Example: King Lear

This example uses Performing King Lear: Researching a Plot Sequence and Brook’s film, following the 5 steps outlined earlier in this module.

1. Choose a Topic

You choose the topic of the justification of the popularity of King Lear - despite its seemingly gloomy topic of two dysfunctional families driving their members to exile, madness, and death. (Hugh Richmond’s interest resulted from a demonstration of the beach scene’s ingenuity, vividness, wit, and meaningfulness by RSC actor Sebastian Shaw).

2. Read, Then See

You read through the play quickly in any one-volume edition, perhaps noting any positive aspects: the humor of the Fool, the innocence of Cordelia and Edgar (though it makes them naïve victims), Lear’s increasing social awareness of his responsibilities during his so-called “madness”; the loyalty of Kent; the maturing of Edgar, leading to his success in curing Gloucester of his suicidal state of mind, plus Edgar’s victory over the wicked Edmund, leading to Edmund’s repentance.

 Then you watch the Brook film version.

3. Focus Your Interest

You decide to write about ideas of social awareness and personal responsibility and find the fullest recognition of the increased awareness of problems, and focus on remedies, of Edgar and Lear in their behavior and ideas, in the beach scene, in Act IV, which becomes your focus. You compare the same scene as it appears in the Brook film version and Olivier’s television performance on YouTube.

4. Research

You look through the Single Play Bibliography for King Lear in search of positivist readings, where you find:

  • Reginald Foakes, Hamlet Versus King Lear: Cultural Politics and Shakespeare's Art, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993

  • Hugh M. Richmond, "A Letter to the Actor Playing Lear," in Shakespeare Illuminations: Essays in Honor of Marvin Rosenberg, 110-130

  • Jay Halio & Hugh Richmond, eds. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1998

After doing some research in your school library, you also find G. Wilson Knight’s essay on “King Lear and the Comedy of the Grotesque” as an attempt to turn away from a tragic reading.

5. Organize Your Information

You subject the text to a systematic analysis of:

  • (Example A) How an audience would react to Edgar’s catharsis of his father at the supposed cliff edge

  • (Example B) How actor Paul Scofield interprets Lear’s state of mind in the dialogue with Gloucester about his promiscuity in Brook’s film

Final Essay Example A: "Staging King Lear," by Jonathan Patrick

Final Essay Example B: "The Tragicomedy of Lear," by Hugh Richmond

Please offer comments and suggestions on any aspects the site to: Director Hugh Richmond at richmondh77@gmail.com. See samples at the site Blog.

Except where otherwise specified, all written commentary is © 2016, Hugh Macrae Richmond.