I really want to see a modern dress production of this play.
Lear, an aging Briton king, wants to retire, so he gathers his three daughters and asks each of them how much they love him. Cordelia won’t play that game. Goneril and Regan kiss ass. Lear divides the kingdom between Goneril and Regan and banishes Cordelia. Goneril and Regan strip Lear of the rest of his power and cast Lear out on the moor. Cordelia, who has by this point become the Queen of France, comes roaring back with an army to put things right. Almost everybody dies.
I have a lot more sympathy for Regan and Goneril than I’m supposed to. A pair of women in the England of antinquity are suddenly given something they never expected: power in their own right. Their actions for the rest of the play are meant to cement that power. They may even believe in what they are doing, since the way Lear sliced his kingdom in half on a whim doesn’t suggest he was taking good care of it.
Lear is a political threat to the sisters as long as he remains alive. He’s nominally still king, senile, and already turned on Cordelia. They could be next. As a royal and a man, he probably did little to raise his daughters. So why should they hold tender feelings towards him? Catherine de Medici wouldn’t have blinked at the torture, poison and banishment that they resort to.
The tragedy here is that the young people prove no better at the helm than their elders. Regan and Goneril should have executed Lear swiftly, made peace with Cordelia (she is the Queen of France), and come to an agreement about their lovers. In the end they’re felled by squabbling.
This policy and reverence of our age makes the world bitter to the best of our times; keeps our fortunes from us till our oldness cannot relish them. I begin to find an idle and fond bondage in the oppression of aged tyranny, who sways, not as it hath power, but as it is suffered.
Was there ever a better expression of millennial rage?
King Lear is relevant in a way Shakespeare never intended because it’s about generational warfare. Lear is obsolete, pompous, and never had to suffer a day in his life. Regan and Goneril are inexperienced and petty. Sound familiar?
I want to see a production of this play where Lear watches CSI all day and his daughters have their faces in their phones, eating kale chips. I’m angry about politics; tragedy is cathartic. I want to see a play that does this to a kingdom: