Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Alistair Cooke's Introduction to Orson Welles' King Lear

King Lear. Dir. Peter Brook. Perf. Orson Welles, Natasha Parry, Margaret Phillips, Beatrice Straight, and Alan Badel. 1953. DVD. Passport, 2006.

Yes, Lear Week at Bardfilm was supposed to end several days ago now, but c'mon! I haven't even gotten to Ran yet!

And the material surrounding the Orson Welles King Lear has been so interesting that I haven't even gotten to the film part yet! In the segment below, a very young Alistair Cooke tells us why different ages have appreciated or failed to appreciate this play:

I'm particularly struck by Cooke's closing lines:
It is the play of an author who, in the prime of life, despaired not only of men and women but of the God who made them. But this is not the petulance of a small-town atheist. It is the despair of one of the most intuitive human beings who ever lived and of the most greatly gifted of our poets.

So, we give you King Lear in the hope that you may learn more from Shakespeare's pessimism than from the optimism of lesser men.
That's not exactly why I read and teach King Lear, though we do learn from the pessimism of the characters in the play and even of the play itself.

Lear isn't a romp through the rhododendrons. And it does contain some of the darkest of all possible portraits of human nature. But I don't think that the play is entirely nihilistic, even if some of its characters are. Gloucester's contention that "the gods . . . kill us for their sport" (IV.i.38-39) is undone by Edgar's speeches at the cliff's base. And redemption can be found in the suffering of Lear—and even of Cordelia.

Links: The Film at IMDB. Note: IMDB lists Andrew McCullough as the director, but the introduction mentions Peter Brook. I'll need to investigate this further, but I don't want to mislead anyone in the meantime.

Click below to purchase the film from
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).


1 comment:

kj said...

The Google Ad next to this post when I viewed it was for Lasik Eye Surgery. Is "Gloucester" one of the keywords that automatically prompts ads for eye surgery? Talk about Shakespeare as marketing tool!


Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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