Shakespeare Solved ®

Shakespeare Solved ® is a forthcoming series of novels that covers the Bard's entire life and work.

These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Shakespeare Uncovered King Lear

Don’t miss the Shakespeare Uncovered documentary about King Lear, hosted by Christopher Plummer.

It’s a great documentary series, and this episode is very entertaining.

Christopher Plummer, one of the greatest stage and screen actors of all time, and who has performed many of the greatest Shakespeare roles, guides this documentary and reflects on his celebrated performance of Lear, from 2002-4.

He also discusses and shows video footage of other productions, most notably Ian McKellen’s performance for the RSC, in 2007. 

Ian McKellen in 2007

Ian McKellen also provides some insight into Lear, as does Simon Russell Beale, who recently performed Lear, directed by Sam Mendes, at the National Theatre, in 2014 (which I reviewed here).

Simon Russell Beale in 2014

Throughout the documentary, there are clips from the rehearsal of the Globe’s production, with Joseph Marcell as King Lear, which I saw while it was on tour (my review here).

Joseph Marcell in 2014

One of my favorite parts of these documentaries is when they show clips of previous film versions of the Shakespeare plays. In this case, they have clips from the first King Lear on film, a silent film from 1910.

from 1910

You can even see the full film here on YouTube. It's only 16 minutes long:

Mr. Plummer’s favorite film Lear is the Russian black and white film version from 1971, directed by Grigori Kozintsev. I have never seen that version, but it does look very impressive, and the cinematography looks fantastic. Mr. Plummer is particularly impressed by the actor Jüri Järvet, whose Lear he describes as “always on the edge of madness.”

Juri Jarvet, on the right, from 1971

There is also some scholarly discussion of the play, by Jonathan Bate, Stephen Greenblatt and Jerry Brotton.

There is an interesting point they make about how politically dangerous it was for Shakespeare to write a play about a king who divides his kingdom at a time when King James, who had only recently become King of England, was pushing for Union.

As is unfortunately the case with these documentaries, in my humble opinion, there is too little time devoted to the scholarship view of these plays. But what little there is at least is provocative, and may help inspire viewers to learn more about the play from a historical and scholarly perspective.

One of my favorite parts is when we get to see, backstage at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, how they make the sound effects for the storm on the heath scene. It is very interesting to see what work goes into making that pivotal scene.

I really enjoyed the whole discussion about how the King Lear play, as we know it today, and as Shakespeare originally wrote it — with the tragic ending, Lear dying while holding the dead Cordelia — was not the version of the play that the world ever saw for 150 years!

From 1681 to 1838, the only version of the play that was seen by audiences was the version by Nahum Tate. In that version, there is a happy ending! Lear does not die. Cordelia does not die.

It was only until William Macready, in 1838, that the world would see the original, and tragic King Lear, again.

Christopher Plummer as Benedick in 1961

There is a fantastic part of the documentary when the Globe actors perform the happy-ending King Lear, where Lear and Cordelia are in prison and about to die, and when the dashing Edgar rescues them (and will go on to marry Cordelia). It’s hilarious!

Of course, Shakespeare’s tragedy of King Lear ends tragically, with the deaths of King Lear and Cordelia. As hard as it is to watch that on stage, or on screen, it is fascinating to listen to Mr. Plummer, and Mr. McKellen, discuss how we can understand Lear’s death as something less than tragic.

It is perhaps the best part of the documentary, and it holds a lesson for us all, in how to live our lives more fully, and appreciated our lives more.

As Henry V, in 1956

The documentary will become available on DVD soon, and you can order it here:

The first season of this series is already available, here:


David B. Schajer

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