My Journey From Hating to Loving Shakespeare
It is 1955 and I am a freshman in High School in a small town in Oregon. We are reading Romeo and Juliet in English class. I hate it. I don’t understand the language, and it moves so slowly. I am bored to death. When I am a senior we read Julius Caesar. What a waste of time, I think. Another boring play by this guy Shakespeare. Yet in high school I loved performance. I was in the chorus; we did a musical every year. I was in two plays. It was exhilarating, but since in the 1950s boys were expected to study either engineering or business, that’s what I did when I went off to college.
Fast forward to early 1967. I was engaged. My fiancé had grown up in a family that went to the Oregon Shakespeare festival in Ashland, Oregon, every year. One evening the local PBS station was going to show Sir Laurence Olivier in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. She wanted to watch. Wanting to please, I said “let’s do it.” I think I was asleep in less than five minutes. After we were married my wife wanted to go to Ashland for our first vacation together. Wanting to be a good husband, I agreed to go to Ashland. I decided that if we were going to spend all that money, I was going to read the blankety blank plays we were going to see first (the marketing slogan for the festival was “Stay four days and see four plays.”). I did. We went. And I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Thus began my education in the liberal arts - something that continues to this day. We went to Ashland several times before we moved to Atlanta, then we started going to the Alabama Shakespeare festival. One of the lessons I learned was that plays are meant to be performed, not read as literature!
After I retired I began taking classes in theatre and KSU. Ultimately I was cast in a couple of Shakespeare’s plays, and when I was assigned a research project in a class on the history and theory of theatre I wrote a paper entitled “The Problems of performing King Lear: Should it even be performed?” My fascination with the issues of how to successfully perform the role of King Lear ultimately led to this research paper.
“It is sometimes said that the problem with the part of Lear is that by the time you are old enough to play it, you are too old to play it.” (Jonathan Bate)
Theatre critics rarely see an outstanding performance of King Lear. The thesis of this paper is that it is possible to successfully perform the role of Lear however it takes much more than excellent acting skills to do so. To successfully play Lear requires a visceral understanding of the profound psychological and physical changes that generally begin around age sixty-five. This paper demonstrates that what one learns from having lived a long life, along with the physical and mental stamina demanded of the role, are essential to a successful performance of King Lear. Attempting to do so without the benefit of that experience not only dehumanizes the character being portrayed; it is also a disservice to the audience.
Since September 08, 2020