I admire greatly any actor who accepts the challenge of that Everest of theatrical roles, “King Lear”. Written by Anne Hathaway’s husband, a writer who has influenced your English speaking life even if you’ve never seen or read any of his plays or heard or read any of his love sonnets. King Lear is considered by many to be William Shakespeare’s greatest outpouring. But I don’t think so. No for reasons I hope to present, I can find no merit in this bogus tragedy.
I saw King Lear at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford—upon-Avon during the late 90’s (I don’t remember exactly anyway it was approaching the millennium and it is easy to be pretentious, affected and overly cultured). But all things come with age and since this time, with a foot firmly in mouth passion, I have managed to reveal in myself the dissatisfaction I have with this particular Shakespearean offspring.
The essence of tragedy, from the audience’s point of view, is that you must feel sympathy for the tragic figure. Trouble is, I don’t feel a micro—jot of sympathy for Lear. Abandoning his responsibilities, he arrogantly expects to be treated as though he was still shouldering those responsibilities. He expects his children to honour and love him merely because he provided the sperm. His loyal and good friend, the Earl of Gloucester, tries to help him and has his eyes plucked out for his trouble. And Cordelia, the only daughter out of three who does love him (and loves him enough not to dishonour him by being a sycophantic, hypocritical, self—serving toady) is executed for trying to help him.
King Lear is a true member of the British Conservative party: He knows the price of everything and the value of nothing; and those around him have to suffer (horribly and/or fatally) the consequence of his education. He is a selfish, self-centred, arrogant, “head in the sand” man. The tragedy is not his: it is the tragedy of those around him. And having known and observed so many of his ilk and the global suffering they cause, I find his saga irritating, annoying and frustrating rather than instructive or moving.
There. Glad I got that off my chest. Well, Shakespeare certainly has me boiling doesn’t he? I wonder if that’s the point. Perhaps the ability King Lear has to anger me… makes it a very good play indeed. Anything, but indifference eh?