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070 – King Lear, by William Shakespeare

070 – King Lear, by William Shakespeare

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

 

070 – King Lear, by William Shakespeare

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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080 – Long Day’s Journey into Night, by Eugene O’Neill

080 – Long Day’s Journey into Night, by Eugene O’Neill

Eugene O’Neill wrote his autobiographical magnum opus, Long Day’s Journey into Night, in 1941, but because of the personal revelations it contained he gave explicit instructions that it was not to be published until 25 years after his death and that it should never be staged. In the event his widow allowed both to occur in 1956, only three years after his death, when the play won O’Neill his fourth Pulitzer prize.

As we record this episode, a powerful new production of the play is playing in London, with Brian Cox and Patricia Clarkson heading the cast. I am delighted and privileged to talk with the production’s director, Jeremy Herrin, about O’Neill’s monumental play.

Photo by Johan Persson.

079 – The Hills of California, by Jez Butterworth

079 – The Hills of California, by Jez Butterworth

A new Jez Butterworth play is a theatrical event. The Hills of California is currently running at the Harold Pinter theare in London’s West End, directed by Sam Mendes. Do not be misled by the title, however, we are not in sunny California, but in the back streets of Blackpool, where four daughters come together to say goodbye to their dying mother. The play is a portrait of lost dreams, of deeply ingrained patterns of love and hurt within a family, and of suppressed and mutable memories.

I’m joined to explore this major new work by Sean McEvoy, author of Class, Culture and Tragedy in the Plays of Jez Butterworth.

078 – The Lover and The Collection, by Harold Pinter

078 – The Lover and The Collection, by Harold Pinter

We have a double-bill in this episode of two short plays written by Harold Pinter in the early 1960s: The Lover and The Collection, both of which explore sexual compulsion and the manipulation of truth within marriage or partnerships. As we record this episode a new production of both plays is playing at the Theatre Royal in Bath, directed by Lindsay Posner.

I’m delighted to welcome Lindsay back to the podcast to talk about these two Pinter gems.

Claudie Blakley and David Morrissey in The Lover
Photo by Nobby Clark

Paul Prescott

Paul Prescott

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(s)

Paul recommended Corialanus by William Shakespeare.