King Lear

“Definition of a classic — something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” (Mark Twain)

Well, I read it today. Plenty of quotes here, no need for me to repeat them here. I liked the last half better than the first half, but it was tough to get through. I started reading it a few years ago, but back then I gave up on it pretty quickly. I’m pretty sure I think All’s Well That Ends Well for me was an easier read (though it is also quite a bit shorter, which helps…).

Actually it was right there in the Wikipedia article all along, but I didn’t know this: “The first Blackadder is named after the treacherous Edmond from Shakespeare’s King Lear.” Makes sense now. Though his name is Edmund.

I plan on reading Romeo and Juliet tomorrow, mostly just to see what all the fuss is about.


July 10, 2012 - Posted by | Books


  1. You know this, but I’ll say it anyway; Shakespeare’s works are not books, but manuscripts. They were (presumably) not intended to be read, but to be performed.

    I have a policy of not reading Shakespeare, and trying to avoid anything that might make me familiar of the basic plot-points. The first time I come in touch with a Shakespeare-play, it must be on the stage. I try to watch 2-3 “fresh” Shakespeare-plays pr. year. Then, and only then, I might turn to the text. Later this year, I’m watching Macbeth. I may be the only self-declared Shakespeare-fan with only the vaguest idea of the plot.

    Which leads me to; have you seen these plays, and if no; have you given any thought to advantages/disadvantages to approaching these works as texts instead of performances?

    Comment by WilliamJansen (@WilliamJansen) | July 10, 2012 | Reply

    • I have never seen, nor have I any intention of ever seeing, those plays performed at the theatre. I consider the theatre to be an obsolete medium. It’s as simple as that.

      No, the plays probably were not meant to be read the way I do. But they’re well written enough to be enjoyable to read this way. In all likelihood I would not enjoy watching a performance of the play.

      Regarding The Scottish Play, given that I already mentioned Blackadder in the post I of course also have to post this now (no spoilers!):

      Comment by US | July 10, 2012 | Reply

      • Should I elaborate a bit? Maybe. By obsolete medium I mean:

        The theatre is an incredibly inefficient mode of communication/performance compared to the alternatives. Both in production terms (how many people you can reach/unit of time, required overhead etc.), but also in terms of the ‘inconvenience costs’ – as well as the direct costs; going to the theatre is expensive, and it would be even more expensive if they were not massively supported by the government – incurred by the people frequenting those establishments. I have to physically move to a different place and I probably have to use public transportation to get there (which adds waiting time), I have to stand in line to get in and when all the waiting time is over I get to watch a play surrounded by other people (who might cough, talk during the performance, have children with them who will not sit still, …). No, I don’t go to the movies often either.

        Another thing which is important is this: A movie or a TV-shot will give you the best of 10, maybe even 100 performances. The TV performance you get is the best performance that could be achieved taking into consideration the relevant constraints (time, money). The theatre just lets you experience one performance out of those 10 or 100 performances available to people working in modern media. Because of this, on average, ceteris paribus, the theatre performance should be much worse than the movie/TV performance – my personal experience, though relatively scarce (last performance I watched was in high school), has indicated nothing else. People like to say that it’s a ‘different experience’ so you can’t really compare, but if you do compare anyway, it’s the people at the theatre, not the people in the TV shows, who are forgetting their lines, mess up and don’t act to the best of their ability. That’s just the way it is. People working at the theatre may be better actors/actresses, they certainly like to claim so, but this is different from saying that their performances are superior when compared to the alternatives available. People who go to the theatre like, I think, to excuse to some extent the performers at the theatre who don’t perform perfectly, because what’s required of them is completely different from what is required by people working in the movies. It’s true that requirements are different. But why would people so readily content themselves with technology-induced mediocrity, why accept or excuse performance gaps caused by technology like that – when it is so easy to just implement the new technology and get better performance and more efficient production? I’m sure people said similar things when they started adding sound to the movies; ‘you don’t need sound/speech, it’ll just ruin the movie’, ‘the really good actors/actresses are those who don’t need to talk to show their emotions on screen’,…

        And I really can’t emphasize the production inefficiencies enough: There are many more performers active now than would be supported in a more efficient environment, and today there’s just no way it would ever make sense to run a theatre with lots of performers doing regular performances in the kinds of venues in which they take place today without massive subsidies. The whole area is a case-study in how to keep going a reasonably successful long-term rent-seeking scheme benefiting nobody but the few people who go to the theatre and the actors/actresses employed there. You pay a lot of money (though not enough to cover the costs) to experience stuff in a way that people were willing to pay a lot of money for back when they didn’t have the options we have today.

        Also, when I watch a video/movie online/on my computer I can go back 10 seconds if I didn’t hear what he said. I can add subtitles. I can pause the performance if I need to go to the bathroom or would like to have a cup of coffee or a bite to eat. I can decide whether I want to watch it at three o’clock in the morning or at 15.30 (first performance) or 19.00 (second performance). I can adjust the sound volume and the screen brightness. I don’t need to use binoculars to see the faces of the people performing. You add more stuff to the list if you like.

        Incidentally, it is possible to adapt plays to the TV/movie format, and it has been done successfully in the past; I think Closer is a good example. I’d much rather see a good movie-adaption of a play than a live play.

        Comment by US | July 10, 2012

  2. I think the difference between the theater and the movies/television is…

    …like the difference between a phone-call and a conversation at a café
    …like the difference between mourning a friend and attending his funeral
    …like the difference between listening to a CD and attending a live-performance

    The fact that the real, live human beings are standing on a stage right in front of me, means that I can feel their performance in a much more visceral way, than with movies and television. The fact, that I am sharing the experience with a crowd, means that our “emotional rhythms” gets synchronized and therefore intensified (you get some of that if you watch a movie at the cinema).

    All your points about inefficiencies are correct, but there is so much to compensate in the live-experience.

    And oh yeah; the average theater-performance might not be worth it, but some of the best performances gets good reviews, move to a larger stage, go on a world-tour and gets seen by a much larger audience. The average audience-member watches something much better, than the average play.

    Comment by WilliamJansen (@WilliamJansen) | July 11, 2012 | Reply

  3. I particularly like this quote from King Lear:

    “The weight of this sad time we must obey;
    Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
    The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
    Shall never see so much, nor live so long.”

    Comment by Miao | July 12, 2012 | Reply

    • It’s surely one of the best quotes from the play. I considered starting out the post with it, but then I decided that I’d rather put it into the next quotes post (i.e. the one I just posted) and just go with the Twain quote instead (I really like that quote!). But given that you’ve already posted the quote here now, I don’t think it’s necessary to repeat it in the quote post as well – that post is probably long enough as it is.

      Comment by US | July 13, 2012 | Reply

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