Sunday, October 19, 2008

King Lear

I'm reading all of Shakespeare's plays in a year; this is the fourth.

A Thrill To Teach

I don't enjoy teaching anything more than I enjoy teaching King Lear.

I often struggle with the scene one blowup between Lear and Cordelia (Lear clearly overreacts to a pretty inoffensive statement, but can't Cordelia see she is publicly embarrassing her very proud king-father?). This semester I turned this moment to my students: what do you make of this scene? The resulting discussion was probably the best of the semester: many different students shared many different ideas on this critical moment in the play.

But I love talking about this play: King Lear gives me energy and passion. Often when talking about the play, I find myself just speaking authentically, naturally, without obvious plan or pose. It is a play I feel deeply, and so I teach it deeply.

Visualization and Reading
When I read I ask myself: am I visualizing this occurring on stage, or am I visualizing it in the "real world"? It is often actually both. But then there's another question of visualization: what do I picture when characters describe events that occur offstage? Then I usually visualize the events occurring in the real world.

But King Lear offers another visualization entirely: what do I visualize when a character lies about what is occurring? When Edgar (disguised as Tom o' Bedlam) tells Gloucester (who is now blind) that he is standing at the edge of a cliff looking far down below (when he is not), Edgar's deception is so evocative that my mind's eye is standing on that cliff, looking down at the abyss.

It's not so strange, I suppose: when I'm reading words, it doesn't terribly matter whether a scene is actually occurring, being described, or being lied about, for whatever the situation I'm reading words and visualizing unconsciously.


  1. I enjoy Shakespeare but prefer to see it first and then read it. Do you know of a good movie translation of King Lear? Even an updated version or 'loosely based on' would be helpful.

  2. I'm currently looking for some good film versions (I was about to buy some versions, then got frugal and realized I could find them in a library). Olivier is apparently brilliant, but I'm also intrigued to see a version starring James Earl Jones. Perhaps I'll post about them once I see them.

  3. What grade level do you teach? You might be interested in checking out this King Lear resource by Shmoop, which is great for high school (or even college) students.

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