We call it “The Monster.” Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, KING LEAR. It is respected and most often held in awe by those who have ever read it. A king of myth divides his realm between two daughters after exiling his youngest daughter Cordelia and his best friend, Kent. What follows is chaos, tears, usurpation, torture, civil war, madness, terror, and final catastrophe.
There are over 100 references to animals in the play. The word “nature” is mentioned over 50 times. The play ranges from inner conflict, social entropy, national collapse, international war, theological mystery, and cosmological challenge. It commands us to stare into the abyss and ask if we actually live in an ‘imbecilic universe.’ No Gods, no afterlife. A Darwinian dilemma! Break the bonds of nature and the nascent forces of life, decay, and death will piteously hunt you down to grind your soul into a scant and obscure oblivion.
There have been reports over the years of people passing out in the audience witnessing this play. Cool! Keats said reading it “burns like a brand on the brain.” It was written over 400 years ago but has endured with a vapid happy ending tagged on for almost two centuries. It is hard to believe the man who wrote the many sugared sonnets and pastoral romances could conceive much less wonderfully achieve such a stark pinnacle of despair.
We are doing KING LEAR at last. We gaze at the summit of its sobering glory like daunted climbers casting their eyes up to the peak of Everest. This is our year of Lear.
We are ready? The team’s chops have built up over the last five years and ten productions. We have the hope to attempt it and the talent to achieve it? The way must be tried. A primal purge of tragic ecstasy.
The play comes from Shakespeare’s grief seeing his Renaissance fail and fade away into the usual wars, coups, and futile superstitions. Yet, it does end with the lowest rising to monarchy. The play rewards loyalty with peace. Justice does not exactly prevail but it battles back and survives to fight another day. A lot like our own life and times. Maybe for all times.
Wish us luck. We can hardly wait to start our climb!