Monday 13 December 2010

Don’t ask me what I think of you

I have a beastly cold, one that came on suddenly towards the end of last week. No matter; cold or no cold, nothing could stop me going to see Derek Jacobi perform King Lear at London’s Donmar Warehouse on Saturday, my tickets having been bought long since!

Charles Spencer, in his Telegraph review says that Lear is perhaps the greatest of all Shakespeare’s dramas. Oh, Charles, why so mealy-mouthed? Drop the qualification and damn the devil: it is the greatest! It is also arguably the most demanding part of all, far more demanding than Hamlet or Macbeth and slightly more demanding than Othello. It requires considerable maturity for an actor to carry the role off well, descending by stages from the conceited king to the broken man, old before he was wise. Jacobi, quite simply, is outstanding, full of emotional intensity. Behold the king, behold the man, behold the actor.

And there is Cordelia, wonderfully played by Pippa Bennett-Warner, perhaps the one female character in Shakespeare that I identify with most (well, there is Lady Macbeth, but I think I’ll just keep quiet about that!). I would be Cordelia; I would not flatter; I would tell the simple honest truth without hope of gain, because truth here is the test of virtue. Don’t ask me what I think of you I might not give the answer that you want me to. She does not give the answer that her father wants her to, unlike Goneril and Regan, hypocritical and self-serving harpies; and Gina McKee as Goneril was a particularly scheming harpy, the perfect wicked sister! Lear disinherits Cordelia, casting her out, only to discover all too late that her stark honesty contained the greater love.

Lear is a play about despair, tragic and unrelieved despair. Indeed the message was so stark that previous generations simply could not tolerate the heart-break: it conflicted too much with established notions of poetic justice. In the early 1680s it was rewritten in a version by Nahum Tate, a future poet laureate, in which Lear does not die, the wicked sisters are punished, and Cordelia marries Edgar. Amazingly this version was still playing on the English stage as late as 1838. But now we can despair at be at enmity with false hope; now we can feel the raw emotion.

The production by Michael Grandage is tremendous- precise, taut, unadorned, all adding to the intensity of the words, more sound less fury. Christopher Oram’s stage design, stark in the extreme, adds so well to the overall effect of the performance. There is nothing excessive here, nothing that distracts from a full understanding of the unfolding tragedy. I was sniffing at the end. I assure you, it had nothing to do with my cold.


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  4. You have only just discovered that I have a sense of humour! Most of my writing is seasoned with a touch of sardonic humour, light or heavy as the occasion demands. :-)

  5. Anyway, Adam, I do hope you enjoy the play as much as I did.

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  7. I think the plot of King Lear might very well serve as an analog for devolution. Personally, I find the play extremely irritating. I don't have much tolerance for irrational sentiment went it leads to disastrous consequences. As you might imagine, I have spent my life among the fatuous statist idiots of Western socialist thinking in a state of barely-contained fury. Of course, there are the lighter moments as one watches their moronic schemes unravel - as they must.

    Of course, that is why Will's plays are great: they portray people as they are, not as they ought to be. They make me very uncomfortable; I keep wanting to intervene - instead of sitting powerless, watching the inevitable disasters unfold.

  8. Calvin, you remind me of Nancy Mitford's description of Farve's - the Duke of Devonshire - reactions after seeing a performance of Romeo and Juliet, his views on the 'damned padre' in particular. :-))

  9. Take action on a cold early on when symptoms first appear. The natural herbal remedy combination of Echinacea-Goldenseal for (bacterial infection) is a natural antibiotic and immune system booster. L-Lysine for (Viral infection)is an amino acid and protein building block. A combination of the two can work wonders, also Chicken soup (real chicken is best, not canned soup) with a bit of garlic is also a good remedy as chicken bone marrow has antibiotic properties and chicken fat works wonders on malicious bacteria in the digestive tract . It is excellent for treatment of parvo virus in dogs if given early on with a general antibiotc if available. Eating oranges also helps with natural vitamin "C" and fluid intake. Colloidal-Silver is reputed to be a good healing remedy, but i have no direct expierience with this. All from the healing arts of those who follow the natural world. As for Shakespeare too many Thees, Thines, and thous for me but "RAN" a film by Akira Kurosawa Loosly based on "King Lear" set in 16th century Japan is a masterpiece.

  10. It took me by surprise, Anthony. I'll be mindful of your advice in future. Yes, a good movie by a good director.

  11. Shakespeare's plots and his language, particularly in King Lear does not work upon principles of common sense. It is obvious that Shakespeare suffered from the same bad case of tachycardia which troubles Lear:

    Lear goes through the speech, as I say, like one actually being born, with a confused terror of the incarceration into flesh (in the grip of the weaver at the womb door), and broken glimpses of the female genitalia as the topography of Hell. But then, immediately after this darkest moment, and after some snatches of 'we came crying hither' and 'the first time that we smell the air/We waul and cry', and 'When we are born we cry that we are come/To this great stage of fools', he emerges, as on the opposite side of a Black Hole, into a new universe, punished, corrected, enlightened and transfigured, as a grey-haired babe, and the Goddess embraces him, correspondingly transformed, and wakens him with a kiss, as Coredelia.

    (Hughes, Ted. Shakespeare & the Goddess of Complete Being. Faber & Faber, 1992, revised & corrected, 1993. 263, 264).

    When Ted Hughes was writing his chapter(s) about the eye in King Lear in Shakespeare & the Goddess of Complete Being (my favourite book on Shakespeare in which Hughes hits upon the skeleton-key to understanding Shakespeare) he came down with shingles and had to continue writing in bed, blind in his right eye. In it, he touches upon reactivation of myths of the Egyptian sun god Re and his daughter, the Eye.

    There is a prophecy in Geoffrey of Monmouth in which, after relating him to the god Janus (an altar to whom was reconstructed as Llyr's tomb) from the mouth of Merlin to the effect that the ancient Drudic religion of the oak-cult will be swept away by Christianity and left to dwell forgotten in the Castle of Arianrod (the Corona Borealis).

    Lear is England's first Crow God (descended by archeological/religiously/mythical evidence from Apollo, also a Crow God). Llyr also has canny associations with King Llud of my recent blog here:

    At Ludgate, according to Islamic Tradition will take place the encounter between the Messiah and the antichrist, and I have blogged about that here:

    I've only ever been once to watch a Shakespeare play myself and that was with a school trip to see A Midsummer Night's Dream. There are stories in literature that exist upon the page and there are underlying, hidden, inner stories within them and inside the page (between the lines, so to say). If the reader can get to the heart of a book or the play within the play he has got to the truth.

    Ana Cordelia now. Surely you are aware of her/your mythic ancestry. In the Welsh myth from whence the story originates, she, as the bride is the third of the Triple Goddess Creiddylad, she was banished out to sea as a heron for 300 years (her name still is the word for heron in Welsh). It must be out of this world for someone like yourself to go to see King Lear and to be the triple Tragic Equation itself and to be silent as Cordelia (the heart of Lear, in French).

    Mister Garrie's One Nation:
    Like the Roman is a grand book!

  12. I envy you. I would have nothing to do with Shakespeare for 30 years (courtesy of an absolutely dreadful English Lit. teacher), but I now take every opportunity to see his plays performed. Unfortunately, I live in Hong Kong, so opportunities are few and far between. I prefer Hamlet and Macbeth to King Lear, which I've always found slightly unconvincing.

    Have you read Tolstoi's essay on Lear?

  13. Dennis, I have. Look for a The Man who would be King, a piece I posted on 5 July of last year.