Review of the RSC's New King Lear

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.298  Monday, 12 September 2016


From:        Kirk McElhearn <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         September 2, 2016 at 5:50:40 AM EDT

Subject:    Review of the RSC's New King Lear


Theater Review: King Lear, by the Royal Shakespeare Company


As the Royal Shakespeare Company continues its traversal of all of Shakespeare’s plays, it’s time to present one of the biggest ones, King Lear. Opening last night in Stratford-Upon-Avon, where it resides for a very short run (only six weeks) before heading off to London, this Lear features Antony Sher as the King. After triumphing as Falstaff in Henry IV part 1 and Henry IV part 2, then playing Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, Sher returns in the role of the aging king slowly losing his mind, and suffering from a choice he made that he eventually regrets.


Lear is my favorite Shakespeare play. It is the play with the widest range of emotions, with love and loss, treachery, revenge, and so much more. In its three hours, Lear is a map to the human mind. In addition to the main plot of Lear disowning his favorite daughter Cordelia as he plans to abdicate, there is the secondary plot of Edmund, the “whoreson” (bastard) of the Duke of Gloucester, who tries to take control of everything. And the ending is tragic, with Lear realizing all that he did wrong.


I first saw the play in preview a week ago, and again last night at the press night performance. I wanted to like this production a lot; I wanted to love it. I very much like Anthony Sher, and felt his portrayals of Falstaff in the Henrys and Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman were excellent; indeed, it’s been a banner period here in Stratford with Sher on stage the past two years.


I wanted to like this production a lot, and I left feeling that it just doesn’t have the intangible magic it needs to be great. I had hoped that my initial thoughts about the production during the preview would be erased by the opening night performance, but, alas, I was disappointed. This is still a very good King Lear, and the audience was wildly appreciative, but I left feeling unsatisfied.


The play starts with Lear being carried out on a very high palanquin with a sort of glass cube surrounding him. When the palanquin is placed on the stage, the cube is lowered, and Lear sits atop his mobile throne. He looks very regal, almost exaggeratedly so, with his overly thick fur coat and a big Russian fur hat (he wears two such fur coats during the first half of the play, his body seeming to be dwarfed by these vestments). The actors on the stage come out all in dark costumes, two carrying tall sticks with large discs at their tops (the sun and moon), and others holding up bits of dead trees. It all looked a bit like an experimental production from the 1960s. (Perhaps it was a reference to Peter Brook, whose 1962 production of Lear at the RSC also feature a Lear with a fur coat and hat. You can see some photos of that production here.)


The sets changed throughout the play, more so than usual at the RSC, and there was a lack of continuity in the visual elements of the production. In the beginning, the stage was empty, though covered for the most part by a sort of tarp that was later used in a strange way during the storm scene. Lear and the Fool were on a platform that raised up from the stage, with the tarp hanging down below and behind them, to signify… something. I felt the storm scene was overdone; with the bright, flashing lightning and the loud thunder, it was hard to pay attention to the words being spoken.


After the intermission – after nearly two hours; perhaps the play could have been cut more evenly – the stage stands empty again, with just a chair inside a glass cube near the front. This is where Gloucester has his eyes gouged out, in a violent scene with squirting blood and squirming spectators. The glass cube seemed to have no logic except for the fact that it allowed Cornwall to smear blood on it; otherwise, it looked like the sort of prison cell you see Bond villains locked up in.


The most striking set was the Beckettian wasteland where Gloucester and Tom O’Bedlam wandered, replete with a dead tree upstage right that would be perfect in Waiting for Godot. With the stark black stage contrasting with white walls, this minimalist set worked well in those scenes, allowing the imagination to fill in the details of the bleak setting.


The acting overall was excellent, and the secondary actors made this a very strong ensemble performance. The highlight was Paapa Essiedu playing Edmund, the conniving schemer who would set in motion the plan that led to the tragic end. Essiedu has this year’s Hamlet at the RSC, and he was as brilliant as Edmund as he was as the Dane. It’s worth noting that Essiedu got noticed when he was an understudy for Edmund in a National Theatre production and the actor playing the role was taken ill. His reprising the role at the RSC seems fitting. Edmund has a number of short monologues, and each time, Essiedu crafted his words with guile and humor, and had the audience laughing at his evil intent.


Anthony Byrne was a wonderful Kent, boisterous, and, with his booming voice, commanding a strong presence on stage. Oliver Johnstone as Edgar (and Tom O’Bedlam) had the right balance of madness and confidence, and his scenes with David Troughton’s brilliantly pathetic Gloucester were memorable. Natalie Simpson as Cordelia was very good, but her little voice was often hard to hear, notably when talking with Kent. I noticed this in the preview, and it was only marginally better in the press night performance. The stage is deep, and if the actors aren’t facing the audience – and they don’t always do so – it’s easy for their voices to be too drowned by the open space. There were a few points where some of the quieter actors weren’t quite loud enough; and I imagine the people in the back rows might have found the voices even softer.


Antony Sher was indeed excellent throughout most of the performance. His Lear as king is convincing, and his descent into madness, following the storm scene, believable. But he lacked the pathos of Lear; he was acting the king’s madness, but it felt just a bit shy of convincing. In the final scene, where Lear holds the dead Cordelia, Sher was wheeled out on a cart, perhaps because Sher couldn’t carry her; the stage directions are “Re-enter KING LEAR, with CORDELIA dead in his arms.” It all looked too staged, and when Sher said “Howl, howl, howl,” he was not howling, but saying the words. In that final scene, everything looked staged. Sher’s “Never, never, never, never, never!” almost made up for the howls, but I felt there was a missed opportunity to move the audience.


I wanted to really like this production, and have tickets to see it two more times before it closes. I may return one or both sets of the tickets; this isn’t a sub-standard production of King Lear, but it doesn’t have the magic that would make it great. I had been looking forward to it, and am a bit disappointed, but perhaps my standards are a bit high, living a few miles from the RSC, and seeing their productions all year round. And especially wishing I had seen Ian McKellan’s 2007 version at the RSC (which is fortunately available in a filmed version (, Amazon UK)). If you’re not a Shakespeare buff, you’ll probably love this production; in spite of its flaws, it gets almost everything right. But sometimes very good isn’t enough; sometimes you want great, and it doesn’t quite reach greatness.




Shakespeare Pro app for iPhone/iPad

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.296  Monday, 12 September 2016


From:        Ron Severdia <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         September 8, 2016 at 7:12:16 PM EDT

Subject:    Shakespeare Pro app for iPhone/iPad


[Editor’s Note: freely hosts thanks to Ron Severdia. Ron also handles the’s often arcane technical issues and patiently answers my questions about Joomla in my capacity as web site administrator. I encourage you to consider replying to Ron’s requests for ways of improving the Shakespeare Pro app for iPhone/iPad’s usefulness for scholars and teachers of Shakespeare. I greatly value all of Ron’s assistance, and I offer my sincerest appreciation for all responses to his queries. –Hardy]he Shakespeare Pro app for iPhone/iPad




Last month, the Shakespeare Pro app for iPhone/iPad celebrated its 8th year with over 8 million downloads. The first version of the app was quite simple, mainly consisting of our editions of Shakespeare’s works and some basic study materials. Since then, I’ve added a variety of features including search, a glossary (by Shakespeare’s Words), notes, bookmarks, the First Folio (and some quartos), extensive study materials, and more. My personal goal for the app was to be the best tool possible for the following audiences:


1. Actors and directors - rehearsal and research

2. Students and teachers - classroom and study

3. Scholars - research and reference


Now, I’m trying to determine the next steps for the future and in order to do that, I’d like to better understand the problems you are trying to solve when doing your Shakespeare-related job. Do you gather/calculate statistics about the works? Do you share snippets with your students? Do you create a new syllabus each year or semester? Do you memorize lines? I would like to better understand what types of tasks you perform and how those could be improved or even eliminated to save time.


Thank you for sharing your invaluable insight.


Ron Severdia

The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource


Download the free Shakespeare App on iTunes


Download the free Shakespeare App on Google Play



CFP: Slings and Arrows

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.295  Monday, 12 September 2016


From:        Andrew Bretz <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         September 9, 2016 at 7:59:07 PM EDT

Subject:    CFP: Slings and Arrows


Request for Papers


Edited collection for submission to the University of Toronto Press.

Slings & Arrows: Performing Shakespeare as Canada


Edited by Kailin Wright (St. Francis Xavier University), Don Moore (University of Guelph), Andrew Bretz (Wilfrid Laurier University)


Chapter proposals are invited for a collection of essays that will explore the hit Canadian television series Slings & Arrows—a show that features Shakespeare as an enduring symbol of Canada. Slings & Arrows televises the theatrical performance of national identity, as theorized by Alan Filewod, and in doing so satirizes both Canada as a nation and Shakespeare as a high-art object of veneration.


1. Papers on all topics related to Slings & Arrows are welcome, though the editors offer the following suggestions/questions for guidance: Shakespeare as Canada Shakespeare has been celebrated as Canada’s most popular playwright—a conceit that addresses the significance of the Stratford Festival as well as the national relevance of Slings & Arrows. The show, then, does not merely explore Shakespeare and Canada, but rather, Shakespeare as Canada. This section will be populated with chapters that take up the premise of Slings & Arrows’ investigation of the symbolism and/or metaphor of Shakespeare as Canada.

  • Slings & Arrows and Cultural Identity Though Canada is an increasingly multicultural nation and the popular performance of Shakespeare in Canada reflects that diversity, does Slings and Arrows?
  • Does Slings & Arrows represent the racial diversity, or lack thereof, in Canadian theatre today?
  • Does the lack of representation of French or of Quebecois theatre, for instance, hinder the construction of Shakespeare as Canada, understood through Slings and Arrows?


2. The Politics of Reception of Slings & Arrows


Who is the audience of Slings & Arrows? The question is deceptively simple. From the spectatorship of the New Burbage Festival audiences, to the real offstage audiences of the Stratford Festival who helped inform the creation of the show, to the real television audiences both in Canada and abroad, the exact character of Slings & Arrows’ audience shifts with kaleidoscopic perspective.


3. Slings & Arrows and the Canadian Theatre/Film Industry


The Canadian theatre industry is in some ways totally unique in the Western world and in other ways shares many of the same problems regarding funding, canonicity, diversity, and marketing as other places. Chapters in this section will investigate the ways in which Slings and Arrows both satirizes and reflects  the world of Canadian theatre and film.


4.Inheritance, Adaptation, and Intermediality in Slings & Arrows


Slings & Arrows questions Canadian theatre’s ethical inheritance of Shakespeare’s multiple, heterogenous spectres in whose “borrowed robes” institutions like the Stratford Festival have draped themselves as a way of also reconsidering our shared notions of artistic merit. Chapters in this section will investigate the hauntological and intermedial appropriation and adaptation of Shakespeare in Slings & Arrows.


5. Institutional Hauntings of Stratford and New Burbage


The relationship between the Stratford Festival and the New Burbage Festival is not one of simple identity, even though many of the actors and creators of Slings & Arrows drew upon their experiences at Stratford in the creation of the show. This section will investigate the differences, similarities, and consonances between the two festivals--one fictional, one actual--and suggest how they mutually inform each other’s histories, present, and possible futures.


Keywords: Shakespeare, adaptation, Canada, television, theatre, nationalism, intermediality, identity, spectres, popular/high culture, satire, audience, arts industries, Stratford Festival.


Final chapters should be between 6000-9000 words.


Please submit enquiries and chapter proposals (250-500 words) to the editors:  


Kailin Wright (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Don Moore (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Andrew Bretz (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)


 by January 1, 2017. Chapters will be expected by July 31, 2017.




A Shakespearean Evening with Alison and Adam Gopnik

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.294  Monday, 12 September 2016


From:        John F. Andrews <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         September 8, 2016 at 2:53:07 PM EDT

Subject:    A Shakespearean Evening with Alison and Adam Gopnik


Is it True that Play's the Thing?

A Conversation With Writers

Alison and Adam Gopnik 


Wednesday, September 14, at 8 p.m.

The National Arts Club

15 Gramercy Park South, Manhattan

Admission Free, but Reservations Requested


We’re delighted to launch our 2016-17 Shakespeare Guild season with a remarkable brother-sister act. 


One of our most popular Speaking of Shakespeare guests over the last decade has been Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker, a brilliant observer who has given us such classics as Paris to the Moon and Angels and Ages: A Short Book on Lincoln and Darwin. But many of Adam's admirers are unaware that his older sibling is also a distinguished author. A professor of philosophy and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, Alison Gopnik publishes a widely-read column in the Wall Street Journal.


Readers who saw a recent preview in the New York Times will know that Alison’s latest book is The Gardener and the Carpenter, a new study of the way children learn. Her research shows that an approach that encourages “open-ended curiosity” is the key to a life of problem-solving and creativity. She finds, in short, that Shakespeare is right, and  “play’s the thing” for educators who aspire to foster the insights and skills that lead not only to illuminating works of art but to significant breakthroughs in science, technology, and other fields of endeavor. 


Alison and Adam Gopnik occasionally draw from and allude to each other’s work, but it is rare for them to appear together in a conversational format. So we hope you’ll join us for what promises to be a very special evening.             


Visit for detail about this and other Shakespeare Guild offerings. And please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you wish to take part in this program.   





Roundtable Discussion on Collaborative Shakespeare and Education Projects

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.293  Monday, 12 September 2016


From:        BSA <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         September 7, 2016 at 4:12:05 AM EDT

Subject:    Roundtable Discussion on Collaborative Shakespeare and Education Projects


The British Shakespeare Association


Roundtable Discussion on Collaborative Shakespeare and Education Projects


The Sydney-based Shakespeare Reloaded project ( is jointly hosting with the London Shakespeare Centre an informal roundtable discussion on the topic of collaborative projects dealing with Shakespeare and education. It will be a 2-hour session around lunchtime on Tuesday 13 September in London. If you are an academic, teacher or practitioner involved in a collaborative project in this area (which might involve, for example, partnerships between university, schools, arts or heritage organisations) and would like to share your experiences and ideas with others at this roundtable please contact Liam Semler (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). The aim is to learn from each other’s experiences in an informal context and potentially explore possibilities for future collaborations in Shakespeare pedagogy.



Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.