A certain kind of madness

Theatre Calgary’s production of King Lear was a good crazy.

Jennifer Dorozio

Flashes of lightening crack, thunder roars and a stumbling madman emerges from the backdrop.

His shirt is un-tucked, his hair is full of static but, most telling, is the wild spark that fills his eyes, and the angry pitch with which he yells heavenward.

So enters the mad King Lear to the bittersweet pleasure of a rapt Calgary theatre audience. What the actor, Benedict Campbell, has successfully done, is to make you want to admonish the foolish king, and give him a comforting pat on the shoulder at the same time.

The scene described is the first we see after the intermission of Theatre Calgary’s production of King Lear, directed by Dennis Garnhum which runs from March 10 until April 12.

Where the first half is full on Shakespearean plotting, dialogue and pensive monologues, the second is pure action and includes gouged eyeballs, a ranting half naked madman, and assorted “deserved” and “undeserved” deaths.

Photo credit - Trudie Lee
Photo credit – Trudie Lee

King Lear is one of the “famous” Shakespeare plays, which brings to life the tale of a King of Britain’s descent into madness, and then his journey out of it, which ends in tragedy, great loss and ultimately his death.

Intrigue abounds as brothers clash, and sisters with sharp tongues and nasty streaks are backed into corners as Lear’s kingdom is divvied up among the royal family.

The play centres on Lear and his three daughters, Goneril (Colleen Wheeler), Regan (Jennifer Lines) and Cordelia (Andrea Rankin). The aged king loves his youngest the best (hey! I’m the youngest and best too), and this leads to complications, especially after his own self-serving game of ‘how much do you love me?’ causes him to banish Cordelia. The vultures in the royal family, who try to wrest away power from his feeble hands, then betray the proud Lear.

Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
That we our largest bounty may extend,

Lear, I,i

The characters themselves feature some quirky and brooding additions in their mix. One in particular stands out among the rest: the fool, who is King Lear’s Court Jester, played by Bard on the Beach regular Scott Bellis.

*Garnhum’s Lear will follow at Bard on the Beach’s summer playbill.

The fool, imbues some much-needed levity into the first act. Wearing a coxcomb on his head, he spends a majority of his stage time leaping from place to place. Curiously, his mad interpretation of Lear’s confused reality does lend a bizarre sort of clarity to the king’s situation.

This is exemplified when the fool eerily jests to King Lear, “This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen,” foreshadowing all the cacophonous events to come.

Heartbreaking is the excellent performance of the Earl of Gloucester, played by David Marr, who is the play’s one paternal character you can’t help but feel badly for as misfortune after misfortune befalls him.

Then there’s the scene that sticks out because of its unnecessary gore. Gloucester’s eyeballs are in stomach-churning fashion carved out his head and at one point even trodden upon. It did little to add to the production other then induce cringes and distraction at all the fake blood for a full two minutes afterward.

Lest it see more, prevent it. Out, vile jelly!
Where is thy lustre now?

Cornwall, III, vii

Michael Blake performance of Edmund, the crafty bastard son of the Gloucester, is charmingly sinister. He plots for revenge by promoting multiple sibling entanglements making him both convincing as a villain, and likable.

While actor Andrea Rankin, as the young Cordelia, does play the doe-eyed daughter well, there is something a little grating about her over the top sweetness that came off as insincerity near the end. It seemed as though her tone and countenance changed little whether responding to a marriage proposal or being angry at her father’s mistreatment.

The Shakespearean world of King Lear, so artfully woven by the troupe of Theatre Calgary actors, doesn’t seem very far off from our own world, which is perhaps why the play still feels so relevant. These themes of undying devotion, betrayal and greed still saturate news media, television and movies because they are reflections of human reality and frailty.

Getting through the more slow-paced first half is well worth the wait. The explosion of passion, blood and revenge in the second half leaves you completely sated in a way only an excellent acting troupe and script can do.

Here’s a scene.

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BB: King Lear, The Speeches

Artwork - Leigh MacRae
Artwork – Leigh MacRae

Welcome Brawlers – at long last – to the speeches podcast of King Lear!

King Lear is such an amazing play, filled to the brim with memorable speeches and scenes that we could have practically taken moments at random in the play and just posted that up. Instead, we decided to let you do the work for us.

Thanks, by the way. We appreciate it. We’ll pay you back later when we go viral.

Listen to or download the podcast.

“Hear me, my lord.” Act II, scene 4, lns 261-286 (Thanks to @everydayshakes for the suggestion!)
Speakers: Goneril, Regan and Lear
In this scene, Lear is berating his daughters for wanting to take away his entourage. They state that he shouldn’t need them because they have servants to take care of him. lear, however, responds to them by pointing out that without those desires and wishes for things which are not strictly necessary for survival, nothing separates us from beasts. As he mentions, his daughters don’t need jewelry and fancy dresses to survive and yet they want them just the same. So, as he says, don<t ask me why I want these knights – I want them because I want them.

“These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend…” Act I, scene 2, lns 104-133 (Thanks to @theshakesforum for the suggestion!)
Speakers: Gloucester, Edmund
Gloucester is giving us a lesson in astrology. He’s explaining that it’s only normal that the kingdom is being turned inside out given that the starts are themselves all out of whack. He appears to see disaster for humanity in every celestial event. As soon as he walks off-stage, Edmund tells us how he feels: what the hell does the day you were born on have to do with the decisions you make. You are the way you are because you choose to be, not because of some accident of birth.

“Away! the foul fiend follows me!” Act III, scene 4, lns 47-70
Speakers: Edgar, Lear, Fool, Kent
This is one of the many scenes where Edgar puts on his crazy hat and pretends to be Tom O’Bedlam, a wandering, mad, demon-haunted beggar. Why is he doing this/ To hide from Gloucester and everyone else trying to kill him. Parental advisory: includes a joke about nudity.

“Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile.” Act 4, scene 2, lns 39-69
Speakers: Albany, Goneril
The armies of France have landed in England and everyone is rallying to meet them on the field. Or, everyone except for Albany who has realized that Goneril is evil and that to fight on their side is basically to fight against Lear. In the end, he does decide to take to the field because he decides that English sovereignty is more important than this Goneril/Regan vs. Lear business. Here, Goneril is trying to get him to fight by calling him a pussy – “mew.”

“Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones.” Act V, scene 3, lns 263-319
Speakers: Lear, Kent, Edgar, Gentleman, Messenger, Albany
lear walk on stage holding the dead (?) Cordelia in his arms. Is this really how this is going to end? Don’t they deserve to be together one last time? Unfortunately, it is not to be and she is gone. We were going to include only the opening section but it’s such a powerful scene that we figured, what the heck: let’s let it run to it,s bitter end.

Next week (and it will be next week this time), something a little different from master Shakespeare? Something involving a shipwreck, maybe? And a happy ending?

Can’t wait to see how that one ends.

(Podcast recorded and edited by Daniel J. Rowe, Show notes by Eric Jean)

Sonnet 31 read by our first male sonneteer John dit Jack Konorska.

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BB: King Lear, Act V

Artwork - Leigh MacRae
Artwork – Leigh MacRae

Welcome Brawlers to the grand finale of King Lear!

Listen to or download the podcast.

To quote Kent: “Is this the promised end,” where Cordelia and Lear are reunited and live together for a few more years, where Lear is restored and we’re spared the worse case scenario?

In a word, nope.

In scene 1, Edmund and Regan are discussing whether or not Albany will have taken to the field or not; it seems that he has been wracked with doubt and remorse for his part in Lear’s mistreatment. They send a messenger to check on the news. Regan then asks Edmund if he truly loves her and not Goneril. She makes him swear to never have any private discussions with her and the sudden arrival of Goneril with Albany. Of course, the first thing Goneril says is that she would rather lose the battle than Edmund. Seems that Albany has chosen to take to the field in the end, motivated by what he sees as a French invasion to which they should all be opposed.

They all leave save Albany and Edgar shows up in disguise. He gives him the letter incriminating Goneril and Edmund – the one he was so conveniently was given by Oswald, remember? He tells him to read the letter before they take the field. Then, if they should win, to sound a duel so the disguised Edgar can bring his brother to justice.

The last word of the scene belongs to Edmund, however, as he considers his situation: he`s promissed to marry both. He’ll make use of Albany’s army for now but figures that once the battle is done, which ever sister wants him more can figure out how to get rid of Albany. We also learn that Albany intends to pardon Cordelia and Lear once the fight is done. Edmund can`t have any of that and plans to eliminate them.

The next scene is short exchange between Gloucester and Edgar which takes place while the battle rages around them. Edgar first makes Gloucester take shelter beneath a tree and promises that, should he survive the fight, he will take care of his father. Unfortunately, the battle does not go their way and Lear and Cordelia are taken prisoner. Edgar returns and tries to take his father with him to safety, but his father just wants to lie there and die. Edgar reminds him that the right thing to do is to endure this life until it is out time to go. Gloucester begrudgingly agrees and they leave.

Can it get any worse? In the words of Edgar, yes: “And worse I may be yet: the worst is not / So long as we can say ‘This is the worst.'”

Very uplifting stuff.

Bring on scene 3, the final scene of the play. Edmund orders Lear and Cordelia taken into custody. Lear is happy enough to simply be able tp spend his final days with his one honest daughter, even if it should be in jail. They are taken away. As soon as they are gone, Edmund sends a messenger with the order for their execution. Albany and the others come on the scene and Albany asks for Edmund to turn over the prisoners to him. Edmund tells him that he ordered them taken away but they can address this tomorrow. Albany does not approve of his temerity and calls him on his lack of authority: “Sir, by your patience, / I hold you but a subject of this war, / Not as a brother.” Or, in other words: “who the hell do you think you are?”

Regan is quick to defend her champion Edmund, stating that he basically has whatever authority Regan decides she wants to give him. In fact, she declares Edmond her husband and master. Albany tells him them that this decisions really isn’t theirs to make (Albany outranks the others because he is married to the eldest daughter. That should technically make him the next king and the king has the right to veto his family’s marriage plans.) Regan charges Edmund to fight Albany for his right but Albany instead arrests him. He shows them the letter and tells Edmund that there is someone here to challenge these claims.

Sure enough, at the third sound of the trumpet, Edgar (still in disguise) shows up to challenge Edmund, accusing him of being a traitor to his brother, father, country, gods and pretty much anything else you can think of. Edmund technically could choose to fight this duel because the challenger is not clear, but he decides that Edgar looks noble enough so says, “what the heck” and accepts the challenge.

Edmund was willing to use all the tricks to get his hands on the throne earlier but now he won’t use a legal technicality to avoid a fight. Why not? Pride? Again, who the hell knows.

Either way, they fight and Edmund falls.

Albany then accuses Goneril of being in on the plot and shows her the letter, which she does not deny. He sends someone after her because he seems worried that she will kill herself. Edmund acknowledges his crimes and asks to see who his challenger was. Edgar finally reveals his identity and is embraced by Albany. When Edgar explains how he hid himself, we learn that Gloucester dies of shock of the news of Edgar’s survival. He also explains that Kent was Caius, who had returned to watch over his king despite his banishment.

A messenger arrives with news that Goneril has stabbed herself but not before poisoning her sister Regan. That seems to jolt Albany into the sudden realisation that they totally forgot about Cordelia and Lear who are probably being murdered as they speak! Edmund decides that he wishes to atone in some small way for his actions (for no reason that I can tell) and gives them his sword to show to the captain so their lives might be spared.

As Edmund is being led off, the messenger runs off to deliver the message. Will he make it?

We`ve faulted Shakespeare’s endings in the past, the infamous ‘act V slump’ of Coriolanus, Henry VI, part 1, or even The Merchant of Venice.

No act V slump here. Instead, Shakespeare gives us a finishing move of Mortal Combat proportions.

Lear walks onto the stage, holding Cordelia in his arms. Is she dead? Is there some life left in her? As Kent asks, is this death, or an image of death? While he seems to think that she is dead at first, he desperately wants her to still be alive. Lear himself killed her would-be executioner but was he able to do so in time. The audience at this point is likely expecting her to wake up. As we’ve discussed, the Lear story has been around for a while before Shakespeare, and in it Lear and Cordelia get to live together for a while before he passes away peacefully. But not here.

Despite his pleading, she’s gone and nothing can bring her back. We then learn that Edmond has killed himself but that hardly seems to matter. Lear finally dies next to his daughter. With this final scene, Kent walks off and Albany leaves the realm in Edgar’s care.

For over 250 years this ending was thought to be so bleak that the only version staged was a version re-written by Nahum Tate where Cordelia survives and married Edgar.

Everybody is dead, Lear’s line is ended and even his “poor fool is hanged.” What does all this mean? Is it even supposed to mean anything?

Join us next week where we look at speeches from King Lear and try to make some sense of the carnage.

Also, check out ‘s Guardian article against the Bard Deniers who have been trying to prove he never wrote anything for the last decade.

(Podcast recorded and edited by Daniel J. Rowe, Show notes by Eric Jean)

Sonnet 18 read by Bard Scrawler Leigh MacRae.

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BB: King Lear, Act IV

Artwork - Leigh MacRae
Artwork – Leigh MacRae

After a week off for the long Easter weekend, welcome Brawlers to act IV of Shakespeare’s bleak masterpiece, King Lear!

Listen to or download the podcast.

Also, How awesome is all of this artwork, right?

If act III is the height of the storm, then act IV of King Lear takes us on walk through the devastation after the hurricane winds have begun to let up… sort of.

In the last act, Lear was cast out into the wilderness by his daughters. Gloucester was betrayed by his son Edmund and blinded by the cruel Cornwall and Regan. As for the fool? He’s wandered off-stage, never to be seen again.

In act IV scene 1, Edgar – still in disguise as Tom O’Bedlam – encounters his blinded father by the heath where he had previously taken shelter with Lear, Kent and the fool. When Edgar sees what has become of his father, he is moved to pity but somehow manages to keep up his disguise and offers to serve as his eyes. Gloucester pays Edgar to lead him to the cliffs of Dover. Gloucester’s intention is plain: he means to jump to his death.

It seems that Kent’s message made it to Cordelia and she is headed for England with an army from France and intends to reclaims the kingdom from her sisters and rescue Lear. Goneril, Edmund and Oswald are discussing the preparations for war at the start of scene 2. However, it seems that not everybody is equally committed to defend this territory from Cordelia’s armies. Albany appears to be all too happy that Goneril and Regan’s control of England is being threatened and appears to have very little intention of fighting. Fearing that she cannot trust her “Milk-liver’d man” Albany, Goneril places Edmund in charge of her forces. Additionally, she gives him some token of her affection to indicate that she has no love for Albany. of course, moments later Albany himself shows up to answer these charges of cowardice and instead accuse her of being cruel and heartless. When he hears that Gloucester has lost his eyes, he vows to avenge him.

By scene 3, the French forces has landed at Dover and made contact with Kent. We learn that the King of France has not accompanied this army as some pressing business called him back to France. We also learn that Cordelia was genuinely moved by Kent’s letters about her father. Surprise, surprise: she’s Lear’s good daughter. Kent informs them that Lear is in Dover and he leaves to bring him back to Cordelia.

The next scene is a short exchange between Cordelia and the doctor. He also sends out more men to find lear and bring him back. Cordelia asks him; can Lear be cured? The doctor appears confident that he can do so. Towards the end, a messenger arrives to inform Cordelia that the English forces are marching. She is ready to meet them and confesses that she is not here to conquer England but because she loves her father.

Oswald has made his way to Regan’s castle in scene 5. She asks about whether or not Albany’s forces has joined the battle on their side. Oswald says yes, but that Goneril is a better soldier as she is more committed to the cause. Regan also asks Oswald about a letter Goneril is asking him to deliver to Edmund. A jealous Regan asks about the contents of the letter but Oswald denies any knowledge of the contents. Regan does not seem convinced. She tells him to put Goneril on guard: she wants Edmund for herself and seeing as Cornwall is dead (did we miss something?), she’s a better match than she is. She also gives him a note to deliver to Edmund.

Edgar has lead Gloucester to the fields near Dover in scene 6 but he has no intention of letting his father commit suicide. Instead, Edgar vividly describes the imagined view from the cliffs of Dover to convince his father that they are at the right spot and then tells him to jump. However, Gloucester only falls a few feet and is greeted ‘at the bottom of the cliff’ by Edgar posing as some random passer-by. He acts amazed and tells Gloucester that his life has been miraculously saved when he flew down the cliff instead of falling. Edgar also describes how he appears to have jumped and escaped some devilish influence personified by the deamon-hunted Tom O’Bedlam.

That’s a really interesting scene. So much of Shakespeare’s theatre is descriptive. We’re not really used to this. Motion pictures can – and do – show us everything. If we were to depict this in a movie, there’s a good chance that we would see Edgar and Gloucester in what could pass for the fields outside Dover. Maybe Gloucester is standing on a small rise in the field – just high enough so he can feel like he’s falling for just a second before hitting the ground when he jumps. Perhaps we can actually hear the sound of the cliffs in the distance – or something that could pass for it. However, the whole point of this scene is that there’s nothing like that. It’s entirely dependant on Edgar’s description for its effect.

In some ways, maybe our eyes are getting in the way? Gloucester seems to think so.

Shakespeare often embeds these descriptive moments in his plays: he’ll tell us what time of day it is, have dialogue about where the action is supposed to be taking place, or even tell us what the weather is like. But really, it never happens on stage, it’s all in our minds just like Gloucester’s attempted suicide happens only in his mind.

And yet, in the same way that Gloucester’s make-belive miracle has made him stop thinking about suicide, these made-up scenes have lead us to think about suicide, suffering, infirmity, old age and madness. This scene is an elaborate argument in defense of the power of literature and storytelling.

Very meta. Very Shakespeare.

After this moment, King Lear wanders on stage. He is rambling about how he is the rightful king and how that is a title his daughters cannot take away from him. In fact, part of the evidence he points to is that his face is the mark of legal tender: it shows up on British money. Gloucester and Lear recognise one another and spend some time commiserating. Cordelia and Kent’s people find Lear and bring him off-stage towards Cordelia’s camp. Edgar and Gloucester remain behind. Oswald arrives on the scene and remembering what Regan told him earlier – that she wished she’s killed Gloucester after they blinded him – decides to kill Gloucester. Edgar interposed himself and stats speaking in a funny Eastern European or evil Bond villain accent.

They fight and Edgar kills Oswald. With his dying breath, he tells Edgar that if he’s looking to advance his station, he should deliver the letters Oswald is carrying to Edmond.

Why does he tell him this? Who the hell knows.

However, it’s just what you would expect at this point: the scene where the villain’s evil plot is completely revealed to the hero and the audience, thereby giving them the tools they need to oppose the villain. We learn that Edmund has made deals with both sisters and that the two sisters are planing on betraying one another for his sake. Edgar keeps the letters as evidence. He also finally reveals his identity to his father.

At long last, Lear and Cordelia are reunited in scene 7. It seems that the doctor has successfully cured him of whatever madness had possessed him. Cordelia thanks Kent for his loyal service and offers to proclaim his part in keeping Lear safe but Kent asks her not to, explaining that he still needs to keep his disguise for a while longer. After a few moments, Lear awakens. He is confused by the clean clothes he has on and believes himself to be dead for a few moments. He tells Cordelia that if she wants to be rid of him, he will gladly kill himself but she reassures him and they walk out together. Kent confirms Regan’s earlier statement: seems that Cornwall was killed but it’s not clear how he died… And I’m sure that Regan had absolutely nothing to do with that.

What’s going to happen next? I won’t give you any specifics, but I bet you’re not going to like it.

Tune in next week for the dramatic conclusion of King Lear! (And I can assure you that it will be dramatic!)

(Podcast recorded and edited by Daniel J. Rowe, Show notes by Eric Jean)

Bonus sonnet 52 read by Stephanie.

Stay in touch, brawlers!

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Talking About the Weather – Man vs. Wild… er, Nature?

Artwork - Leigh MacRae
Artwork – Leigh MacRae

Listen to or download the podcast.

Welcome Brawlers, to a special episode of the Bard Brawl!

I promised you a post on the weather, astrology and nature in King Lear. However, we’ve done one better: Daniel and I got together yesterday for a short discussion of the play – and yes, we did talk about the weather.

There are a lot of different themes in Lear, a bunch of which we list and touch upon in this episode. However, King Lear is really a play about “Nature”.

Notice the scare quotes and the capital ‘N’? Yeah, there’s a good reason for that.

When we think of nature, we tend to think of birds, trees, hiking, national parks, Bear Grylls, whatever. And yes, nature could mean that to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, too. However, Shakespeare is much more interested in Nature, as in human nature.

The idea of Nature, what is it, and whether it is in fact good or bad, is very much up for grabs in this play. One of the (many) reasons Lear is still so popular is that even in the present, we haven’t managed to agree on the character of “Human Nature”. Is there even such a thing?

While this is grossly oversimplifying things, there tends to to be two models of Nature in the play.

On the one hand, we have the model which Lear and Gloucester subscribe to. In their view, daughters and sons are ‘by nature’ inclined to love their parents. That natural bond is supposed to ensure that children and parents get along and that children will take care of their parents when they are no longer able to care for themselves.

Also, Gloucester is very much interested in astrology and celestial events which he sees as portents of things to come in the realm of human affairs. It is entirely natural to him to see a comet streak across the sky and to associate that with some impending disaster in society. Why? because it suggests that some part of this well-oiled system is out of balance. When everything is working naturally, the natural world is sympathetic to and connected with humanity – and has humanity’s best interests at heart.

Another way of saying this is that Nature programs these behaviours into us in order to prevent society from crumbling into chaos. As a result, Lear and Gloucester place a tremendous amount of trust in this system.

What does Lear call Goneril and Regan after he is refused admittance with his knights: “You unnatural hags!” That is, their behaviour runs contrary to the natural model of the parent-child relationship.

And then there’s Edmond.

Clearly, he’s got no interest in his daily horoscope.

And why would he? According to his father’s model of the universe, he’s supposed to be the reject, the one left out, somehow less important or valued because of a simple accident of birth.

In his first speech, Edmond days; “Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law / My services are bound.” Clearly, he’s not talking about the same ‘Nature’ which Lear and Gloucester are referring to. His understanding of nature is the complete opposite of Lear and Gloucester’s.

Yet it is perhaps much closer to what we might think of when we consider human nature.

Lear and Gloucester live in a world where Nature runs everything, where your successes and failures are the result of the world working for or against you. However, Edmund sees human nature as self-directed and he’s pretty straight-forward with us: You think I’m ruthless and conniving because I was born out of wedlock?

My
father compounded with my mother under the
dragon’s tail; and my nativity was under Ursa
major; so that it follows, I am rough and
lecherous. Tut, I should have been that I am,
had the maidenliest star in the firmament
twinkled on my bastardizing.

Edmond admits that he chose to act this way. He wasn’t born this way, and the planets had nothing to do with it.

Can’t get enough of the Lear? Check out Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time podcast on the fated king.

Enjoy your holidays and we’ll be here again next week for act IV of King Lear.

Bonus sonnet 22 read by Hannah Dorozio.

(Podcast recorded and edited by Daniel J. Rowe, Show notes by Eric Jean, music by Jack Konorska)

Stay in touch, brawlers!

Follow @TheBardBrawl on Twitter.

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Email the Bard Brawl at bardbrawl@gmail.com

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes

The Tudors S03 E05 (2009), Jeremy Podeswa (director)

Daniel J. Rowe

Do we sometimes decide that things look like Shakespeare because they are or do we try to make things look like Shakespeare because we can?

The Tudors created by that lover of historical English drama Michael Hirst (not the “atmospheric” musician by the way) had to have a little of the bard in it. Queen E One is in the freaking show after all.

Without going into a whole synopsis of the series, I’ll just say that it’s about King Henry VIII. Take three minutes for a refresher if you like.

In season three, Henry (played by love him or hate him Jonathan Rhys Meyers) fresh off lopping the head off the woman he created a religion to marry, finds a new girl, who dies and he is sad; being a king is hard.

Episode Five  (Jeremy Podeswa, director)

Henry secludes himself with Will Somers, the fool played by David Bradley (the one from Harry Potter not the country music superstar).

The fool’s first line: “I don’t think – are you mad – thinking is dangerous. But I’ll wink.”

Sound familiar?

Lear and madness go together like Henry and... You know.
Lear and madness go together like Henry and… You know.

When watching this episode I kept saying, ‘Lear!’

Wait a second, maybe it was me that was going crazy.

Here me out.

The ‘mad’ king Henry finds comfort with his fool after the death of Queen Jane (3 of 6). Henry rants about building a castle that will be the envy of all the world and draws on the floor; oh the vanity of kings.  The fool mocks the king (naturally); a king all rightly fear. The fool says what all else want to (should?) say. The fool has a handful of scenes, but finds ways to deconstruct the entire series to that point in them.

Consider this exchange.

  • Fool, “You find the perfect wife. She’s sweet, pliable, she even has good t*ts. On top of that she gives you the son you’ve always wanted and you let her die…And she’s not the only one, poor abandoned Katherine.”
  • King, “Careful”
  • Fool, “And that other one, who’s name escapes me…As her head escaped her. All lost! All lost!”
  • Henry, “Go to hell.”
  • Fool, “What? Go there? I thought I’d already arrived.”

The Tudors’ fool as well as Lear’s function on a different plane than the rest of the cast. The fools are not bound by the laws of decency  censorship or tact. This dropping of curtains pushes both the play and show. Henry VIII and Lear are disrobed and their insecurities are played on. This is why we love us some fool. They say such cool things, and they GET AWAY WITH IT. To be a fool and not king would be oh so great thing (I just made that up).

Somers never returns in the series, and we are left with a very singular episode that is unlike all the others. The plot moves on in the other scenes, but it is the scenes with the fool that define the identity of Henry’s character. They move the show beyond plot, and embrace character. One thing I despise about many TV shows is there obsession with just chugging the plot along in a series of twists and turns that lead nowhere (sheesh 24 got stupid).

The success of the Tudors is the success of its characters. I was not prepared to like this show, but did as it went on. Season three, episode five turns the plot yes, but not in a gaudy, awkward way. It just moves the character(s).

I’ve always thought that there is a lot of Henry VIII in Lear. Both have three kids, both have issues with them, and both are erratic and grapple with madness and tyranny. I like the comparison, and this episode shows how the comparison can work if done right. Shakespeare, as all living at his time, must have been tempted to slide a little Henry into his plays. He was not far removed after all.

Bard Brawl c0-creator and bearded master of English Renaissance and TV hater Eric Jean says the only good season of the Tudors is season one featuring Cardinal Wolsey. Yeah, I get it, but no, you’re wrong Eric. Wolsey is alright, but the wives, Thomas Cromwell, that creepy Seymour brother and a ton of others not to mention the fool, make the show worth watching to the end.

Full disclosure: I’m a total sucker for historical dramas. I even watched that horrible Camelot series.

The final scene of episode five seals it for me. The fool sits on Henry’s throne wearing a crown maniacally laughing after Henry has just destroyed Cromwell’s reformation and rewritten the Lord’s prayer.

Very very nice.

Very Lear.

Artwork - Leigh MacRae
Artwork – Leigh MacRae

BB: King Lear, Act III

Artwork - Leigh MacRae
Artwork – Leigh MacRae

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
mite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!

— King Lear, Act III, scene 2

The storm is upon us!

Welcome Brawlers to Act III of King Lear!

Listen to or download the podcast.

A lot of ground to cover today!

The gates of Gloucester’s castle have been shut by Cornwall and Regan and Lear and his followers have been cast into the stormy wilderness. Edgar has fled into the woods as well, disguised as a a mad beggar. In fact, as act III, scene 1 opens, Kent is presently searching for his king. He enlists the help of a gentleman to find him. It seems that Kent has been able to send a message to Cordelia in France, in which he tells her what her sisters have done to Lear. She and the King of France are preparing an army to march on England and they need to keep Lear safe.

While Kent has yet to find Lear, we see him right from the start of scene 2. He is shouting at the storm, accusing the weather of conspiring with his two daughters, Regan and Goneril, to ruin him. The fool is trying to plead with him to seek out shelter but Lear refuses. Finally Kent arrives and describes the storm as the worse he has ever seen. He mentions that he has found a hovel nearby where they can seek shelter. For his part, Lear seems to have no interest but then, seemingly moved to compassion at the sight of his suffering fool, agrees to take shelter. Then the fool pronounces a prophecy which he mentions comes from Merlin even though Merlin will only show up after Lear’s gone. Strange stuff.

Scene 3 is a short exchange between Edmund and Gloucester. Gloucester complains to Edmund that he does not at all approve of Regan and Cornwall’s exiling of King Lear. He also confides in Edmund – who Gloucester still believes has his best interest at heart – that he has received some news that Cordelia and the king of France are sending troops to England. Conveniently (for Edmund, at least), Gloucester has left this ridiculously incriminating letter in his ‘closet…’ No way anyone will find it, right? Oh, wait – Edmund is a lying scumbag. That won’t end well.

Kent leads Lear and the fool to the nearby hovel but Lear seems hesitant to enter. As he stands in front of the house, he seems to be arguing with himself and trying to keep his madness at bay. He talks about how the tempest which is going on around them is nothing compared to the storm in his mind. While Lear initially refuses to enter, he is again moved by pity for the fool and asks the fool to enter into the house. However, the house is already occupied: Edgar is hiding inside this same house. What an unbelievable coincidence! All of these Good Guys™ in the same place! There’s some discussion between the Fool and Edgar who is clearly interested in showing-up Lear and the Fool in crazy factor. You<ll want to listen to the podcast to get the full effect: Zoey was totally method with Edgar. Many of the brawlers were channelling Stanislavsky, actually.

Anyhow. So, Gloucester seems to have left his totally super-incriminating evidence carefully guarded by Edmund and has managed to find Lear and the other in the hovel. Of course, he does not recognise his son Edgar, who is walking around in his underwear, nor Kent, who is probably only wearing a different coloured shirt. Whatever. He does manage to get Lear indoors.

Edmund brings Gloucester’s letter to Cornwall in scene 5, who pronounces Edmund’s father a traitor. Edmund feigns regret over having to do his duty in this way. I guess the Duke of Cornwall ‘outranks’ the Duke of Gloucester, who is also his father? Cornwall tells him his father’s sa good as gone and that Edmund’s going to be the new Duke of Gloucester soon. Will Cornwall and Regan finally move out of his castle when he does become Gloucester?

Lear and his party have finally all taken shelter in the hovel and a maddened Lear decides to put his daughters on trial in scene 6. He conscripts Edgar, the Fool and a stool and sets up a mock court. While he is playing out his fantasy of justice, Edgar seems about to drop his disguise but manages to hold back his tears. He will have plenty to cry about later, though. Meanwhile, Gloucester tells Kent about Cordelia and France who are sending troops to support Lear. He tells him to make sure to lead Lear to Dover, which is where France’s forces will be landing.

And then, in scene 7, Gloucester makes the mistake of going back his castle where Regan and Cornwall are waiting for him. They are making preparations for war. They learn from Oswald that Lear is headed for Dover. Cornwall and Regan capture Gloucester and accuse him of treason. Of course, Gloucester denies that it is treasonous to help the old king but he does admit to them that Lear is on his way to Dover. They decide that the right penalty is for Cornwall to poke out one of his eyes with his boot!

Regan isn’t satisfied and tells him to take out the other eye as well!

WHAT?!?

Thankfully, one of the servants seems disgusted and tries to stop them. It doesn’t really amount to much, though: Regan stabs him and kills him.

And as if that was not enough, they then thrown Gloucester out of the castle. Reminder: this is going on in Gloucester’s own castle, and is being done to him by his ‘guests.’ Youch!

On the show, we talked a bit about the source texts for King Lear. Two of the more prominent and likely sources include a section on Leir of Britain from the medieval ‘historian’ Geoffrey of Monmouth. He’s the same guy who wrote about Merlin and who made the claims that the Tudor monarchs were descended from King Arthur and connected to the Roman Empire. Basically, King Arthur is a descendant of Aeneas’s son Brutus who managed to escape the destruction of Troy. Which means that England is like a second Troy. Which means that it is a glorious empire with a manifest destiny just waiting around the corner.

But you wouldn’t be able to guess that from the end of this play.

FYI, the ending of Leir’s story in both Monmouth and the play are nowhere near as bleak as Shakespeare’s ending.

A few more things we mentioned on the show and that you will want to check out:

Watch the full version of King Lear Daniel J. Rowe mentioned staring Darth Vader. I mean James Earl Jones. It’s free. Really. And you won’t be tested on it.

Make an effort and be sure to check out Stephanie’s show Monstrosities running until March 23, 2013.

Crap. At the end and I didn’t get to the weather. That calls for a special post, right?

So, stay tuned for that, as well as act IV of King Lear and my review of Kurosawa’s Ran, coming up in the next week!

(Podcast recorded and edited by Daniel J. Rowe, Show notes by Eric Jean, music by Jack Konorska)

Stay in touch, brawlers!

Follow @TheBardBrawl on Twitter.

Like our Facebook page.

Email the Bard Brawl at bardbrawl@gmail.com

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BB: King Lear, Act II

Artwork - Leigh MacRae
Artwork – Leigh MacRae

Listen to or download the podcast. (Thank you to Jack Konorska for the intro music.)

Welcome Brawlers to act II of the absolutely awesome King Lear!

When we stopped at the end of act I, a whole whack of crazy stuff had already happened.

King Lear had disowned his daughter Cordelia and divided his kingdom between his two other daughters. He’d also banished his most trusted advisor, Kent – so trusted in fact that he comes back to Lear in disguise to continue to serve his king. Lear tried staying with Goneril but she wouldn’t let his friends sleep over so he picked up and left, hoping Regan would be okay with he and his buddies hanging around for a bit. We also saw how Gloucester’s bastard son, Edmund, had managed to implicate his older bother Edgar in a fictitious plot to kill their father. (If you missed it, you’ll want to go back and read up on act I.)

Well, that’s nothing compared to what’s just over the horizon by the time we get to the end of act II.

In act II, scene 1 we spy Edmond in his father Gloucester’s castle. He has just been told the news that his father is going to be at the caste that night. He sees a perfect opportunity to further implicate Edgar in this made-up conspiracy. Edmund convinces Edgar to flee and Edmund pretends to be trying to stop him. He even cuts his own arm to make his attempted arrest more convincing. After Edgar flees, Gloucester arrives and Edmond paints a not-so-pretty picture of his Edgar tried to convince him to join in the conspiracy and that they fought when Edmund refused. Gloucester promises to give Edmund all of his lands if he hunts down Edgar. Cornwall and Regan arrive (apparently they’re staying at Gloucester’s castle now) and Gloucester whines to them about his recent troubles with his son. They don’t seem too interested; they’re trying to figure out how to manage dad.

Kent was sent on ahead to Gloucester’s castle in act I, scene 5 and in act II, scene 2 Kent arrives at the gates and runs into Oswald. Kent seems to know that Oswald is nothing more than the two daughters’ glorified lackey and tells him what he thinks of him in his typical well-considered and reasoned way:

A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a
base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited,
hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a
lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson,
glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue;
one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a
bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but
the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar,
and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I
will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest
the least syllable of thy addition.

(Translation: “Oswald, you are a worthless sack of s__t!”)

Kent draws his sword and threatens to kill Oswald who yells out for help. Edmond, Cornwall, Regan and Gloucester show up and find a still-defiant Kent. They exchange a few words – which Cornwall and Regan clearly do not appreciate – and Kent is placed in the stocks. Gloucester protests but no one’s really been listening to him since the beginning of the play anyhow so why would anyone care now?

Scene 3 is actually just a soliloquy, the first spoken by Edgar. Whether he knows yet that he has been set up or not, he knows he’s a dead man if anybody finds him. So, in true Shakespearean fashion he decides to don a disguise. He decides to play Tom o’Bedlam which is actually less of a real character and more of a character type. The name Tom o’Bedlam refers to a rather famous ‘hospital’ in London, founded in the 13th century: the Bethlem Royal Hospital. essentially, he’s playing an escaped mental patient who thinks he is being pursued by the devil.

Small detail: King Lear is set several centuries prior to the foundation of Bedlam. Oh well. Shakespeare never was one for being slowed down by fact-checking. (Best example: the infamous sea-shores of Bohemia in The Winter’s Tale.)

The final scene of act II is a lengthy one which starts with Lear arriving at Gloucester’s castle and ends with him banished into the wilderness. When he arrives he first finds his messenger Kent (in disguise) locked in the stocks. Of course, he’s pissed that his messenger was treated this way but powerless to do anything about it. Gloucester meets with him outside the caster and tells them that Regan and Cornwall are sick and won’t meet with him. Sound familiar?

Gloucester does manage to return with them in tow. He’s happy to see her but that quickly changes when she sides with Goneril. In fact, she tries to send him back but Goneril herself shows up. He pleads with them and after a little back and forth they both agree: “why do you even need a single follower when our entire household stands ready to serve you, dad?” They mutually agree to take him in only if he comes alone, without his buddies.

I have to admit, in some ways, that doesn’t sound unreasonable. Too bad they then order their servants not to invite Lear to stay. Cornwall gives the order to lock the doors. Of course, throughout the scene there’s plenty more of the Fool’s “I told you so, nuncle” wisdom.

King Lear is all very Game of Thrones. Or so Daniel, Zoey, Stephanie, Jay and just about anybody else over the age of 12 with access to the internet or TV has told me.

I do know that Sean Bean dies in season 1. I would apologize for ruining it but I’m sure any one of these memes has beat me to it.

I also know you can buy a replica of the throne itself for the modest sum of $30 000… plus a negligible shipping fee of $1 800 dollars. Why is it so expensive? Because it’s made with real fiber-glass resin. Or, you could choose to buy any one of several of these 1967 Ford Mustangs for the same price. They’re made of metal.

Bard Brawl consensus is that Game of Thrones has more boobs, shlongs, dongs and dragons than Lear but, a comparable amount of heartless treachery and back-stabbing.

Not so fast! King Lear has already told us that he’s a dragon, right? “Peace Kent / Come not between the dragon and his wrath.” (I’m totally going to write that in my thesis for big bonus points!) That’s at least one.

And when the Bard Brawl finally convinces to get HBO to do a complete works of William Shakespeare à la BBC Television Shakespeare, I’m sure that we can slip in more than enough dongs and boobs to keep everyone happy. Edmund does woo both Goneril and Regan. Knowing Edmund, I’m sure they haven’t just been talking on the phone all night and holding hands when they go to the movies. If nothing else, Cordelia must sleep with the King of France on their wedding night.

I’m sure they’ll return our emails any day now!

Join us next week when we will see crazy Lear conducts the weather, a disappearing fool who seems to be friends with Merlin for some reason, Edgar trying way hard to out-crazy Lear, and poor clueless Gloucester who gets it worse than Sean Bean in any of these death scenes.

And if I can find the time, we’ll talk about the planets, the stars and the weather.

Sonnet 28 read by Erin Marie Byrnes.

(Podcast recorded and edited by Daniel J. Rowe, Show notes by Eric Jean)

Stay in touch, brawlers!

Follow @TheBardBrawl on Twitter.

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Email the Bard Brawl at bardbrawl@gmail.com

BB: King Lear, Act I

Artwork - Leigh MacRaeArtwork – Leigh MacRae

Listen to or download the podcast.

Welcome Brawlers to the Bard Brawl’s recording of the first act of this, our fifth play.

And what a play it is! This is no Taming of the Shrew or Henry VI, part 1, scrappy dramatic undercards who hang in there on pure grit and desire despite their faulty technique and poor conditioning.

No. This is the main event, ladies and gentlemen.

Along with such plays as Hamlet, Julius Caesar and Othello, this one is a serious contender to the title of best play ever written, folks.

Get ready for King Lear!

Without further ado, then, let’s ring the bell!

The play opens in act I, scene 1 with Gloucester and Kent – two nobles of Lear’s court – talking about Kent’s son Edmond. There’s a lot of wordplay centering on the fact that Edmond is Gloucester’s bastard son (and no one seems to care that he’s standing right there listening to the whole thing). More importantly, we learn that King Lear’s about to do something completely nuts: he’s going to abdicate the throne, turn over the lands to his daughters and ‘retire’ with a hundred knights, which the daughters will be responsible for upkeeping. This is already a little sketchy but here’s the really crazy part: he decides to give the biggest or best portion of his kingdom to the daughter who loves him most. And so he has them take part in a ‘sucking-up-to-dad’ competition. Goneril and Regan jump right into it but Lear’s youngest daughter Cordelia refuses to play the game. Despite being Lear’s favourite, the old man misinterprets her silence as ingratitude and decides to deny her any land at all. He redistributes that portion between his two other daughter. Kent, his most loyal retainer, tries to reason with him but he is banished for his honesty in a fit of range in which lear speaks on of the most famous line of the play: “Peace, Kent! / Come not between the dragon and his wrath.” (Sends shivers down my spine, that line. We should all start using it in daily speech. Just saying.) After Kent is banished, Lear calls in Cordelia’s suitors, the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France. After they learn that Cordelia has been stripped of her dowry (a third of Lear’s lands), Burgundy rejects her. The King of france, however, recognises the value of her honesty and agrees to marry her. Whew – it’s on!

Actually, does this remind you of anything a little more recent, too?

As the first and legitimate son, his brother Edgar is in line to inherent all of Gloucester<s lands and titles. Of course, Edmund is not about to just take that lying down and t the start of scene 2, we surprise Edmond musing to himself and plotting to get his brother out of the picture. The world think’s a bastard is a bastard? Well, then he’ll show them a bastard they won’t soon forget. He forges a letter which is supposed to be written by Edgar and which discusses a plot for the two brothers to team up and kill dad. Then, the letter adds, when dad’s out of the picture and Edgar inherits everything, he’ll cut Edmund in for half. He fakes hiding the letter which just makes it irresistible to Gloucester who buys into the whole thing. Part two of the plan involves getting rid of Edgar so he can<t go to dad and say his jerk of a bastard brother made the whole thing up. So, Edmund takes Edgar aside and makes up some story that their father wants him dead because he suspects that Edgar is trying to kill him. Edmund tells him to run the hell away and that he’ll try to dead with Gloucester for him. Edgar runs off.

See how all this talk of bastards and inheritance is mirrored in the two main plotlines? Shakespeare gets to be really good at this stuff by this point in his career. Moving right along.

Act I, scene 3 is short but vital. Lear mentioned earlier that not only would he have a hundred knights in his entourage at all times but that he would split his time living with each of his daughters in turn. However, when Goneril hears that Lear has apparently hit her servant, she decides that she’s had enough of Lear and his rowdy knights. When she hears that they are making their way to her castle, she instructs her servant Oswald to be negligent in serving Lear. this way, she can trick Lear into giving her justification for reducing the number of his entourage. Lot of clever people in this play.

Despite being banished by Lear earlier, it’s clear from the start of scene 4 that he has no intention of abandoning the old king now. He disguises himself and offers his services to Lear who accepts. Oswald arrives and informs lear that Goneril and her husband Albany will not be greeting him because they are sick. One of Lear’s knights points out that they’ve totally been dissed. Lear hits Oswald who takes issue with that but Kent steps in and shows Oswald out of Lear’s presence. Lear calls his fool to him and as soon as he arrives on the scene, the fool lays into Lear. All of his arguments basically come down to this: “You crazy old coot! By splitting your crown and kingdom into pieces, you’ve left yourself with nothing. Even I’m better off than you are because while you’re not a king anymore I’m still a fool.” Something like that. After quite of bit of this between Lear, Kent and the fool, Goneril shows up and she’s pissed. She asks Lear to reign in his entourage and to wisen up. He of course refuses and gets insulted, but of course there’s nothing he can do about it now. She tells him he;ll have to downsize his entourage to fifty knights. Not happy at all about any of this, he says ‘the hell with this’ and decides to go see Regan who he hopes will treat him with a bit more respect. Goneril, however, has already sent off a letter to her sister and they’ve both agreed that they’ve had enough of their father and his buddies watching the Habs game and getting drunk on their dollar. I think we can see where this is going.

In the final scene of the act, Lear sends Kent to Gloucester with a letter explaining what has happened at Goneril’s and telling him to expect Lear shortly. (Seems that Regan and her husband Cornwall are staying at Gloucester’s castle at the moment.) The rest of the scene is an exchange between Lear and his fool. While Lear hopes that Regan will give him a warmer welcome, the fool predicts that she’ll be just like Goneril. Then, for a brief moment, Lear seems to realize how much he has wronged Cordelia when he stripped her of her share of his lands and banished her to France. The fool interrupts him and rubs a little salt in the wound by reminding Lear that it was a really dumb move to give up his house as now he has to live at the mercy of merciless daughters.

We’ll get into the succulent barbecued meat of King Lear in our next post but in the mean time, as always, here’s a list of some of the main characters appearing in King Lear:

  • King Lear: The aging King of England. He has no sons so decides instead to retire and split the kingdom between his three daughters.
  • Goneril: Lear’s eldest daughter. She is married to the Duke of Albany.
  • Albany: Goneril’s husband. A bit of a pushover with a good heart. Nowhere near the ruthlessness of Cornwall.
  • Regan: Lear’s second daughter and arguably the meanest of the bunch. She is married to the Duke of Cornwall.
  • Cornwall: Regan’s husband. Like her, he’s a ruthless and sadistic.
  • Cordelia: Lear’s youngest daughter. While she loves him the most, she is disowned by her father because she refuses to indulge in flattering him.
  • Kent: One of Lear’s oldest and most loyal advisors, he continues to serve Lear in disguise after he is banished. Stephanie points out in the show that Kent’s kind of like a Mr. Carson from Downton Abbey. You know, this guy – Mr. Carson as Kent?
  • Fool: This is Lear’s fool or court jester. One of Shakespeare’s best fools.
  • Oswald: A servant to Goneril and Regan.
  • Gloucester: A nobleman of Lear’s court, and the father of Edgar and Edmund. While loyal to Lear, he’s unable to help him and pays a high price for trying to do so.
  • Edgar: Gloucester’s legitimate son who is being framed by Edmund. He is loyal to his father and like Kent with Lear, he disguises himself to stay near Gloucester.
  • Edmund: Gloucester’s bastard son. He plots to overthrow his father and eventually tries to play the two sisters against each other in the hopes of being king.

You might have noticed that a crap ton of stuff happens in this act? Well, get used to that pace because the intensity’s about to get ramped way up for act II.

Check out Jessica Winter’s article on Lear for Slate Magazine that was mentioned in the podcast.

Bonus sonnet 19 read by Kayla Cross.

IMG_2902

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