King Lear (2010)

King Lear (2010)

Jul 1-Aug 8, 2010

King Lear (2010)

One of the most powerful dramas in Western literature, King Lear is both an intimate family drama and an explosive political epic. Beginning with a monarch’s division of his kingdom among his three daughters, Shakespeare’s tragedy examines the tempest in one man’s mind as his family disintegrates, his country is ripped apart by petty ambitions, and the very universe itself seems to unravel around him. Lear explores the most basic questions of human existence: love and duty, power and loss, good and evil.

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While the court awaits King Lear, the Earl of Gloucester introduces his bastard son Edmund to the Earl of Kent, and  admits that he loves this boy as much as his legitimate son Edgar. Lear  arrives and announces plans to abdicate the throne, dividing his kingdom between his daughters to be ruled by  Ztheir respective spouses. He invites his daughters to express their love for  him. While Goneril and Regan speak in hyperbole, Cordelia states simply that she loves her father, as a  daughter should; when she marries she will split her love between her husband and  her father. This answer so infuriates Lear that he disinherits Cordelia and banishes her from court. Kent  attempts to dissuade Lear from this action, resulting in his own exile. Cordelia’s  suitors, learning of her disinheritance, exhibit differing reactions: The Duke of Burgundy drops his suit, but the King  of France remains resolved to marry her and takes her to  France. Meanwhile, Regan and Goneril plot to control their father in his retirement, and Edmund schemes to discredit his  brother Edgar in order to claim his inheritance. Lear arrives at  Goneril’s castle where Kent, disguised, rejoins Lear’s retinue as a servant. Expecting hospitality but finding only scorn from  Goneril, Lear angrily departs for Regan’s house. 

Edmund dupes Edgar into leaving his father’s castle while framing him as a potential patricide. Upon hearing this falsehood from Edmund, Gloucester exiles Edgar and vows to legitimize  Edmund. Kent, in disguise, is thrown in the stocks for accosting Regan’s servant Oswald. Hearing that he is outlawed, Edgar adopts the disguise of Tom O’Bedlam, a wandering lunatic. Lear arrives at Gloucester’s castle seeking Regan, only  to discover that she and her husband Cornwall refuse to receive the king. Later both daughters demand that Lear dismiss his  entire retinue. Distressed, Lear rages against his daughters, calling them  “unnatural hags” and, promising revenge, wanders with the Fool onto the heath where a storm is brewing. 

ACT 3 

Kent finds Lear raving mad, railing at the storm, and encourages him to find shelter. Gloucester intimates to Edmund that he has received secret word that the French are invading to avenge  the wrongs done to Lear. Edmund decides to use this information to betray his father to Cornwall, hoping to expedite receipt of his inheritance. Lear, Kent (still disguised) and the Fool arrive at  the hovel of Tom O’ Bedlam (Edgar), who takes them in. Gloucester arrives and is greatly saddened to find Lear reduced to such low co mpany and surroundings. Edmund reveals to Cornwall  his father’s secret correspondence regarding the impending French invasion. Gloucester leads Lear and his band to a nearby farmhouse where they act out a criminal trial of Goneril and  Regan before falling asleep. Upon Gloucester’s return to his castle, Cornwall arrests him and gouges out his eyes in punishment for his traitorous act. Gloucester’s servants rise up against  Cornwall, mortally wounding him, while other servants lead Gloucester to safety.

ACT 4 

A servant leads Gloucester to Edgar who, preserving his disguise, is aggrieved to find his father in such a condition. Edgar agrees to lead his father to the cliffs of Dover where Gloucester intends to commit suicide. Albany, having grown intolerant of Goneril’s schemes, and revolted by the news of Gloucester’s maiming and Edmund’s treachery, vows to avenge these wrongs. Edgar decides to humor his father’s suicidal wishes and tricks him into believing that a short fall to the ground in fact preserved him from death at a demon’s hands. Lear appears bedecked in wildflowers and raving mad. Oswald attacks Gloucester but is killed by Edgar. Edgar discovers in Oswald’s papers Goneril’s plot to kill Albany and marry Edmund. Cordelia and Lear are reunited, but the deluded Lear barely recognizes her.


As the French and English troops battle, Goneril and Regan clash in their affections for Edmund, and Edgar exposes Goneril’s plot to Albany. Captured and imprisoned, Lear rejoices at being rejoined with his beloved daughter Cordelia. Albany arrests Edmund and Goneril for treason. A disguised Edgar duels with and mortally wounds Edmund. A messenger reports that Goneril committed suicide after poisoning Regan. Before dying, Edmund admits his order to kill Lear and Cordelia. As orders are sent to halt the execution, Lear appears carrying the hanged Cordelia in his arms.


By Rand Harmon

Why does King Lear remain one of Shakespeare’s most important plays, certainly one of the favorites of stage and screen audiences throughout the past four centuries? The themes and passions explored by these emotionally wrought characters touch us deeply, causing candid self-scrutiny. Why do we crave adoration? What measure of loyalty do we expect of  our family and friends? How loyal are we? How would we react to such betrayal, such a loss of stature? How will we cope with the decreased potency of old  age?  As Jan Kott writes in  Shakespeare Our  Contemporary, “There is in King Lear . . . a combination of madness, passion, pride, folly, imperiousness, anarchy, humanity  and awe.” In Lear the king, we respect  and revere the power and charisma. In Lear the man, we deeply grieve the corruption and destructive consequences of his hubris.

Mature in his craft, Shakespeare pens a fearless expedition into the vulnerability of a powerful man reduced in his grandeur, his stature, his faculties, to his most elemental  state.  King Lear masterfully intertwines for us great dialectics—loyalty vs. betrayal, delusion vs. clarity, honesty vs. guile, morality vs. immorality—deftly illustrating the dire  fragility of legacy.  Lear blindly expects prestige and honored preeminence to continue after his abdication, only to find staggering betrayal, destruction and madness. Lear is  human on a grand scale—  ascended above the common man, then cast down, stripped to his most elemental form. Only by nakedly confronting himself, his god and the  forces of nature does he discover his  essence.  

Conceiving this production, director Lynne Collins was influenced by an introduction to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of King Lear on  PBS’sGreat Performances:

“As all great art that can be endlessly appreciated, King Lear can be explored and experienced in many ways, but not all at once. Much as one must view a great cathedral from a particular vantage point, one can only appreciate King Lear from some perspective or point of view.”

She chose an American view of king and kingdom. She was reminded of the steely-resolved, ambitious men who conquered the American frontier, bringing industry and civilization to the savage wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. Mining and railroad barons built the West, constructing great financial and capital empires on grit and determination, and leaving a legacy for generations to follow. Against the raw natural power of the high tundra and harsh wildness of the Rockies, she envisioned power contested, gods confronted, the essence of humankind stripped to its basest elemental forms and truths.

Similarly inspired, costume designer Markas Henry juxtaposes the shapes of late 19th-century society—straight, slender, strong—with the textures of the land—coarse, dark and earthy. Refinement, by necessity, becomes subservient to perseverance. In our production of King Lear, we tap the frontier power and the spirits of opportunity and resiliency as we attempt to reconcile human dignity with human failure.


John Hutton*

King Lear

Read Bio for John Hutton*

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