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Lear

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 28 February 2008

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss King Lear. Around the turn of 1606, a group of London theatre-goers braved the plague to take in a new play by the well-known impresario, Mr William Shakespeare. Packed into the Globe Theatre, they were treated to a tale of violence, hatred and betrayal so upsetting that it thereafter languished among Shakespeare’s less popular plays.

The story of Lear – of a man who divides up his property and loses the love of a daughter - is an ancient and ultimately happy one. But in the hands of William Shakespeare it became a shocking and violent vision of a broken family in a godless universe. So shocking that after the playwright’s death it was shunned and rewritten with a happy ending. Only in the 19th and 20th centuries did Shakespeare’s bleak, experimental and disorientating drama attain the status it has now.

But why did Shakespeare take a story from the deep history of Britain and make it so shockingly his own and when, from the Civil War to the Second World War, did this powerful and confusing tragedy emerge as Shakespeare’s greatest?

With Jonathan Bate, Professor of English Literature at the University of Warwick; Katherine Duncan-Jones, Tutorial Fellow in English at Somerville College, Oxford; Catherine Belsey, Research Professor in English at the University of Wales, Swansea

  • Further Reading

    Shakespeare and the Loss of Eden: Family Values in Early Modern Culture by Catherine Belsey (Palgrave Macmillan, 1999)

    Why Shakespeare? by Catherine Belsey (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)

    Shakespeare Our Contemporary by Jan Kott (Norton & Company, 1974)

    The RSC Shakespeare: The Complete Works, Edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)

    The Genius of Shakespeare by Jonathan Bate (OUP, 1998)

    Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth by A.C Bradley (Penguin Classics, 1991)

    Ungentle Shakespeare by Katherine Duncan-Jones (Arden, 2001)

    King Lear by William Shakespeare (Author), R.A. Foakes (Editor), (Arden Shakespeare; 3Rev Ed edition, 1997)

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