Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The updated edition of the New Cambridge Shakespeare volume on Lear is a treasure trove of information on past productions and interpretations, as well as textual analysis and the text itself, with those annotations that enrich a reading beyond price.

The history of the text is crazed and convoluted, especially since several versions from Shakespeare's time exist (the Quarto and the Folio versions, plus variations), so that there seems to be no definitive text--just combinations that are more or less accepted for publication and performance.

And then there was the now infamous Tate version, cobbled together from Shakespeare versions plus additional verses, scenes and even characters, with that happy ending. That Lear lives to reign again, followed after his death by Cordelia, was actually how the old story went, the one that Shakespeare adapted and was known to the audiences of his time. That he kills them both was a rude if very theatrical shock to them, just in terms of what they expected.

In its summary of notable productions, the Cambridge volume (edited by Jay L. Halio) devotes a paragraph to the 2004 King Lear at OSF in Ashland, directed by James Edmondson, who had played the role at OSF in 1997. Kenneth Albers played Lear in 2004. Quoting liberally from Bill Varble's review in the Medford Mail Tribune, it says: "Together they decided to examine the 'personal' tragedy of King Lear--'Lear as a noble and gifted ruler who in his old age has become so self-righteous, imperious and obstinate that he creates the weapons of his own destruction.' Albers performed Lear's descent into madness as a 'portrayal of the tricks an aging mind plays, a Shakespearean examination of early Alzheimer's disease within the context of political and familial disaster.' As the storm echoes his descent into madness, Lear becomes increasingly sane and humane. The ending of the play was uncompromising--no redemption but 'splendor in the ashes...the kind of Shakespeare we need. It has its effect honestly, sans tricks or flash, and so is deeply satisfying.'"

I personally didn't see this OSF production. And I'm not sure from this description whether I would have liked it. I'm a bit leery of a Lear that gets all Alzheimery--it could be a little too easy and pop culturish. I'm not sure about splendor in the ashes either, but as I say, I didn't see it.

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