April 12, 2009

King Lear

1603? play
written by William Shakespeare

(my review of the 1985 film adaptation, RAN)

Ambition can be a very, very dangerous thing.

King Lear of Britain is getting old and wishes to divide his lands between his three daughters. Goneril and Regan instantly start gushing in an attempt to get more goods than one another, but the youngest, Cordelia, doesn't bite. Her father knows how much she loves him, so why must she embarrass herself with a display? Enraged, Lear disowns her and splits his kingdom in half among the other two.

There's some interesting stuff to be said here about the ties between a father and child, where unsaid devotion can be far stronger than pretty words heaped upon words. As much as those two say they care about the old man, they just want him to die so their respective husbands can quickly increase their social standings.

I have to admit that I got a little lost at times what with one betrayal after another, mainly because it's not just the sisters that are hatching things, but in a completely different household, we get Edmund, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester, who starts an elaborate campaign of misinformation so as to assume his father's title. The two stories keep batting back and forth at one another for the stage, only really coming together in the last two acts. While the ties were nice, and similar happenstances mirrored one another well, it just got to be a bit too much to handle at times.

And then there's the tone. At times, especially in the first half, all the backstabbing, dismissals, and manipulations almost take on a comical frenzy, and there's even a parroting Fool whose job appears to be nothing more than hanging at the King's side and putting him down for no good reason. But once eyeballs start getting gouged out and people die, all sense of fun and mischief disappears to heart-rending tragedy.

I know, I know. Once again I'm probably getting more critical than I should of a classical work that someone of my limited grasp shouldn't even bother trying to analyze, but I can't help finding the play uneven. Bad? Hell, no. But a bit all over the place at times, as though Shakespeare just kept throwing one element into the story after another until he finally saw how to wrap them all together.

But it's still a good story in the end, with solid characters, and a tragic finale that shows that the most trusted people in our lives are sometimes the ones we cast aside.


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