Shakespeare's King Lear reminds us that we all go a little mad sometimes, and that there is much uncertainty in the world whether it be in your mind or your relationships with others. With only one subplot, this is one of the easier Shakespeare plays to follow, and the cast and crew of the Seattle Shakespeare Company do a fantastic job of making it accessible. King Lear features plenty of inspirational insults, witty humor despite its status as a tragedy, and relatable themes that make it easy to see why it is still being performed more than 400 years after it was written.
The play follows the emotional and goofy King Lear, played by Dan Kremer, as he goes mad. The king’s advisers, the Dukes of Gloucester (Michael Winters) and Kent (Amy Thone) are not happy about some of his less sane decisions, and Kent even goes so far as to argue with the king until she is banished. The Duke of Kent was orginally written as a man, but Seattle Shakespeare Company's choice of gender change worked marvelously, and Thone did a fantastic job with the part. As the play progresses, the king goes mad as those faithful to him dwindle from all the kingdom to only Kent, Gloucester, his fool, and his youngest daughter.
I found the ambiguity of King Lear very relatable. As I am preparing to graduate high school, I am facing the most uncertain moments in my life thus far. My friends and I have taken to referring to facing this uncertainty as “embracing ambiguity,” and that same uncertainty is a central part of King Lear. The “if” of life was an influential factor to the play, as director Sheila Daniels writes in her program note. That uncertainty is omnipresent in the text and is brought to life with sets and costumes that are ungrounded by a specific time period.
One of the most intriguing forms of uncertainty is mental illness. Going mad, losing memory, and losing identity are some of the scariest things we are faced with as humans, and nobody does crazy as well as the Bard. In King Lear, half the cast goes mad or acts mad at some point: Kremer’s mad king has a few sane moments in which he sees what he has done and what he is becoming with fear; the king’s older daughters Goneril (Linda Morris) and Regan (Debra Pralle), who are just as bad as their names, go power-crazy; Kent arguably is a bit mad as well, with her undying loyalty to a man that banished her; Edmund (Eric Riedmann) is revenge crazy and quite probably a sociopath; and Edgar (Jorge Chacon) spends most of the play almost naked and pretending to be crazy so as to avoid death after Edmund convinces their father he was plotting to kill the duke. Basically almost everyone is mad, and all of the actors did a stellar job of portraying this.
If you are still not convinced you should go see King Lear, think back to the last holiday you spent with your extended family. Maybe there was a little craziness, maybe you thought to yourself, “My family is weird.” That happens in my family a lot. Now go watch King Lear. Your family now probably looks like the perfect picture of sanity and normalcy. Has anyone in your family gouged out a person's eyeballs recently or convinced a parent that their sibling was plotting to murder them? I didn’t think so.
Seattle Shakespeare Company
April 24 - May 17