Monday, July 21, 2014

Over the hump with a difficult play

Two milestones: mid-year has well and truly passed and we have just finished reading King Lear.

King Lear: Goneril and Regan by Edwin Austin Abbey
 Lear is a difficult play. It has a couple of subplots that complicate the main issue - the cruel way two daughters treat their mad old father, the King - and it's far from being an easy read. It isn't performed often, and it's not hard to see why. One wonders if our Will made it up in a hurry one dark night because the players didn't have anything to perform for an important gig.

True to form, he stole the main plot from earlier works based on the same tradition, and the sub plots from other sources. Some like to class it as one of the 'problem plays', and certainly it has many problems for anyone bold enough to consider producing or directing it. It's the first time the club has read it since I joined some ten or twelve years ago, and it's not hard to see why it hasn't been put forward for reading before. It is, quite simply, too difficult to embrace in two afternoons of reading. I feel I would have benefitted from a full semester's lectures on this play! And I must admit that I would have preferred an ending like the one proposed by Geoffrey of Monmouth, in which Cordelia restores her father to the throne, and succeeds him as ruler after his death. Our Will must have been in a melancholy mood when he set pen to paper for this one!

Measure for Measure: Isabella  by Francis William Topham
 Never mind - next month we move on to Measure for Measure. While not the lightest of The Bard's works, it certainly appears to be comic relief after King Lear! There are quite a lot of funny bits: enough to keep the attention of people who, like me, will always choose comedy over tragedy.

After that's on with A Winter's Tale, which is another slightly problematical play: it starts off as if it were to be a drama, but becomes lighter and funnier as the plot wears on. Much depends on the production: there are plenty of opportunities for 'business' and a spot of ad-libbing that can lighten the tone of the play considerably.

New members will be welcome to attend any of the remaining meetings for the year. The next one will be on Saturday,16 August - as usual, in the back room of the Citizens Centre on Perth Railway Station Concourse.

Images by courtesy of Wikipedia


  1. I relished the chance to re-read "King Lear" after a fairly long while, but I agree with you that we need much more time to consider such a difficult play. Perhaps we should allow three meetings for the longer and more complex texts. And I would like the opportunity to break between scenes if necessary to examine details of language, character, plot, etc. as they occur. Another feature of simple reading aloud (without action) is the tendency to rush on at the same pace with no pause for noting what is happening. I'd like to take proper notice of the stage directions; and if they are a bit sparse then I'd like to work out what is happening anyway. The complicated situation in the later scenes of "king Lear" would have been much easier to grasp with some time spent on these extras. However, it was still a moving experience to devote some thought to such a powerful play.

  2. Yes, indeed, Frances - even though we might have benefitted from a longer study period, it was a marvellous experience to approach this play at all!