"Our life evokes our character. You find out more about yourself as you go on. That's why it's good to be able to put yourself in situations that will evoke your higher nature rather than your lower. 'Lead us not into temptation.'" Joseph Campbell

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Seasons such as these: Lear is still pretty frickin' relevant

I love Shakespeare. My beloved grandfather taught English Literature and specialized in Shakespeare and Chaucer, so I grew up associating them with him--if he loved them, they must be good. I collected cheap paperbacks of the plays, or sat in the library reading them from big heavy tomes until my parents bought me a big brick that contained all the plays. I took out videos and records from the library--I have fond memories of sitting against my bunk bed, headphones on, lost in one Shakespeare record or another.

King Lear was my favorite tragedy, maybe because I was taken to see Akira Kurosawa's Ran at age 12 and was mesmerized by it.*

Right now my dad and I are watching one of my fave series: Slings and Arrows (2003-07). It's a dramedy about a Shakespeare festival and all the shenanigans going on behind the scenes, starring a mix of comedians and stage alumni. We've begun season three where the cast is putting on King Lear.

For those who might not know the story, it's about a vain King who drives away the people who truly care for him, and then is betrayed by the whack jobs he put his faith in. He's eventually thrown out, poor, into a terrible storm that reflects his mental state.

If you have a 1:41 minutes, watch this short scene where the old actor playing Lear describes the storm, and Lear's sudden insight:

Being a tragedy, this sudden insight comes too late. But what a beautiful speech! Gives me les shivers. Especially in this time of arrogant Wall Street execs, and people losing their jobs and being foreclosed on. It still resonates. And on a metaphorical level too--it made me think of the people I know who are weathering personal storms.

Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta'en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.

Modern translation from the No Fear series: Poor homeless creatures suffering this storm, wherever you are, how will you survive a night like this with no roof over your heads, no fat on your sides to keep you warm, and only rags for clothes? When I was king I didn’t do enough to help you. Powerful men, take your medicine by learning about hardship. Go out and feel what the impoverished feel. Then you can give them your extra wealth and make the world more fair.

* Other takes on Lear: Has anyone read Moore's Fool? Is it good? Smiley's Thousand Acres is supposed to be good, but I've only watched the movie, one night in passing, on TV. It got abysmal reviews but I stayed with it.


Judie said...

WoW. Goose pimples abound.

Robena Grant said...

I'm a huge Shakespeare fan and have seen plays in the park in Washington DC, to festival productions, and open air theaters around the country, but one of the best, well...no, two of the best productions I've seen were by Sir Ian McKellan. One was in the early eighties at the Westwood Playhouse in Los Angeles: Acting Shakespeare. McKellan was alone on stage, and his performance and anecdotes gave me chills. I then saw him perform Richard 111, at UCLA. Awesome.
Thanks for bringing those memories forefront. : )

BarbN said...

I have 'Fool' but haven't read it yet-- I wanted to re-read Lear first, and then I never got around to it. Maybe I will put it back on the 'to be read' list. I think of Lear more often than any of Old Will's plays, that character type is so prevalent. My dad was a Lear.

Judy,Judy,Judy. said...

Such a simple thought that brings a storm of thoughts. Imagine Trump forced out of his home. Would he then still force people all over the world out of their homes so he could build golf courses?
See, I look at him and at Maddox and the Bushes and I can't see them reforming even if they had to live a while in abject poverty.

London Mabel said...

@Judie - Ooh good it's not just me then!

@Robena - Oh. My. Days. How fantastic! I loved McKellen's Richard III, in the movie version. Such a good play. Jealous!!

@BarbN - Hmm... interesting! I'll have to be on the lookout.

@JJJ - Perhaps the problem is that inherent in royalty/nobility was the idea that you have subjects/farmers who are your responsibility. Capitalism freed up the land, and it freed up rich people from having this sense. :-(

widdershins said...

Every summer we have 'Bard on the Beach' here. It's worth a ferry ride to come and watch an excellent company strut their stuff.


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