king lear interpretations

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Every text can be viewed from a range of perspectives. The ways in which a text is represented (perspectives) & viewed, influences the reader’s or audiences understanding, valuing of and response to a text. ‘King Lear’ is an example of one such text, and it may be viewed from a range of perspectives, including that of Psychoanalytic and Marxist. Furthermore, Pico Iyer’s article ‘What Pop Lear needs is a good men’s group’ places ‘King Lear’ and its related issues in a contemporary context, and examples of the issues raised can be supported through various productions of ‘King Lear’.


‘King Lear’ deals with a range of issues, which can be placed in a modern context. Iyer’s article is told through the eyes of Goneril, and focuses on the conflict between Lear and his daughters. One may it find interesting to note the examples applied by Iyer in this article. The constant referral to the characters requiring “shrinks” or psychological help, adds a humorous side to the article, providing a simple and easy to understand application of Lear to contemporary society. Furthermore, it is of relevance if viewing the article from a psychoanalytic perspective.


One could also focus on the way in which Iyer expresses himself throughout the article. The fact that Goneril uses rhetorical questioning in her asking of “Ever heard of Mrs Lear?” enables the responder to engage in thought in regards to ‘King Lear’. It works to Iyer’s benefit that he portrays Goneril as an angry woman, and this is evident through the use of words with negative connotations such as “power-tripping”, “freak” and “tyrant”. One would find this of interest due to the fact that it allows Goneril to express her feelings, and her thoughts on many of the key issues in the play � and thus, her perspective is of interest. Furthermore, an individual may view Goneril’s labelling of her husband as “totally judgemental” as hypocritical and narrow-minded, as she herself is not only placing judgement on her husband, but also on all others.


One can view ‘King Lear’ from a psychoanalytic perspective, where the focus is on the conflict between the conscious and unconscious. This is represented in Lear’s madness (neurosis), which is the result of his repressed sexual desires for his daughters.


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Barry Kosky’s Bell Shakespeare 18 production of ‘King Lear’ at Sydney, expresses this repression through the staging of a giant caged penis in the centre of the stage and this influences the audiences understanding of Lear’s inner conflict and the overall play. In Iyer’s article, the use of words with negative connotations, such as “freak” and “crazy” in relation to Lear, further portray him as a neurotic character. As mentioned earlier, this is further reinforced through the constant referral of the characters requiring “shrinks” (psychological help), contributing to the perspective of psychoanalysis.


The opening scene of ‘King Lear’ is of great importance, due to the offering of Cordelia’s “nothing” (I, i 84) (which during the Renaissance, was a slang term for vagina) towards her father. Iyer recognises the importance of Cordelia “going around saying nothing” in the opening paragraph of the article, as it is as though she is offering herself to her father. Furthermore, the fact that Cordelia promises to “obey” and “love” (I, i ) her father is a close paraphrase of the response at wedding ceremonies. Thus, Cordelia’s promise to never love another man as she does her father, “Obey you, love you, and most honour you”(I, i ) may be suggesting that her relationship with her father stems deeper than that between a father and child.


Likewise, the conflict between Goneril and Cordelia is evident in Iyer’s article, where he comments on Cordelia “laying a whole number on him (Lear)”, resulting in Lear “power-tripping like crazy”. One may question as to why such rivalry exists between the pair. A psychoanalytic reading would suggest that due to the absence of the mother during ‘King Lear’, Goneril being the eldest daughter assumes the role as mother. Thus, Cordelia’s “power” (I, i 164) over Lear, would anger Goneril, as Cordelia threatens Goneril’s position of power. Moreover, the absence of his wife leads to Lear having an ambiguous role as both mother and father to his children. Benjamin Winspear represented this in his 001 production of ‘King Lear’ at the Sydney Theatre Company, whereby Lear was dressed with extensive make-up & lipstick. However, his beard was retained, in order to represent his masculinity, and thus, Lear was expressed in an ambiguous nature.


One may draw that Iyer also recognises the importance of the storm scene (Act III Scene ) in ‘King Lear’ through his concluding statement that “it’s always darkest before the storm”. In life, the darkness of the sky is an indication of the terrible storm ahead, and thus, Iyer is implying that what was to occur during the storm scene was so devastating, that it required warning. A psychoanalyst would view the storm scene as the pivotal turning point in the play, in terms of Lear recognising that he is no longer in control. This is in support of Goneril’s suggestion in Iyer’s article that Lear is a “control freak”, because loss of this control over his daughters in the storm scene leads to the eventual loss of his mind. Rodney Disher’s 14 production of the play at the Sydney Theatre Company, expresses Lear’s insanity through the use of costume. At the beginning of the play, Lear was dressed lavishly and this costume became much more simplified throughout the play, through Lear’s character stripping off parts of clothing as the play progressed. The loss of clothing thus emphasised his loss of mind.


Furthermore the use of sibilance in the words “I am a man more sinned against than sinned” (III, ii 57-58) emphasises the pain that Lear feels as a result of his daughters exiling him. It is only when he is abandoned by Goneril and Regan that the unconscious no longer represses the conscious ego and his sexual desires for Cordelia’s “nothing” (I, i 84) are acknowledged.


A Marxist reading of a text is interpreted in a historical context and the ways in which it tells us about class struggles for economic and political control. Marxism focuses on conflict between opposing forces. Thus from a Marxist perspective, ‘King Lear’ is not simply seen as a conflict between a father and his daughters, but also a conflict between the emerging capitalist class and the old feudal class.


One may see the opening scene of ‘King Lear’ as of great importance as it sets the opening of the play and images and concepts evident in this first scene influence the audiences overall understanding of the play. Lear is representative of an aristocratic landowner and his use of arcane language such as “vassal”(I, i 155) and “recreant” (I, i 160) (old feudal terms) is representative of his position of status. Furthermore, the fact that he demands “service” (II, iv 5) from his daughters and his valuing of feudal attitudes such as “obedience” (II, iv 184) and “bond” (II, iv 171) is indicative of his strong links with feudalism.


Lear’s unproductive way of life based on consumption and leisure is evident in Iyer’s article “Just because he’s king, he thinks he owns the world!” this is linked in relation to saying Lear has all this power, supported by the fact that he lives a life of just leisure with a “hundred of his enablers � really into partying”. This is further testimony to his life of nobility. He expects “service” (II, iv 5) from his daughters and his ability to command such service is indicative of the power the feudal nobility possessed. Therefore Lear’s beliefs in these values stem from feudal values and further reinstate his role as supreme ruler.


Cordelia is a strong force in the play that tries to reassert the old order and the first scene is very important in highlighting this. That fact that she refuses to exchange words of love, with the word exchange having connotations of trade, represents her rejection of the capitalist way of thinking - thus the emerging merchant class. Similarly, in Iyer’s article whereby “Cordelia simply goes around saying nothing” can be said that she has nothing to offer Lear, and thus, she is refusing to exchange. She (Cordelia) cannot “heave her words into her mouth”(I, i 86-87) and her emphasising words such as “duty” (I, i 7), “honour” (I, i ) and “obey” (I, i ) are indicative of her strong ties to feudalism.


However, Goneril and Regan do not have trouble expressing their love. Their use of material terms such as “value” (I, i 5), “possess” (I, i 6) and “mettle” (I, i 64) highlight their valuing of materialistic terms and thus, the ideas of capitalism. In Iyer’s article the discussion and dividing of land is mentioned whereby he says “Inheritance trip � death duties can be murder around here” signalling that the dividing of his land was really the death of Lear.


The distinct difference between the characters of both classes were represented in costume in Benjamin Winspear’s 001 production of ‘King Lear’ at the Sydney Theatre Company whereby King Lear was dressed very grand. However, eventual divesting Lear and Edgar of their clothes throughout the play represented the desire by these characters to shed themselves of any material possessions, and thus, highlight their rejection of capitalism. Also, by divesting themselves of property, Lear and Edgar may be emphasising their loss of possessions (land and title). One may argue that this was done because they both realised that they want to go back to the old system of feudalism, as the system of capitalism had simply brought them bad fortunes. Lear was corrupted initially due to his demand for an exchange (thus himself partaking in an act that would otherwise be linked to capitalism). His demand that his daughters exchange words of love, lead to his loss of mind and craziness. Thus, his stripping of his clothes is symbolic, as it is done because he resents any symbolism of material possessions (linked to capitalism). Thus, through costume and even a set with demolished skyscrapers and demolished thrones, the conflict between both classes can be represented to the audience and to a further extent, influence their reading of the play.


The fact that Lear states that his daughters “owed him no subscription” (I, ii 17) and the sibilance used in the words, emphasises the evil of the new class. Emphasis on words with material connotations such as “matter” (I, i 50), “vile” (III, ii 6), and “fortunes” (I, i 8) would further emphasise to the audience that the play is being read from a Marxist perspective.


Furthermore, the storm scene, which shows the characters of Lear, Kent and the Fool in the rain is further evidence of the old feudal orders loss of powers as the three characters, represent feudal attitudes. In this scene, Kent embodies the feudal attitudes of trust and fealty, where even after Lear abandons and banishes him, Kent still seeks him and offers his services to him. The fact that the Fool tells Lear to ask “thy daughters blessing” (III, ii 11-1) is indicative of the change in status that has occurred. Lear is out in the rain, being refused entry into the homes of his daughter, highlighting his loss of power and the victory of the emerging capitalist class (represented by his daughters).


This Marxist approach is emphasised in Imre Csiszar’s production of King Lear 18 in Communist Hungary, whereby the play is staged in a large industrial town, and Lear is an industrial ruler. During the storm scene, Csiszar introduces a railway carriage freight car, which screeches on the tracks and disappears. This is done to emphasise the change in status and rise of capitalism (again represented by the daughter’s dominance over their father). The car returns at the end of the play, only to crash, falling off the stage with the destruction emphasising the failure of the new class to be victorious over the feudal class. Similarly, in Peter Brooks’ Production of King Lear 16 in Stratford - whereby rusty aluminium sheets were used to make storm sounds � again emphasises the importance of the storm scene as it is one of times in the play where the audience can visually recognise the fading power of the old feudal class as they are out in the rain.


Therefore in conclusion, it is clear to see that the perspectives taken and the various techniques employed when staging ‘King Lear’, has an influence on the audience’s interpretation and understanding of the text and through certain words/connotations one can emphasise to the audience the way in which ‘King Lear’ is being valued and interpreted such as Csiszar’s Production of ‘King Lear’ set in an industrial town as opposed to Disher’s Production of ‘King Lear’ set in the late 18th century to early 1th century. ‘King Lear’ can be viewed in terms of a range of contexts, and Pico Iyer’s article is of importance of as it places the themes and issues important to ‘King Lear’, in a contemporary context, which can be analysed from diverse perspectives.





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