William Shakespeare, King Lear and King James I

This video is about KING LEAR by William Shakespeare, as performed in 2008 in New York City in the USA.

By Gordon Parsons in Britain:

Shakespeare: a man of his time – and ours

Saturday 17th October 2015

1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear
by James Shapiro
(Faber & Faber, £20)

MOST of the vast output of Shakespearean criticism naturally comes to the Bard through his works. With so little known of the man, even the numerous attempts at biography have had to rely on his poetry and plays.

Indefatigable US academic James Shapiro, though, ploughs a rather different furrow. Following his in-depth study of the social and political context of key years in Shakespeare’s development in 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare — which could have been subtitled The Year of Hamlet — he has produced a sequel exploring the playwright’s dramatic and theatrical responses to the new, troubled Jacobean age.

The new king James I, determined to cement his position by uniting England with Scotland, faced a world of factional infighting fed by the toxic mix of politics and religion. At the centre¸ of course, was the Gunpowder Plot, the equivalent of potential twin-towers devastation.

If successful, it would have wiped out the whole Establishment and the inevitable reaction to its discovery affected every area of the country — even Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon.

Shakespeare and his company, newly appointed The King’s Men, were inevitably drawn into the world of the court both as part of the lavish entertainment and official attendants. Having been relatively quiet for a time, the playwright set about writing and producing three of his greatest plays, King Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra.

All mirror in language and action the political currents of the time. So where Macbeth is built around the seemingly innocuous term “equivocation,” contemporary theatre-goers, probably the great majority of London’s populace, would have recognised a loaded accusation which had played a key part in unmasking the “traitors.”

There must too have been a note of critical daring in Shakespeare’s King Lear. No doubt James, the uneasy possessor of England’s throne, would [not] have been pleased to have his subjects shown a foolish king dividing his kingdom.

Shakespeare’s play, unlike his sources, does not end triumphantly but with the king’s death and no certainty of a rosy future.

Shapiro’s book reads like a splendid detective story as it fleshes out our recognition of the world from which some of the world’s greatest dramatic works emerged.

In making Shakespeare a man of his own time, it draws him even closer to us.

11 thoughts on “William Shakespeare, King Lear and King James I

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  4. Wednesday 13th
    posted by Morning Star in Arts

    King Lear
    Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

    KIDS! What can you do, you give them everything and all you ask in return is complete love and devotion. And how do they respond? Stab you in the back.

    To top it all, getting old is a real bitch and remember it’s not just your own kids who seek to topple the old guard, your mates are at it as well.

    That’s a potted version of King Lear, without doubt Shakespeare’s bleakest play, in which his usual poetic language is missing. Instead, we witness the raw and unhinged anger of the protagonist descending into a deep-seated madness which destroys virtually everyone around him.

    Even the character of the Fool, a stock theatrical device to lighten the darkness, is here a grumpy soul who’s realised that there’s nothing in his armoury to alleviate the bleakness of the world.

    In this joint production between the excellent Talawa theatre company and the Royal Exchange — hugely welcome given the under-representation of black artists in the theatre — Don Warrington (pictured with Philip Whitchurch) gives us an understated Lear.

    Smouldering and snarling, his ultimate descent into madness is all too believable, while Rakie Ayola as Goneril and Debbie Korley as Regan give assured performances as the conniving daughters — more complex than evil in their interpretations of the roles — while Pepter Lunkuse is a vibrant, youthful Cordelia.

    Philip Whitchurch as the Earl of Gloucester and Fraser Ayres, suitably unpleasant as the scheming “bastard son” Edmund, provide strong support too.

    Director Michael Buffong’s pared-back production is complemented by Signe Beckmann’s stark set design which creates an unforgiving world.

    The play’s intense bleakness is unsurprising — it was written around the time of the gunpowder plot when treason, conspiracy and suspicion were stalking England.

    Given the current global chaos, it’s as much a play for today as the 17th century and perhaps this is the reason that it appears to be the “go-to” Shakespeare this year, with productions currently playing or scheduled in Northampton, Bristol, London and at the RSC in Stratford.

    It’ll be interesting to see how they match up to this thoughtful interpretation although, if you go to see it and sit near the front, beware of the flying eyeballs.

    Runs until May 7, box office: royalexchange.co.uk

    Review by Paul Foley



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