Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 147. Wednesday, 23 February 1994.
Date: Tuesday, 22 Feb 1994 14:18:55 GMT-6
Subject: *KING LEAR* 1.4 BUSINESS
Thanks to you, Martin Zacks, for your suggestions on the business in the
opening lines of 1.4 in *LEAR*. I can see it; I like it. Have you seen how
the RSC handle this part?
Having seen only one live performance of *LEAR*, I am at the mercy of the movie
makers, books, and my own guesses.
My main misgiving to surrounding Lear with retainers or other trappings of
nobility at this point is that in such a context Kent may seem fawning and Lear
naive. The Granada *LEAR* with Olivier strikes me that way--Lear, nobly
dressed, is led into the hall on horseback. So when he asks Kent standing
below, "Dost thou know me, fellow?" the question seems superfluous, for
although Kent might pretend not to know this old man's name, he could not as an
Elizabethan mistake his social standing. Then when Kent claims to see in the
old man's face "authority," Kent seems patently obsequious and Lear a bit
dotty. In contrast to these unflattering images, Kenneth Muir in his Penguin
Critical Study of *KING LEAR* says that these early lines "...show both men at
their best--the employment of Service by Authority. This helps restore our
respect for the king...." (61) I wonder how this initial exchange would play
if Lear, instead of being surrounded by knights and attendants, were isolated
downstage with Kent.
Nevertheless, I particularly like your point that Kent in this part of 1.4
"mimic his standing up to Lear in 1.1." And, yes, one rarely gets the chance
to direct *LEAR*, except of course when one teaches the play to a class and can
suggest business that complements the text. In my case, I am seldom sure that
I have it just right. Thanks again for your good help.