King Lear by William Shakespeare

Fiction — audiobook. Read by Trevor Peacock, Julia Ford, Clive Merrison, and the Arkangel Cast. BBC Audiobooks, 2005. Originally published 1605. 3 hours, 8 minutes. Library copy.

The aging King Lear decides to divide his kingdom between his three daughters – Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia – in proportion to the amount of love each daughter declares to have for him. Goneril and Regan each made grand pronouncements and declarations of love for their father but Cordelia, the youngest daughter and the only one who truly loves King Lear, refuses to make a grandiose declaration of love insisting her actions over the years speak louder than any words could. Her father is blinded by words and chooses to disinherit his young daughter in favor of his two older daughters.

Once Goneril and Regan take possession of their lands, however, the two renege on their promise to support their father in his old age and ruthlessly mock the king. Cast out by his hypocritical daughters, King Lear slips into madness and wanders Britain with the aid of the Earl of Kent, who remained in the kingdom disguised as a peasant after he is banished for supporting Cordelia.

Placing this play on the shelf with Shakespeare’s other tragedies seems to undermine how truly tragic this story is. There are few redeeming moments within the tale or within the characters. The ultimate conclusion returns back to the selfish aspects of the characters; Cordelia might have loved her father, but even she wanted his love (and his lands) for her own. Thus, the play is constructed to provide commentary on the relationships between families and how the worst aspects of a human character – selfishness, hypocrisy, etc – can still be seen in the interactions between fathers and daughters or between sisters.

But I really struggled to follow along with this play, to grasp onto the realism behind the drama. The premise – the way people use love and emotions to extort people and carry out their own selfish motives – seems obvious enough, but there was just something missing within the tale to really move me the way a tragedy should. The language, the message, the entire construct comes across as cold and unfeeling.

I listened to a fully dramatized version of this play performed for the BBC by Trevor Peacock, Julia Ford, Clive Merrison, and the Arkangel Cast on audiobook. It was a rather interesting experience; it was easier to follow the action than listening to a normal audiobook as the voices changed with the characters, but I felt like I was listening to a play whilst being blindfolded and missed knowing what was occurring on stage in the background.

The Classics Club:

I read this book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post, project post, or spreadsheet of titles.

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