Theatre review: King LearPosted on January 15, 2008
Last Saturday I saw the very last performance of King Lear by the Royal Shakespeare Company with Sir Ian McKellen as Lear.
I love Shakespeare. I always have. The man was pure genius. I have read a few of the plays but it is not as good as seeing them being performed on stage. And I am going to state the obvious by saying that no one performs Shakespeare like the Royal Shakespeare Company. I have seen a lot of Shakespeare productions, including Othello at the Globe (which was great by the way) but nothing surpasses the RSC’s productions. Everything is top notch, the directing, the special effects, they do the BEST swords fights and you can swear that they are for real, and the acting is overwhelming. They own the stage, they KNOW the words like you would not think possible and we all know how Shakespeare can be quite demanding. Sir Ian Mckellen was brilliant but he was part of an equally amazing ensemble. Everyone shone but in the end, the most important was the play itself.
King Lear is a play with so many different layers and I kept asking myself, what is it all about?
You could say it is a play about Politics – There is King Lear of England and he is getting old so he must find a successor to the throne. He has three daughters: the two older daughters are married to powerful men The Duke of Albany and the Duke of Cornwall. Cordelia, the youngest one and the favourite of the King is about to be married to the King of France.
You could say it is a play about being Foolish – For the King rules that the best way to decide who gets what is to have a contest where each daughter must tell him how much they love him and this way he would decide. The two older daughters jump at the opportunity to flatter him whilst Cordelia refuses on the grounds that she will not cheapen her feelings to him in a contest. He gets mad, disinherits and banishes Cordelia. The Earl of Kent, the King’s closest ally and friend, trying to defend Cordelia, is also banished.
You could say it is a play about Madness and Sadness – for the King now that he has no real power anymore finds out that his daughters do not care for him. They have no room for him in their lives and he becomes a homeless in its own reign. He wanders from place to place and becomes mad as he becomes lonely.
You could say it is a play about Fathers and Sons – for in the play there is also a good man, the Earl Of Gloucester, an ally to the King, who has a legitimate son, Edgar and a bastard son, Edmund and he sees them as equals.
You could say it is a play about Hate and Treason – for Edmund has dreams of power and he concocts a plan to make his father believe his half-brother is a villain so that Edgar must be exiled and he must have all. He also does nothing to help his father when it’s known that he is an ally of Lear and is blinded in a most gut-wrenching scene and sent out to fend for himself in the middle of a storm. He has an affair with both Lear’s daughters and they fight each other as they fall in lust with this man – until the eldest daughter poisons her sister and later kills herself.
But above all, this play is about Love and Devotion and how there are people in the world who will stand by you no matter what. It is the case of Cordelia, who comes back with the aid of the France army to help her father in getting his throne back despite the fact that he was the one who sent her away; it is the case of Edgar who helps his father, the Earl of Gloucester protecting and guiding him as he blindly tries to get to Lear, even though he was the one who did not trust him and it is also the case of the Earl of Kent who has been disguised as a mere servant in order to being close to Lear so he could carry on serving him the best he could.
It is a Tragedy so not all ends well: everyone loses, villains and heroes alike. But it doesn’t matter because at the end of the day the real winners are us, the audience, who were able to see such a powerful work of literature and art.