Cocking up King Lear

Abstract : I’m going to argue, in this paper, that there is at least justification for experimenting with King Lear and going beyond the rather sombre and ultimately po-faced performances and readings we’ve got used to. Central to my argument will be the crucial role of the Fool in the implosive relationship of Lear, Fool and Cordelia. And of course, therefore, the doubling of the roles of the Fool and Cordelia. But I want to move away from the modern model of the two parts played by a woman (first suggested, though not carried through, by Macready’s casting of a woman as the Fool in his 1838 revival of the Shakespearean text and the primary thrust of the doubling argument) in favour of the rather more Jacobean perversion of casting Robert Armin as Cordelia: two parts in one; a less than pretty, dirty-minded little comedian as the beautiful and upstanding Queen of France. I want to champion this theory – and more importantly to call for similar casting in future performances – for precisely the same reasons that most critics reject it: because it ironises the drama of many of the pivotal scenes, because it creates all kinds of confusions of gender and sexuality, because it tends to allow the often childish bawdy puns to ‘drowned the cocks’ of the tragedy, because it’s wilful bad casting, and because (ultimately) it makes the tragic ending (not just ‘feminine,’ as Philippa Berry suggests but) laughable… poor, infirm, weak and despicable.
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Samuel Trainor. Cocking up King Lear. 4th Annual British Graduate Shakespeare Conference, Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, Jun 2002, Stratford upon Avon, United Kingdom. ⟨hal-01465551⟩

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