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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 11, 2014
Before seeing John Lithgow's Lear at Shakespeare in the Park I luckily picked up RSC/Modern Library edition to read beforehand. It's very, very good. Peter Brooks' 1960s production is highlighted but it is misleading to say it is overemphasized. Trevor Nunn, Adrian Noble and Deborah Warner's productions are all discussed, indeed they are interviewed in the back pages. And other productions, including foreign ones are considered. This bringing Lear to life is a wonderful perspective, and one that is often missed in classrooms or by a straightforward read.

Our understanding of the play is seasoned with delightful tidbits and trivia: Lear has been produced more times since WWII than the 400 years prior; until the early 20th century, producers routinely changed the play's bleak, devastating ending (in some versions Cordelia and Edgar live happily ever after!) A Japanese production by Yukio Ninagawa hurled real boulders across and downstage to emphasize the devastation wrought when the natural order cracks., causing more concern for the actors' lives then their performances. Good stuff and very informative.

And then of course there is the play. Which is as good as theater gets.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2012
I don't really know what to say about King Lear, or anything by Shakespeare, really. A summary would be redundant and out of place. So would gushing about the stunning beauty of the poetry, or how this is some of the greatest writing in the history of the English language, or any language.

Only one thing comes to mind when I think of Shakespeare's greatest plays. Think what you will of Harold Bloom (and there are certainly many opinions about him), I always think, more than anything else, of the title of his book of essays on the plays: "Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human." Is the title a typically hyperbolic publishing stunt? The more I read and re-read the plays, the less I'm starting to think so.

Words simply fail me. They really do.

The wonderful things about Modern Library/RSC edition are the introduction, critically informed notes on the text, folio notes, and a sizeable section on historically important performances of "King Lear." These do a superb job of contextualizing the play, especially in how it performed on stage.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2013
The Modern Library/RSC Shakespeare series IS a very valuable addition. Inexpensive edition of the plays, helpful scene-by-scene summaries of the action, etc. But by far the most valuable part of the half dozen volumes I have studied is the "In Performance" sections. This is what sets this series apart from most others. Here, are performance histories detailing a variety of historic interpretations, interviews with contemporary directors and actors, revealing how they interpreted the text, and turned it into a stage drama.

This Lear volume, unfortunately, is marred by the "temporally ethnocentric" and gross overemphasis upon the 1970 Peter Brook production, which perversely saw Lear as a Beckett or Brecht play. Instead of Shakespeare's profound, nuanced picture of a complex world of good and evil, with glimpses of transcendent, redeeming dimensions, we are given--as the proper touchstone to all future presentations--an absurdist, nihilistic vision of life, deliberately removing all affirmation of the worth of life, and of a distinction between good and evil! Hard to believe? Cf. pp. 166 ff. "Productions of Lear would {could?} never be the same after this." ??

Even in this flawed volume, there is much to learn. And most of the other volumes I have studied in this series are not marred by such imbalanced "Mod" decadence. I hope the volume on TWELFTH NIGHT, with its gratuitous, stressed homosexualizing of several relationships, is not a sad omen for future volumes in the series.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2013
If you're going to read "King Lear" on a Kindle, the Modern Library Classics edition is a very good choice. Typesetting a play is quite different from typesetting a book--what with stage directions, scene descriptions, and parenthetical editorial insertions--and this edition makes all of those different categories of text easy to delineate. The only thing it lacks is line numbers, which can pose a challenge to navigation when discussing or reciting the play with others. The table of contents usefully features links to each act and scene.

The extra content is very worthwhile. More than half the file space consists of aids to study, such as an introductory essay, an explanation of different versions of the text, a critical apparatus, endnotes (which are almost too extensive), biographical information about Shakespeare, and quite a lot more, making this a good student edition.

"King Lear" exists in two major versions, the so-called Quarto and Folio versions. Modern Library Classics generally follows Folio, but the major passages that appear only in Quarto are included in an appendix.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2013
If you are looking for a good Kindle edition of Shakespeare, buy the Modern Library versions edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen. It includes hyperlinks with a table of contents and glossary. It also has the intro, list of characters, key facts, textual notes, and scene-by-scene analysis that are in the print version. It does not have line numbers, but the links to the glossary reduce the need for them.
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on October 6, 2013
As in all tragedies of the author, the ending is the same. In this case, King Lear, an error of judgment, leaving his throne to two of his daughters, just the evil. The kind Cordelia is left out. The issue is why Lear makes this decision wrong and the consequences of it. Is a play about deception, ingratitude, old age. It is a tragedy. As always, the work written in a quirky, full of twists and literary citations made famous.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2014
Looking at the bare plot framework of 'King Lear' one sees a fairly simple tale with many of the qualities of a venerable old folk or fairy tale: the vain old king/patriarch dividing his kingdom, seeking flattery and eloquent proclamations of love from his daughters, the two villainous scheming daughters Goneril and Regan, pitted against the honest, faithful and loving daughter, Cordelia. The universality of legend and myth is immanent in the structure of the story and most of the characters (unlike Hamlet) have little complexity beyond their measure of virtuous or villainous qualities.

However, Shakespeare uses this conventional tale to support ruminations upon the nature of the universe, justice and how where in the spectrum of ultimate order or random chaos the mass of humanity falls. As in most of his plays, the author's own viewpoint is indeterminate. Shakespeare is everywhere and nowhere in his plays. In 'King Lear' Gloucester claims, "As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods; They kill us for their sport' while his legitimate son Edgar, near the end of the play after the death of his father, states, "the gods are just, and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us.' The gods are cruel in both characterizations; the difference is that in one the fortunes of humanity are purely random and chaotic and in the other there is an ultimate order of cosmic justice. The fates of the characters can bear out both interpretations.

Among many other issues, 'King Lear' examines the institutions of state and family in an ancient world. Lear is a vain, foolish old man gullible to praise and flattery who happens to be a king. He is the patriarch of his family as well as his country although his power is not as secure as he would like to believe, especially as he sincerely believes that he can retain the trappings of authority even after divesting himself of his kingdom to his vile daughters. Only by losing his power and being turned out in a storm can he hope to lose his mind and regain his humanity. In his rootlessness he is fortunate to have the loyalty of his wise Fool who, like Shakespeare's other wise fool in 'Twelfth Night,' can exercise the liberty of speaking truth to power beneath the shield of wit and the protective status of fool. Also joining him on the heath is Kent, the man who jumped to the defense of Lear's hones, loving daughter Cordelia and was exiled for speaking truth, now in disguise as a beggar.

'King Lear' has a parallel secondary plot involving another vain, foolish old man, Gloucester, who has bought into the lies and schemes of his bastard son Edmund and turned out his legitimate son Edgar. Being blinded, Gloucester has been given the gift of an opportunity to gain spiritual insight with the aid of Edgar, also disguised as a beggar.

Regardless of the author Shakespeare's world view, there were prevailing beliefs in the Elizabethan world regarding a chain of being, a macrocosm and a microcosm of order, and mixtures of elements and humors that were evident in all humanity. This view was put forth most succinctly in E.M.W. Tillyard's brief book 'The Elizabethan World Picture.' Viewed through the prism of such an order, one can see the characters of 'King Lear' operating within such a universe. King Lear sees the madman Tom o' Bedlam (really Edgar in disguise) as 'unaccommodated man,' the thing itself. By stripping himself naked, Lear is removing the facades of royal ceremony and returning to commonality and union with the mass of humanity.

One of the qualities of Shakespeare's genius (and one of the primary reasons why his work endures and his plays continue to be performed, adapted and studied) is his 'god's-eye' view of humanity. Lear is a foolish old man. One can step back and judge him and say the old fool got what he deserved. Indeed, there are really few redeeming qualities in this pompous, lost monarch. His claim that he was more 'sinned against than sinning' rings hollow and reeks of a man still clinging to his bruised ego. However, once he is stripped, accommodated, redeemed and restored to receptivity of Cordelia's unconditional love one feels a heart-wrenching poignancy of the brevity of joy before the savage plotters execute Cordelia, with the inevitable and literal breaking of Lear's heart. The man desperately seeking life in his daughter's corpse elicits tears of pity and yet there is a justice in the sense that Lear did finally evolve into a recognition of love and acquire the sincere ability to receive it.

It is a cliché to state that Shakespeare possesses an eternal universality. It is also a cliché, though no less true, to state that his ability to analyze and dissect humanity and show us to ourselves in a vast global mirror that transcends 400 years and barriers of centuries of evolution of culture and language to reach out to us with familiarity, recognition and wisdom, never with more heart-piercing clarity than in 'King Lear'.
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on August 16, 2013
Great text though I have not read it! I am planning on getting nose deep in this wonderful book... I know you will enjoy this precise size!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2012
You can jump from the text to the note but good luck getting back to the text. This is a common problem in ebooks, but it's a particular nuisance here where there are so many notes and the text is hard to understand without them. Publishers, please work on fixing this. Readers should probably stick to the print edition for now. The notes and commentary in this edition are actually excellent.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2011
It's not only the play but it has all kinds of historical and informational backgrounds on the performance and the writing.
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