King Lear

Act I

ACT I Shakespeare’s four most famous tragedies each have radically different dramatic structures compared to the others. Othello, perhaps the most perfectly structured of the group, or any group, goes together like a jeweler’s watch, each microscopic part building to the one climatic moment when Othello makes the mortal decision. Hamlet can be said to […]

King Lear, Starring Ian McKellen

Full Episode

Short Synopsis The monumental tragedy of an old king who decides to divide his kingdom among his daughters, but imposes a love test on each to merit her portion. His youngest daughter, Cordelia, refuses to flatter him falsely, sending Lear into a rage. He withdraws her portion, exiles his best friend, and generally becomes increasingly […]

King Lear, Starring Ian McKellen

Interview with Sir Ian McKellen on playing King Lear

Sir Ian McKellen discusses how Trevor Nunn’s set design seeks to preserve the original intention of Shakespeare, performing Shakespeare for the camera, the task of performing King Lear’s transformation from King into madman, the significance of Lear’s relationship with the gods, and how playing Lear, the “Everest” of Shakespeare, often is considered the summation of […]

King Lear, Starring Ian McKellen

The Play in Summary

The Two Texts of King Lear–The Quarto of 1608 and the Folio of 1623 An aging King Lear decides to abdicate and divide his kingdom among his three daughters.  He seeks a kind of oath of love before doing so, with which Goneril and Regan falsely comply.  Feeling that any statement of “most love” would […]

Ways Of Seeing

Painting of Olivier as Lear By Chuck Rose at strugglingtopaint.blogspot.com “Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.” (Edgar) At the end of King Lear Edgar asks the audience to “speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”  This is a call to both speak and to do so honestly.  We […]

Approaching the Play

King Lear gives us a grim story through startling poetry.  But it tells us neither how we must feel about it or how we must think about it.  If anything, its closing moments of quiet hysteria deny just that power to the play itself.  Edgar says, “the weight of these sad times we must obey,” […]

Print Editions

As with most of Shakespeare’s famous plays, King Lear may be found each year in many individual print editions.  At least twenty such editions were in print for King Lear as of Spring of 2009.  Each attempts to realize some distinction relative to the others.  However, it seems useful to separate them into three broad […]

Ian McKellen Film

Ian McKellen has been praised as the Olivier of our age.  But for the many Shakespearean roles he has taken on stage, we only have three previous Shakespearean plays with him in film—Macbeth with Judi Dench (1979), Othello in which he plays Iago (1990), and Richard III (1995).  He will be 70 in May; this […]

Films and Print Editions

The King Lear section of the Great Performances site owes its existence to the PBS broadcast of the film directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Ian McKellen.  For the better part of 2007 the two produced and performed King Lear on stage, first at Stratford-on-Avon as the last in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s staging of […]

Adaptations in Film

The basic story of King Lear goes back to ancient English myths. The general idea of three daughters, two wicked and one good, with arbitrary love tests, goes back at least to a second century AD novel by Apuleius called The Golden Ass. A play was written for the English stage around the mythical King […]