Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens during the play
- Kent meets Gloucester’s illegitimate son Edmund. King Lear announces his retirement and divides his kingdom among his three daughters, but then disinherits Cordelia and banishes Kent. The King of France accepts the dowerless Cordelia, and she leaves with him to be his queen.
- Edmund, the bastard, tricks Gloucester into believing that Gloucester’s legitimate son, Edgar, is trying to kill Gloucester. The bastard then convinces Edgar that Gloucester is enraged with Edgar.
- Kent returns, in disguise, to serve Lear. Goneril dismisses half of Lear’s entourage; Lear leaves her house to go live with Regan.
- Edmund encourages Edgar to run away. Edgar disguises himself as “Poor Tom,” a mad beggar.
- At Gloucester’s house, Regan and Cornwall put Kent in the stocks, angering Lear. Both Regan and Goneril refuse to board Lear’s hundred nights; Lear leaves Gloucester’s house into the “wild night.”
- Gloucester tells Edmund he has a letter saying that France is preparing to put soldiers in their kingdom. Edmund steals this letter and gives it to Cornwall and Regan.
- Gloucester tells the disguised Kent that Lear’s daughters seek Lear’s death.
- Blinding, madness, war, and death ensue.
Notes from the Director
Poppycock, Darkness, and Love
Two things are infinite:
the universe and human stupidity;
and I’m not sure about the universe.
– Albert Einstein
Harold Bloom and Charles Lamb claim that King Lear is a great piece of literature to read but that, as a script, it is “unplayable” in the theatre. Others must have agreed with this assessment because Nahum Tate rewrote Shakespeare’s play in 1678 to give it a happy ending in which Cordelia lives and marries Edgar; this version was performed by the great Shakespearean actors (Betterton, Garrick, Kemble, Kean) for over a hundred and fifty years because Shakespeare’s version was, apparently, too dark, too mean, too “unplayable.”
We’re going to play the “unplayable.” not only do we have the audacity to ignore Bloom and Lamb and “just do it,” but I hope you walk out of the theatre thinking at least three things:
1. poppycock is a right
2. life can be a dark ride
3. the darkness can give way to light.
King Lear harshly exposes some of the horrors the human race is capable of inflicting on itself. To tap into the greatness of this play, we’ve got to be able to show the cruelty, the stupidity, and the darkness that can live in the mind and soul. Part of what makes the play monumentally uncomfortable is that Shakespeare shows us how arrogant, dumb, and blind we can be, even to our own family and to those whom we profess to love most. But watching/hearing/experiencing this darkness can also move us to more than just revulsion.
Many (perhaps most) productions of Lear never let us inside these characters in a way that allows us to care or feel. Lear divides his kingdom and disinherits Cordelia very quickly; we don’t see much of who Lear is on a “good day.” The sisters are usually nothing but harpies from the outset, Edmund is often just slimy, Edgar is confusing, Kent is loyal, and Gloucester is loyal but not too bright. Without changing what Shakespeare wrote, we hope to create characters, relationships, and situations that allow you to care about what’s happening. I don’t think Lear should be a ride you take just because “it’s good for you.” It should be powerful, surprisingly funny, and always engaging because you care about what happens next or how that next thing will happen.
We never know when our time on this planet will end; “May not young men die as well as old?” (Shrew). We’re never too young to blow it, we’re never too old to change. As naïve or Pollyanna as it may sound. I think some of the genius inside this masterpiece is that Shakespeare shows us multiple paths down which we don’t have to travel our lives. By watching the mistakes of others, we can learn what not to do; we can see what we don’t want to become. “I don’t want to be that kind of parent, child, spouse, or friend; I don’t want to be blind to my loved ones.” Hopefully not all of us have wanted to pluck out the eyes of someone who has displeased us, but we’ve probably all committed foolish, destructive acts in the heat of believing we were in the right. I think productions of this play should speak to our souls, to our sense of right and wrong, to our better selves. Whatever we’ve screwed p in our lives, if we’re watching the play then we are still alive, we still have choices to make, and we still have the ability to seek forgiveness. In a strange way, what is awful in this play can also give us hope and wisdom; it can help us love more, feel more, see better, be better.
Thanks for joining us as we take this ride together. I hope you find the poppycock in “unplayable,” the light inside the darkness, as well as the love and forgiveness we all deserve to find. As long as we’re breathing, it’s not too late.