Friday, June 23, 2006

Reader's Diary #112- William Shakespeare: King Lear (FINISHED!)

Typical for a Shakespeare play, King Lear has themes of revenge and repentance. But the major theme of King Lear, the one that people usually run to when defending its relevance in today's world, is ambition. Shakespeare creates a few power-hungry characters that stop at nothing to get what they want- lying, adultery, torture, and murder to name but a few of the sinister strategies. So it sounds like it could make a good read. And for hundreds of thousands of people, I'm sure it has. But I for one, am not one of those people. To me, Shakespeare comes across as bored. It started off fine, with his usual wit, intriguing characters and an action-filled plot.

With early scenes involving the "Fool", it looks like Shakespeare is on his way to creating another dark comedy- but then the Fool seems to have been forgotten about and so has the humour. Too bad.

In terms of character, I loved the initial complexity of Edmund and the virtue of Cordelia for instance. Yet the only character which held my interest throughout the entire play was King Lear. Cordelia became almost non-existent and Edmund simply turned into a typical run-of-the-mill villain, but Lear at least was compelling- though I'm not even sure if it's for the intended reason. Very often throughout the play I found myself thinking, "What a terrible leader!" He starts off by being shallow and vindictive, and quickly becomes a neurotic shell of a man filled with regret. The only explanation I could come up with was charisma. Despite the man's obvious flaws, he maintained very loyal followers. And before I forget, what ever happened to King Lear's wife? Or Gloster's? I don't have anything against single fathers, but there was no explanation to these notably missing moms at all!

Finally the plot. Oh dear, the plot. This was the biggest problem of all and where Shakespeare's boredom bares its molars. We have not one, but two characters going in disguise. Plus we have people professing the folly of their ways simply after hearing those typical grandiose speeches often quoted by pretentious windbags on The Cosby Show. And perhaps most unforgivable of all, everyone dies at the end. Not unforgivable because these characters were likeable, but unforgivable because that what he always did for a tragedy! Is there a Shakespeare tragedy that half the cast doesn't die at the end? I have this image of playing GI Joes with Shakespeare as a kid in the 1980s:

Shakespeare: I have an idea! Let us torch these vile swine.

Me: No way, everytime you come over we end up burning my toys.

Shakespeare: Then could we at least try nuking them in thy microwave?

Me: Cool!

(I guess maybe he was on to something.)


Barbara Bruederlin said...

See, that's why your mom would never let you play with Willie. Especially after the time he nearly burned your house down reinacting The Merchant of Venice.

I just calculated that you have now read approximately 234,876 books to my 1.

John Mutford said...

While it's true I'm an avid reader, there are plenty more out there that would put me to shame- my own daughter for one! She's obsessed with stories.