Friday, March 27, 2009

Shakespeare's King Lear

Children are born, educated, mature, and they go to work and have their own children, and in the midst of those basic activities are love and hate, ignorance and knowledge, possibility and disappointment; and our arts reflect those facts, those states. Our arts are embodiments of experience and reflection, and the extent to which they are honest and wise is a register of their integrity and use, their necessity.

I have often thought that it is a sign of respect to tell the truth about matters of importance, but some people receive the truth as an insult, preferring flattery, preferring false ideology. I was reminded of that while watching a televised production of Shakespeare's "King Lear," directed by Trevor Nunn with Chris Hunt and starring Ian McKellen as the king, in a play about a father who rewards daughters who fear and flatter him, a father who disinherits the daughter who loves him but tells him the truth without embellishment (Romola Garai plays well Cordelia, the daughter who loves her father despite his disapproving rage). Pride leads Lear astray, but it is also age that diminishes his mind, age that asks for a simple view and a simple response (in the early scenes McKellen's egocentric king reminded me of a grand baby). There is a parallel story in the play, focusing on an ambitious, bastard son (the seductive and lethal Edmund, played by Philip Winchester) who gets revenge on his father and brother--for a time. As the play is a tragedy, there are all kinds of betrayals and deaths. Shakespeare's ability to create situations that fully express the noble and the savage aspects of humanity is what keeps him current.