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 | 0 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.

Become a Patron!

Since I launched The Play Podcast in April 2020, I have managed to eschew any form of advertising or sponsorship, and I would like to continue to produce the podcast without doing so. I therefore invite you to help me to continue to make the podcast by becoming a Patron.
Additional benefits available to Patrons include Footnotes on the plays covered in the podcast, as well as early access to The Play Review.

For details click here

Thank you very much for listening and for your support.

The Texts
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them from our selected partners Bookshop.org and Blackwell’s. Not only will you be supporting independent booksellers, we will also earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. Click on the cover to buy from our chosen partner. Thank you.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You might also be interested in …
071 – Clyde’s, by Lynn Nottage

071 – Clyde’s, by Lynn Nottage

Lynn Nottage’s play Clyde’s is set in a truck-stop diner on the outskirts of Reading, Pennsylvania. This is no ordinary diner though, because the short-order cooks that make the sandwiches that the diner is famous for are all ex-cons. The eponymous proprietor, Clyde, has not offered these characters a second chance out of the softness of her heart, but they discover some unexpected hope for their futures in their communal sufferings and support.

Lynn Nottage has won the Pulitzer Prize for drama twice, and as we record this episode the European premiere of Clyde’s is on stage at the Donmar Warehouse in London. I am delighted to be joined by the show’s director Lynette Linton, who also directed Nottage’s last play Sweat at the same theatre in 2018.

069 – A View from the Bridge, by Arthur Miller

069 – A View from the Bridge, by Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge tells the tragic story of Eddie Carbone, a longshoreman who works on the docks under Brooklyn Bridge. Eddie lives with his wife Beatrice and 17-year old niece, Catherine, whom they have cared for since she was a child. But Catherine is no longer a child, and her natural desire to pursue her own life will tragically rupture the lives of this family and the close-knit immigrant community of Red Hook.

As we record this episode a new production of A View from the Bridge is touring the UK, and I’m delighted to talk with its director, Holly Race Roughan, about this powerful play.

068 – Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw

068 – Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw

Pygmalion is arguably George Bernard Shaw’s most famous play, partly because it spawned the even-more famous musical My Fair Lady. The enduring popularity of the play can be attributed to the romantic arc of its central story, and to the fact that it offers two iconic parts in the characters of Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins.

As a new production of Pygmalion opens at The Old Vic in London, Ivan Wise returns to the podcast to help us assess whether Shaw’s charming social parable remains as entertaining or as relevant as when it was written more than a century ago.