Lear (play)

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Lear is a 1971 three-act play by the British dramatist Edward Bond. It is an epic rewrite of William Shakespeare's King Lear. The play was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre in 1971, featuring Harry Andrews in the title role. It was revived by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1982 with Bob Peck, and revived again at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, in 2005 with Ian McDiarmid.

Bond, a socialist, was attempting to correct modern trends which focused on the Shakespeare play as an artistic experience, at the expense of more practical elements of social critique. By creating a politically effective piece from a similar story, he was more likely to cause people to question their society and themselves, rather than simply to have an uplifting aesthetic experience. According to one critic, his plays "are not meant merely to entertain but to help to bring about change in society." [1]

In Bond's play, Lear is a paranoid autocrat, building a wall to keep out imagined "enemies". His daughters Bodice and Fontanelle rebel against him, causing a bloody war. Lear becomes their prisoner and goes on a journey of self-revelation. He is blinded and haunted by the ghost of a Gravedigger's Boy, whose kindness towards the old King led to his murder. Eventually Lear, after becoming a prophet reminiscent of Leo Tolstoy,[original research?] makes a gesture toward dismantling the wall he began. This gesture leads to his death, which offers hope as an example of practical activism.

The play also features a character called Cordelia, wife of the murdered Gravedigger's Boy who becomes a Stalinist-type dictator herself.

Lear features some punishing scenes of violence, including knitting needles being plunged into a character's eardrum, a bloody on-stage autopsy and a machine which sucks out Lear's eyeballs. However, it is often lyrical and features some densely packed metaphoric language.

The play's emphasis on violence and brutality led to mixed reviews among top critics. Although some critics praised its message against violence (and its cast), others questioned whether the play was convincing enough to garner the reaction it sought from the audience.[2]


  1. ^ "enotes.com page on Lear".
  2. ^ Kerr, Walter. "The Audience Simply Rose and Fled." The New York Times: 13 May 1973.