Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In Our Time: King Lear

King Lear
In Our Time (BBC)
Host: Melvyn Bragg

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 languished among Shakespeare’s less popular plays until re-written with a happy ending.

The play was King Lear – a drama on the folly of age, the cruelty of families and the futility of ambition, set amidst the wilderness of Ancient Britain. A place where, as the Duke of Albany declares in the play, “Humanity must perforce prey on itself, Like monsters of the deep.”

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?


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

To Listen to the Episode

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