Exploring the greatest new and classic plays


Sir Kenneth Branagh as King Lear
Wyndham’s Theatre, London
November 2023
Photo by Johan Persson


070 – King Lear, by William Shakespeare

Nov 17, 2023 | Podcast Episodes | 2 comments

In our new episode we tackle William Shakespeare’s monumental tragedy King Lear, a play that the poet Shelley called “the most perfect specimen of the dramatic art existing in the world”. Shakespeare probably wrote King Lear in 1605-06. The first recorded performance of the play was at the court of James I in the Great Chamber in Whitehall, on Saint Stephen’s Day (or what we know as Boxing Day) in December 1606. That must have been cheery festive fare for the relatively new King James and the select audience of 300 who saw it. In fact, the play’s dark story proved too bleak for many, as for 150 years from the late 17th century on it was only presented in a corrupted version which inserted a happy ending in which King Lear and his daughter Cordelia survive.

Since 1838 when the original version of the play reasserted itself, the towering role of Lear himself has been assailed by every generation of leading actor. As we record this episode a new production directed by and starring Sir Kenneth Branagh arrives in London’s West End. Branagh is of course no stranger to Shakespeare, having directed and starred in five film adaptations, as well as numerous stage performances.

I have to confess to being not a little daunted to be taking on an examination of this immense play that has been the subject of centuries of critical study. It’s a prodigious play in every sense. There are ten major roles, it has multiple significant plot lines, an elemental stormy setting, intense domestic conflict, and acts of war and violence which roll on with a propulsive tragic energy and conjure a challenging philosophical vision.

So I’m very pleased to be able to be joined by a properly qualified Shakespearean analyst. He is Paul Prescott, an academic, writer and theatre practitioner who has held positions at the University of Warwick and California. He has authored several books on Shakespeare, and is the co-founder of the annual festival ‘Shakespeare in Yosemite’ in Yosemite National Park in California.

Here are our other episodes on Shakespeare’s plays:
064 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream  
048 – Much Ado About Nothing 
038 – Macbeth 
036 – Hamlet 
005 – The Tempest 



Paul Prescott

Paul Prescott is an academic, writer and theatre practitioner who has held positions at the University of Warwick and California. He has acted, adapted and taught Shakespeare in a range of countries and contexts, and authored books including the Arden Performance Edition of Othello (2018); Reviewing Shakespeare (Cambridge, 2013); and coedited, Shakespeare on European Festival Stages (Arden, 2022), Shakespeare on the Global Stage (Arden, 2015) and A Year of Shakespeare (Arden, 2013).

He is also the co-founder of the annual festival ‘Shakespeare in Yosemite’ in Yosemite National Park, in California, and has adapted many of Shakespeare’s plays for a range of professional companies, including the National Theatre.

Recommended Play

Paul recommended Corialanus by William Shakespeare.

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    After many years of knowing that you are doing this, I have finally tuned in for the first time.
    That was fantastic. I learned a lot. Your guest Paul Prescott was excellent.
    Students around the world grappling with this difficult play would benefit. You should post the transcript or maybe publish your transcripts together organized by playwright or theme.

    • Douglas Schatz

      Thank you for your kind feedback Adil. I agree that transcripts would be useful, and we’re working on making these available.


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