The Tragedy of KING LEAR

by William Shakespeare

presented by The ActorsNET of Bucks County

April 11 - 28, 2002

starring
Mort Paterson as King Lear


directed by Cheryl Doyle

also featuring:

Carol Thompson as Cordelia - youngest daughter to Lear
Susan Blair as Goneril, Lear's eldest daughter
Theresa Forsyth Swartz as Regan, Lear's middle daughter
Jim Ludovici as Duke of Albany
Hugh Barton as Duke of Cornwall
Kevin McLernon as King of France
Phil Fagans as Duke of Burgundy
David Swartz as Earl of Gloucester
George Reilly as Edgar - legitimate son to Gloucester
George Hartpence as Edmund - bastard son to Gloucester
Steve Lobis as Earl of Kent
Bernard DiCasimirro as Lear's Fool
Chuck Donnelly as Oswald, servant to Goneriland as soldiers, attendants and in small speaking roles:
Ed Patton, Ken Ammerman, and Marco Newton
Set design and execution by Hugh Barton

On Playing Lear

by Mort Paterson


"The greatest challenge was to define the items of self-knowledge Lear gains in his madness and make those insights clear to the audience; rather than just spout interminable stormy nonsense, as if it didn't matter what his actual words were. One needs to see how the madness heals him. It's easy to act old and crazy; it's not easy to bring meanings out of the craziness."

Plot Summary

 Lear, King of Britain, decides to abdicate and divide his kingdom between his three daughters. When his beloved youngest, Cordelia, refuses to make a public declaration of love for her father she is disinherited and married to the King of France without a dowry. The Earl of Kent is banished by Lear for daring to defend her. The two elder daughters, Goneril and Regan, and their husbands inherit the kingdom. Gloucester, deceived by his bastard son Edmund, disinherits his legitimate son, Edgar, who is forced to go on the run to save his life. Lear, now stripped of his power, quarrels with Goneril and Regan about the conditions of his lodging in their households. In a rage he goes out into the stormy night, accompanied by his Fool and by Kent, now disguised as a servant. They encounter Edgar, disguised as a mad beggar called 'Poor Tom'. Gloucester is betrayed by Edmund and captured by Regan and Cornwall, who put out his eyes. King Lear is taken secretly to Dover, where Cordelia has landed with a French army. The blind Gloucester meets but does not recognize Edgar, who leads him to Dover. Lear and Cordelia are reconciled, but in the ensuing battle are captured by the sisters' forces. Goneril and Regan are both in love with Edmund, who encourages them both. Discovering this, Goneril's husband Albany forces Edmund to defend himself against the charge of treachery. A knight appears to challenge Edmund and, after fatally wounding him, reveals himself to be Edgar. News comes that Goneril has poisoned Regan and then committed suicide. Before dying, Edmund reveals that he has ordered the deaths of Lear and Cordelia. 

The Role of Edmund: Illegitimate son to Gloucester

by George Hartpence

Gloucester’s younger, illegitimate son is an opportunist, whose ambitions lead him to form a union with Goneril and Regan.  The injustice of Edmund’s situation fails to justify his subsequent actions, although at the opening of the play when Gloucester explains Edmund's illegitimacy (in his hearing) to Kent, with coarse jokes, the audience can initially feel sympathetic towards him, until his true character is revealed.  Like Shylock and his "Has not a Jew eyes...?" (Merchant of Venice, III, 1, 60), Edmund makes a speech, "Why bastard?  Wherefore base?" (II, 2, 5) decrying his stereotype before conforming to it.  Edmund rejects the laws of state and society in favour of the laws he sees as eminently more practical and useful—the laws of superior cunning and strength. Edmund’s desire to use any means possible to secure his own needs makes him appear initially as a villain without a conscience.  But Edmund has some solid economic impetus for his actions, and he acts from a complexity of reasons, many of which are similar to those of Goneril and Regan.  To rid himself of his father, Edmund feigns regret and laments that his nature, which is to honour his father, must be subordinate to the loyalty he feels for his country.  Thus, Edmund excuses the betrayal of his own father, having willingly and easily left his father vulnerable to Cornwall’s anger.  Later, Edmund shows no hesitation, nor any concern about killing the king or Cordelia.  Yet in the end, Edmund repents and tries to rescind his order to execute Cordelia and Lear, and in this small measure, he could be said to have proved himself worthy of Gloucester’s blood. However, this last act can also be viewed as a selfish act in the attempt to gain favour from the gods before his death.
 

Because of primogeniture, Edmund will inherit nothing from his father.  That, combined with Gloucester's poor treatment of Edmund in the opening lines of the play, gives Edmund motivation to betray his brother Edgar and manipulate his way into relationships with both Goneril and Regan.  If Lear, Cordelia, and Kent represent the old ways of Monarchy, order, and a distinct Hierarchy, then Edmund is the most representativeof a new order which adheres to Machiavellian thoughts which justify his betrayals.  Edmund's determination to undo his brother and claim his father's title causes him to cut his own arm early in the play to make an imaginary fight between Edgar (his brother) and himself more convincing.
 

Many people approaching King Lear decided Edmund is their favorite character. I’m one of those folks.  Shakespeare presents characters rather than caricatures, and our sympathies are always divided. Edmund is charming, clever, clear-headed (when others are not).  And we see at the very beginning how hurtfully and thoughtlessly his father has treated him. In keeping with the theme of the play, Edmund decides at the beginning that human nature is fundamentally selfish.  And Edmund decides to act accordingly.  In our world, such people often present themselves as "having style", and in fact those who pray certain liturgies specifically renounce "the glamour of evil".  Edmund treats others horribly. Yet at the end, Edmund finds the decency he thought he didn't have, and tries to do good "in spite of [his] own nature."

"The story of a man who loses his mind, but finds his heart.

Slings & Arrows: Season 3

This Canadian television cult hit about the trials and tribulations of a Shakespeare festival very similar to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival devoted their third season to a production of King Lear - the cap to their tragic trilogy of Hamlet (Season 1) - Macbeth (Season 2) - and King Lear (Season 3). In it the somewhat mad artistic director Geoffrey Tennet played by Paul Gross drafts an old mentor to portray his King Lear. The late William Hutt as the veteran stage actor Charles Kingman (the play on words is obvious) plays the eponymous monarch and describes his take on Lear as "the story of a man who loses his mind, but finds his heart."

In episode two, as a theater exercise for the beginning of the rehearsal process, Charles tells the story of King Lear in his own words:


"Once, there was an old king. Who, after many years of reign, realized he was at the end of his life.
 

The King announced that he was going to divide up the kingdom amongst his daughters: Regan, Goneril, and his favorite, Cordelia. But first, he had a question for them. 'Which of you shall we say doest love us most?'
 

So Cordelia has a choice. Does she flatter him, like her sisters, or does she risk everything, and tell her father the truth?
 

His anger is boundless. He banishes Cordelia, he banishes the faithful Kent, and Goneril and Regan seize their opportunity.
 

They drive their father out of doors into a fierce thunderstorm, and there, on the heath, with his Fool and the disguised Kent begging him to take shelter, he rages against his daughter's ingratitude. He's gone mad.
 

The old man sleeps, and when he wakes, Cordelia is there, as if in a vision, and the king and his daughter embrace with tears of joy. They're sent to prison, but they're resigned, happy even, because they're together. And poor Cordelia is hanged. And as Lear cradles her dead body, his spirit finally breaks. And he dies."

Edmund and Edgar - two sides of the same coin

George Reilly (left) as Edgar & George Hartpence (right) as Edmund