voyages of exploration, trade, and coloniza- April 23.) tion throughout the “New World.” Rivalries break out between European trading powers.1576 Richard Burbage opens The Theatre, London’s first playhouse used by professional actors. The dining hall of Blackfriars monastery is converted into a theatre for private performances given by a company of boy actors. It remains open until 1584. Raphael Holinshed publishes Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, a primary source for Shakespeare’s history plays.1577 Sir Francis Drake begins three-year voyage around the world.1578 Shakespeare’s family finds itself in Interest in Roman and Greek antiquities leads to the serious debt and mortgages Mary’s discovery of the catacombs in Rome. house in Wilmcote to raise cash.1580 John Shakespeare is involved in law- The English folksong “Greensleeves” is popular. suits regarding several mortgaged family properties.1582 A marriage license is issued in The Gregorian calendar is adopted in Spain, Portugal, November to William Shakespeare and France, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia. (England Agnes (Anne) Hathaway. She is eight does not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752.) years his senior and pregnant at the time of their marriage. The following May their first daughter, Susanna, is born.1585 Twins Hamnet and Judith are born in Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes writes the pastoral February to William and Anne novel Galatea. Shakespeare. 27
  28. 28. Year Playwright World History1585-91 No surviving records document Shakespeare’s life during these “lost years.” At some point, he must have made his way to London without his family. 1586 Mary, Queen of Scots is accused of plotting to murder Queen Elizabeth. Other conspirators are tried and exe- cuted. Mary is executed the following year. 1588 An attempt by the Spanish Armada to invade England fails due to the combination of bad weather in the English Channel and the ability of smaller English ships to out-maneuver the attackers. The event establishes England as a major naval power. England enters a period of economic, political, and cultural expansion.1590-91 Shakespeare writes Henry VI, Part Two and Henry VI, Part Three.1591-92 Shakespeare writes Henry VI, Part One. 1592 Shakespeare is listed as an actor with 15,000 people die of the plague in London. Theatres the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in close temporarily to prevent the spread of the epidemic. London. Writer and dramatist Robert Greene scathingly lashes out at “an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers” at the time when Shakespeare’s King Henry VI, Part One is performing successfully.1592-94 Shakespeare writes several more plays Christopher Marlowe is killed in a tavern brawl in 1593. (their dates of composition have not His tragedy Edward II is published the following year. been established with certainty in all London’s theatres reopen in 1594 when the threat of the cases): Richard III, The Comedy of plague has abated. Errors, Titus Andronicus, The Taming of the Shrew, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Italian astronomer Giordano Bruno is accused and and Love’s Labour’s Lost. During this imprisoned by the Vatican for supporting the time, Shakespeare also wrote the Copernican theory of the universe. He is burned to death poems “Venus and Adonis” and “The in Rome in 1600. Rape of Lucrece.”28
  29. 29. Year Playwright World History 1595 Close to this year Shakespeare writes Sir Philip Sidney’s An Apology for Poetry is published the plays Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, posthumously A Midsummer Night’s Dream, King John, and The Merchant of Venice. 1596 John Shakespeare, the dramatist’s The Blackfriars Playhouse, later to become the winter father, is granted a coat of arms. theatre for Shakespeare’s company, opens in London. Shakespeare’s only son, Hamnet, dies at the age of eleven.1597-98 Shakespeare’s sonnets circulate unpub- A second armada of Spanish ships en route to attack lished. England is dispersed by storms. The dramatist writes Henry IV Part , Sir Francis Bacon’s Essays, Civil and Moral is pub- One; Henry IV Part Two; Much Ado , lished. About Nothing; and The Merry Wives An Act of Parliament prescribes sentences of deporta- of Windsor. (Some sources place the tion to British colonies for convicted criminals. writing of The Merry Wives of Windsor closer to 1601). 1599 The Globe Playhouse opens. The Earl of Essex is sent to command English forces in Shakespeare is part owner by virtue of Ireland. He fails to secure peace and returns to England the shares divided between the against the orders of Elizabeth I. Burbage family of actors (half) and five others, including the dramatist. This is the approximate year of compo- sition for the plays Henry V Julius , Caesar, and As You Like It.1600-02 Shakespeare writes the poem “The The international trading corporation the English East Phoenix and the Turtle.” Around this India Company is founded in 1600. time he also writes the plays Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, The Earl of Essex attempts a rebellion and is executed in and All’s Well That Ends Well. 1601. Shakespeare’s father dies in 1601. The Dutch East India Company is founded in 1602. London barrister John Manningham in 1602 makes this entry in his diary: “At our feast we had a play called Twelve Night Or What You Will, much like The Comedy of Errors, or Menechmi in Plautus, but most like and near to that in Italian called Inganni. 29
  30. 30. Year Playwright World History 1602 Comedian Will Kemp dances a Morris Dance from (cont.) London to Norwich. Ben Jonson, offended by a satirical portrayal of himself in a play, returns the insult, sparking a series of plays known as the War of the Theatres, in which playwrights ridicule each other from the stage.1603-04 The approximate years of composition Elizabeth I dies in 1603 and is succeeded by her cousin, for Shakespeare’s plays Measure for James I. (The era of his reign is called the Jacobean Measure and Othello. period.) When James I is crowned King of Sir Walter Raleigh, arrested for suspected involvement England, the acting company known as in a plot to dethrone James I, is tried for treason and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, with imprisoned. which Shakespeare is affiliated, Plague breaks out again in London. becomes the King’s Men. The company will perform twelve plays per year for the court of James I.1605-06 Shakespeare’s name is included among Guy Fawkes and others are arrested following the dis- England’s greatest writers in Remaines covery of the Gunpowder Plot, a plan to blow up the of a Greater Worke Concerning House of Lords during an address by James I on Britaine, published by the antiquarian November 5th. They are executed the following year. William Camden. Ben Jonson writes Volpone. Shakespeare writes the plays King Lear and Macbeth.1607-08 The approximate years of composition English colonists sail to America, led by John Smith, for the plays Antony and Cleopatra, and establish the city of Jamestown, Virginia. Timon of Athens, Pericles, and Dutch scientist Johan Lippershey invents the telescope. Coriolanus. Galileo copies the design to construct one of his own. Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna mar- ries Dr. John Hill in 1607; the couple settle in Stratford. In 1608, Shakespeare’s acting company signs a lease for the use of the Blackfriars Playhouse. Shakespeare’s mother dies in 1608.1609-11 Shakespeare’s sonnets are published. The Dutch East India Company begins shipping tea from China to Europe. Shakespeare writes Cymbeline, The The King James version of the Bible is published Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest. in 1611.30
  31. 31. Year Playwright World History1612 Records indicate that by this time John Webster’s tragedy The White Devil is staged and Shakespeare “of Stratford-upon-Avon published. gentleman” has returned to live in his birthplace.1613 Henry VIII and The Two Noble The Globe Playhouse burns down during the first Kinsmen are attributed to both performance of Henry VIII. Shakespeare and John Fletcher.1616 Shakespeare’s daughter Judith is The Catholic Church prohibits Galileo from further married. scientific work. Shakespeare dies on April 23 and is buried in Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church.1620 English Puritans, led by Miles Standish, settle at Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. Serious economic decline begins in England.1623 Heminge and Condell of the King’s John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi is published. Men compile Shakespeare’s complete Dutch colonists settle in New Amsterdam (seized by the dramatic works which are published in English and renamed New York in 1664). the First Folio. Shakespeare’s widow Anne dies. 31
  32. 32. Focus on Production: Director Larry Carpenter on the Challenges of Shakespeare’s Powerful and Poetic King Lear York for Roundabout Theatre Company, Soho Repertory Theatre, Playwrights Horizon, the Juilliard School, and Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. His many directing credits at regional theatres include the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, Seattle Repertory Theatre, and Pasadena Playhouse. The following interview was conducted by Kansas City Rep’s director of communications Laura Muir. The previous works you have directed for Kansas City Rep are very diverse and yet each of them raises questions about how individuals, be they private citizens or religious and political figures, respond to societal issues. Is this subtext some- thing you look for in your directing projects? The simple answer is that every play in some way is a reflection of its society. I like to think that I’m drawn to plays that wrestle with bits and corners of moral and ethical dilemmas that operate as frac- tals of our greater societal problems. Theatre is an arena which often places an individual characterLarry Carpenter center stage as a proxy for the audience member. This character then acts out a ritual of trying to solve arry Carpenter, director of Kansas CityL Repertory Theatre’s production of King Lear byWilliam Shakespeare, has previously been director a dilemma—whether successfully or not—on behalf of the audience member and society at the Rep for Company, Saint Joan, The Front Page You are well known for the extensive research youand Give ’Em Hell, Harry. All of these productions conduct for your plays How did you prepare tohave been acclaimed by critics and audiences alike. direct King Lear?Carpenter informs his directing with a singular Yes, Im a research maven. I have read a greatblend of intellect and wit as he takes on a variety of deal on the play. I’ve also viewed five or six of thechallenges from musicals to comedy to drama. He DVD versions that are available. In addition, I’vereceived a Tony Award nomination for best director done quite a bit of research on what wasfor Starmites and has directed productions in New happening to Shakespeare in 1604-5 London. There32
  33. 33. is a fascinating book by James Shapiro titled 1599: als of both Lear and Shylock. I learned a great dealA Year in the Life of William Shakespeare. It is a very about the play, about the theatre and about the art ofaggressively researched and well-thought-out exam- living from Morris. I owe him a great debt. That’s aination of the year (1599) in which Shakespeare very big reason for my interest in this play.apparently wrote Henry V Julius Caesar, As You Like , Do you consider King Lear to be a play of ourIt, and Hamlet. I’m in the process with our produc- time that reflects contemporary politics andtion’s dramaturge of conducting a similar study to humanity?understand the social, political, religious, and the- Since 9/11, the world has become progressivelyatrical issues that affected Shakespeare when he was unpredictable, unstable and chaotic. By renouncingcreating Lear. his kingdom, Lear throws his own world into a sim-King Lear is such a profound exploration of the ilar chaos. That chaos permits a perversion of estab-complexities of the human spirit. What qualities lished moral and civil codes, cruelty, terrorism, andof Shakespeare’s works stimulate you as a direc- revolt. Lear is very much a cautionary tale for ourtor? time. Well, he engages the big issues, doesnt he? His Do you have a favorite play by Shakespeare orplots and his understanding of character are extraor- any other playwright that you would still like todinary. And when you add to this his extraordinary direct?use of language—both verse and prose—he always Shakespeare—Richard II, Stoppard—Arcadia,holds me captive. Further, when he uses plot, char- Shaw—Major Barbara, Sondheim—A Little Nightacter and language to advance some central theme— Music. These four authors really are my heroes. I’dnihilism, in the case of this play—he can be devas- pretty much direct any of their work anytime. I’dtating. Simply being responsible for getting the also like to take a crack at Aeschylus, Athol Fugard,scope and magnificence of this play on the boards is Chekhov, Brecht, and Samuel Beckett.a great challenge. It’s terrifying and exhilarating allat the same time. I hope to be able to pass that feel-ing onto the audience.Has the text of the Rep’s production of King Learbeen altered in any way? If so, how do you deter-mine what to eliminate or change and why? Yes, we have shortened the play. I’ve examinedmany different cuts of the play from many sources.From these sources and from my entry point on theplay, I generated a first draft cut script. Peter Altmanand I then worked together to generate the rehearsaldraft. As a side bar, it’s probably also important to saythat I was fortunate enough as a younger man to actin two separate productions of King Lear with therenowned American classical actor MorrisCarnovsky. Morris was very famous for his portray- 33
  34. 34. BibliographyAbrams, M.H., ed. “King Lear.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. W.W. Norton, New York,2000.Bentley, G.E. “Shakespeare, the King’s Company, and King Lear.” On King Lear. Princeton UniversityPress, 1981.Billington, Sandra. A Social History of the Fool. St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1984.Bullough, Geoffrey, ed. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. Vol. 7. Routledge and KeaganPaul, London, 1973.Clark, Cumberland. Shakespeare and Science. Haskell House Publishers Ltd., 1970.Collington, Philip D. “Self-Discovery in Montaigne’s ‘Of Solitariness’ and King Lear.” ComparativeDrama 35, 2001.Christen, Kimberly A. Clowns and Tricksters: An Encyclopedia of Tradition and Culture. ABC-CLIO,Santa Barbara, CA , 1998.Dobson, Michael and Stanley Wells, ed. “King Lear.” The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. OxfordUniversity Press, 2001.Empson, William. “Fool in Lear.” The Structure of Complex Words. New Directions, 1952, Norfolk,Conn.Erasmus. The Praise of Folly. Penguin, Baltimore, 1971.Evans, G. Blakemore, ed. The Riverside Shakespeare. Houghton Mifflin, 1974.Harbage, Alfred, ed. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Viking Press, 1977.Green, Lawrence D. “’Where’s My Fool?’—Some Consequences of the Omission of the Fool in Tate’sLear.” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900.Greenblatt, Stephen. Shakespearean Negotiations. University of California Press, 1988.Halio, Jay L. King Lear: A Guide to the Play. Greenwood Guides to Shakespeare. Greenwood Press,2001.34
  35. 35. Hogg, James, ed. A Shakespeare Jestbook, Robert Armin’s “Foole upon Foole” (1600). ElizabethanStudies 20. Institut Für Englische Sprache und Literatur Universität Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria 1973.Hotson, Leslie. Shakespeare’s Motley. Rupert Hart-Davis, London, 1952.Kermode, Frank. “King Lear.” The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans and J.J.R. Tobin.Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1997.Lee, Sir Sidney, ed. The True Chronicle History of King Leir. Oxford University Press, London, 1900.Lippincott, H.F. “King Lear and the Fools of Robert Armin.” Shakespeare Quarterly 26, 1975.Orgel, Stephen, ed. The Oxford Shakespeare. Clarendon Press, 1996.Parr, Johnstone. Tamburlaine’s Malady and Other Essays on Astrology in Elizabethan Drama. GreenwoodPress. 1953.Rosenberg, Marvin. The Masks of King Lear. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1972.Seiden, Melvin. “The Fool and Edmund: Kin and Kind.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. 1979.Sondheim, Moriz. “Shakespeare and the Astrology of His Time.” Journal of the Warburg Institute, 1939.The Winter’s Tale: A Study Guide. Huntington Theatre Company, Boston.Van Domelen, John E. “Why Cordelia Must Die.” South Central Bulletin 35.4, 1975.Wells, Stanley. The History of King Lear. The Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford: Clarendon, 2000.Welsford, Enid. The Fool: His Social and Literary History. Peter Smith, Gloucester, MA, 1966.Wiles, David. Shakespeare’s Clown: Actor and Text in the Elizabethan Playhouse. Cambridge UniversityPress, 1987.Williams, Paul V.A., ed. The Fool and the Trickster. Rowan and Littlefield, 1979.Wittreich, Joseph. “Image of that Horror: History, Prophecy, and Apocalypse in King Lear.” HuntingtonLibrary, San Marino, CA, 1984.Zijderveld, Anton C. Reality in a Looking-Glass: Rationality Through an Analysis of Traditional Folly.Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1982. 33
  36. 36. The Professional Theatre in Residence at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Peter Altman, Producing Artistic Director 4949 Cherry Street • Kansas City, MO 64110 King Lear is produced in cooperation with the University of Missouri-Kansas City Department of Theatre This production is made possible through the generous support of the Hall Family Foundation. Honorary Producers Celebrating Our Heritage Fund—Miller and Jeannette Nichols Dr. and Mrs. Keith W. Ashcraft For information about the Sprint Student Matinee Series, please call 816-235-2707. Media sponsor for this production isKC Rep’s 2006-07 season is supported in part by Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation, Hallmark Corporate Foundation, theHall Family Foundation, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.Now in its 43rd season, Kansas City Repertory Theatre is the professional theatre in residence at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The Rep produces up to eight mainstage plays each season, employs more than 250 professional artists, techniciansand administrators, and serves approximately 100,000 patrons annually. As the region’s only professional theatre with member-ship in the national League of Resident Theatres, the Rep operates under agreements with Actors’ Equity Association (the nation-al union of professional actors and stage mangers), the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, Inc., and United ScenicArtists Local USA-829 IATSE.