Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0751. Wednesday, 16 October 1996.
Date: Wednesday, 16 Oct 1996 12:10:48 -0400
Can we get back to the famous production of King Lear, directed by
Granville-Barker, and starring John Gielgud, which ran at the Old Vic Theatre
in London from April 15th to May 25th,1940? Most people would accept that the
play has something to do with the division of a state and the difficulties that
ensue from a consequent loss of integrity.
In 1940, the material events of the period from April 15th to May 25th mark
them as probably the most crucial weeks of recent British history. It's no
exaggeration to say that the integrity of the state was fundamentally
threatened at this time. For instance:
On April 15th (the day the production opened), British and Allied troops landed
in occupied Norway (at Narvik) in one of the most disastrous adventures of the
war: its failure led directly to the resignation of the British Prime Minister
On May 9th German troops entered Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg.
On May 10th Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill became Prime Minister.
On May 14th the Allies lost fifty planes and the Germans broke through at
Sedan. Many believed their advance would continue through to London.
On May 21st Arras and Amiens fell
On May 23rd Boulogne fell, Calais was besieged.
On May 25th (the day the production closed) German troops were only
twenty-five miles from the coast of Kent. The first German bombs fell on
British soil and the magazine Picture Post excitedly announced 'German
parachutists must be expected any moment from now on.'
This is the background against which Gielgud's comment on that production '. .
. It seemed to take our minds off the awful things that were happening in
France.' should be placed. Sentimental old baggage that I am (as Goethe would
say), words like 'politics','engagement', 'opportunity' and 'missed' float into
P.S. In 1940, Granville-Barker's home was in Paris. The city fell to the
Germans in June of that year. He narrowly managed to escape to the United
States where he ended up -poor chap- slaving for the British Council. God is