Summer Reading Report # 1
July 28, 2010
King Lear by William Shakespeare tells the tragedy of Lear, King of England, who slowly, throughout the course of the play becomes mad and eventually dies. There have been many film adaptations of the play all of which try and remain as close to the original play; however, none appear to keep the same meaning of Shakespeare’s text more than director Richard Eyre’s film version of King Lear (1997). Shakespeare focuses in on each character’s flaws and their contributions to the consequences at the end of the play and although Eyre does the same in his film, he adds minor actions and scenes to the play to give characters of the play a light that emphasizes their nature. The solar eclipse that occurs in the first scene of the film adaptation immediately sets a dark, ominous mood. This scene foreshadows the dark events that will occur later on in the film. In contrast to Shakespeare’s play, there is no implication of dark, tragic events to occur later on. The play starts off with a conversation being carried between Gloucester and Kent. The two nobles’ conversation neither foreshadows nor depicts any dark events to happen in the near future. However, Eyre’s film starts off with Edgar watching the eclipse through a smoke glass while Edmund whose face is half hidden by a shadow stares at the legitimate Edgar. The shadow covering Edmond’s face symbolizes the evil half of Edmund that is hidden from the audience as well as the other characters in the play. Up close, the viewer can’t help but to notice that Edmond’s appearance is one of someone in deep thought, a quick smirk suggests that he has plotted something and ready to execute it flawlessly. When Kent and Gloucester enter, Kent asks if Edmund is Gloucester’s son, Gloucester responds affirmatively, however he mentions that Edmund is only his illegitimate son. Gloucester tone here is a cold and distant. This illustrates Gloucester’s relationship with Edmund as being a poor one. The entire time, Gloucester avoids making eye contact with his son demonstrating his embarrassment of being forced to acknowledge Edmond’s existence. Eyre here includes half of Edmond’s soliloquy; however, he makes the soliloquy thoughts in Edmond’s head that could be heard by the audience. By including the line: “Why bastard wherefore base?” (Shakespeare, trans.2003, 1.1.6) Eyre demonstrates the bitterness Edmund has towards his father. One can really begin to see the struggle for superiority and power between Edmund and Gloucester as they glare at each other. By including Edmond’s soliloquy in the first scene, Eyre gives the viewer a clear reason for Edmond’s violent and malicious actions in the future. Compared to the film, Shakespeare portrays Gloucester as a more light-hearted character. The lines “There was good sport at his making” (Shakespeare, trans. 2003, 1.1.21) and “This knave came something saucily to the world” (Shakespeare, trans. 2003, 1.1.19-20) give Gloucester a comedic and sexual overtone which, in the film, is non-existent. In the play, Shakespeare includes these lines to show that although Gloucester may look down upon Edmund, there is no malice in his actions directed to Edmund. By excluding the former lines, Eyre alters Gloucester’s tone completely, portraying him as completely insensitive towards Edmund. When Lear enters, the camera zooms up to and then is pulled away from Lear and his court making them appear significant for a mere moment to the plot of the play. By doing this, Eyre emphasized how Lear’s power will diminish as the film progresses. In the film Lear is portrayed as energetic and a man who knows his purpose. The red room in which the division of the kingdom is being held emphasizes this power of his. Although, the red does not only serve this purpose, the red tint of the room also contrasts with his Cordelia’s plain clothing and calm attitude when Lear becomes enraged...
References: Shakespeare, William, and SparkNotes Editors. SparkNotes No Fear Shakespeare: King Lear (SparkNotes No Fear Shakespeare). New York: Spark Publishing, 2003. Print.
King Lear [VHS]. Dir. Richard Eyre. Perf. Paul Rhys, Finbar Lynch, Timothy West. Wgbh Boston, 1998. VHS.
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