The drama unfolds as a direct consequence of Lear’s blind arrogance and failure to either hear or accept the truth. At the play’s start he rashly commends and generously rewards his two honey-tongued and avaricious daughters, Goneril and Regan, whilst at the same time banishing his honest child Cordelia. The character of Gloucester too, rejects his good and faithful son Edgar after believing without making appropriate investigation the lies of his scheming bastard son, the evil Edmund. These knee-jerk actions on Gloucester’s part mirror Lear’s earlier foolishness. Blindness is a motif that runs throughout the play: Gloucester only sees his own errors clearly once he has been made physically blind, and at the play’s start Lear, we observe, is blinded by his own vanity. Lear’s not simply just a father though, he is also a king, therefore his mistakes have far-reaching consequences; his foolish actions create an opportunity for evil to thrive in his kingdom, unleashing civil war upon his land and people. Shakespeare is warning us against having too much pride, reminding us to see the world and our role and place in it, right-sized. At the end, the stage littered with corpses, Lear makes his final entrance bearing the dead Cordelia in his arms, by this time fully contrite with humility. It is a moral tale about the wielding of temporal power and human folly - "Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise".
Last night we went to see the NT Live production of King Lear with Simon Russell Beale in the title role. Beale is a highly accomplished actor, always a beautiful interpreter of Shakespeare, and his performance did not disappoint. Yet this is not in my opinion a great production of the play, although I must also say, I enjoyed it immensely. However, I didn’t feel that all the casting choices, or the direction, were always delivering or giving Simon Russell Beale the support necessary to make this a truly outstanding production. Despite this criticism, many of the performances were spot-on and I was particularly impressed by, Stanley Townsend as Kent, Stephen Boxer as Gloucester, Kate Fleetwoood as Goneril, Richard Clothier as Albany, and last but not least, Adrian Scarborough as The Fool.
Therefore in my view, certainly very good - with some reservations. But then, any production of a Shakespeare tragedy that can keep its audience sustained through a two hour first half has to be worth seeing - as this was.