Christian Versus a Nihilist Interpretation of King Lear Traditional, orthodox or dominant views are opposed by resistant, variant, dissident, divergent, subversive, aberrant or niche ones. King Lear arouses dialectical or polemic interpretations because it, like most of Shakespeare’s tragedies is a problematic play raising complex questions without providing neat pat solutions. Until 1962, the play was presented in either the sanitised and now totally discredited Nahum Tate’s version with a fairy tale “everyone lived happily ever after” ending or a traditional Aristotelian interpretation attempting to engender audience empathy, identification, “arousing pity and fear”, leading to the purging of emotions and Catharsis.
Concerns in Lear # The meanings of a play emerge indirectly or implicitly via the vicarious personal involvement or identification and empathy of us the responders. Meaning can also be derived from recurring Motifs which unify the plot and provide clues to the composer’s underlying concerns in creating meaning through patterns of design. Shakespeare’s plays are a rich minefield of layers and layers of meaning and we can often find recurring concerns developed in similar or differing ways.
Shakespeare’s World # Shakespeare’s life spanned Elizabethan and Jacobean England, a dynamic period of change, expansion, exploration and enlightenment, yet his view of the world (Weltanshaung) was quite different from ours. His was a uniform, unanimous or monolithic world with one rule – a monarch, one church, one economic system and a conformist outlook in life. He believed in order; a place for everything and everything in its place, especially in matters of governance.
Critical Approaches to Lear # The way we interpret a piece of literature depends on the perspective we come from. Largely it is determined by the constructs or social, religious and cultural conditioning that have influenced our way of seeing the world and our way of thinking. To assume all people will interpret a text the same as we do is presumptuous, self-indulgent and parochial. Traditional methods can also be called orthodox or dominant views while alternative ones can be variant, divergent, dissident, resistant or subversive views.
Introduction to King Lear # King Lear is a problematic play in that it asks more questions than it answers; a Problem play that is not wholly resolved. That is, it may have a simple plot with many twists and turns, but it is full of rich ambiguity, many contradictions and multiple interpretations. As John Bell claims, Shakespeare does not show his hand; he raises many issues, delineates both sides but then lets us the audience draw our own conclusions.
King Lear in Performance # Many consider King Lear unproduceable and it remained one of the least performed of his tragedies for many years. Variant productions can espouse the divergent interpretations of the play from traditional, orthodox or authentic Shakespearean portrayal, to alternative resistant, dissident and even subversive ones. Plays are never meant to be just read; the text is merely the blue print or skeleton of a work of drama and what gives it body, shape or flesh and blood is live performance.
Traditional Approaches to King Lear # A play this old builds up a variety of interpretations; layers of cultural varnishes; reflecting the immediate era’s ethos. For variant interpretations use the side menus, especially Christianity vs Nihilism or Critical approaches. An Aristotelian approach to the play has usually been the most orthodox, preferred or dominant view. Aristotle emphasised emotive responses, a beginning middle and end, unity and closure affirming order. Assuming a naturalist, illusionist performance with identity, empathy, Pathos, arousing pity and fear and leading to Catharsis; a purgation of the soul, Aristotle asserted that Drama allowed the spectator or audience to participate in great events vicariously resulting in a Cathartic cleansing or purging of the soul/spirit.
KING LEAR – Summary # THE ACTION OF THE PLAY ACT ONE- Shakespeare’s orientation – the audience is filled in on what is happening – The exposition. Scene 1. Lear, the aged King of Britain, weary of the task of ruling, is about to divide his kingdom between his, three daughters. In the throne-room of his palace, the ‘Earl of Kent and the Earl of Gloucester are discussing whether the King prefers the Duke of Albany, married to his eldest daughter, Goneril, or the Duke of Cornwall, the husband of his second child, Regan.