Friday, May 11, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 19.9 (William Shakespeare)

King Lear
Shakespeare, William
King Lear

Somehow I managed to get through college without ever having read King Lear. I read Shakespeare in many different courses and contexts, but never once was I assigned this play. I became aware of this absence in my education just after college -- or maybe it was just before I graduated, I am not sure. Actually, I think it may have been during my senior year. Yes, it was.

I watched a video with the few friends of a British film called, "The Dresser." It stars Albert Finney as an aging Shakespearean actor. The "dresser" of the title refers to his personal assistant, played by Tom Courtenay. It's a kind of mise en abîme in which the aging actor, whose wits and powers are fading, plays the aging King, whose wits and power are fading, growing paranoid and visionary all at once.

It's a great film. I remember saying to myself that I needed to read King Lear. I am pretty sure I did at within a year, but for some reason the feeling that I had yet to read it lingered in my mind, like the memory of a severed limb. Each time I would hear it referenced, I would think to myself, I've got to read 'King Lear.' Then I would read it and promptly forget that I had done so.

This went on for several years until I had read the play at least five times. I think it finally dawned on me that I had read it when I saw several film adaptations, like Kurosawa's "Ran" and Godard's abysmal "King Lear," featuring Molly Ringwald, and Norman Mailer. I can remember at that point knowing the story well enough that I could compare it's plot points to those of the original. 

Which is to say King Lear is no longer and absence in my memory. It is present.

from King Lear

Let the great gods
That keep this dreadful pudder o'er our heads
Find out their enemies now. Tremble, thou wretch
That hast within thee undivulgèd crimes
Unwhipped of justice. Hide thee, thou bloody hand,
Thou perjured, and thou simular man of virtue
That art incestuous. Caitiff, to pieces shake,
That under covert and convenient seeming
Hast practiced on man’s life. Close pent-up guilts,
Rive your concealing continents and cry
These dreadful summoners grace. I am a man
More sinned against than sinning.

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