James Ogden and Arthur H. Scouten, eds. "Lear" from Study to Stage[:] Essays in Criticism. Madison, Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson UP / London: Associated UP, 1997. 305pp. B&W illustrations. ISBN 0 8386 3690 X Cloth.
Bryan N. S. Gooch
University of Victoria

Gooch, Bryan N. S. "Review of 'Lear' from Study to Stage." Early Modern Literary Studies 6.2 (September, 2000): 13.1-7<URL:

  1. Shakespeare's King Lear offers a significant array of formidable challenges for the editor, the director, the actor, and the student. While other tragedies like Hamlet and Othello also present real complexities, Lear's vastness and its range of experience and emotion are daunting. The late Lloyd Wheeler's cryptic remark "Everything is in King Lear" is on the mark, and ultimately the variety of discussions, from those about the reliability of Q and F to others on the delivery of individual lines, lead--or should lead--to dealing with the play on the stage, and that, very largely, is the direction of Ogden and Scouten's collection of essays. The fact is that, as in music, the performers must stand between the art-work and the audience, and whatever the text (not that the controversy surrounding revision/non-revision is likely to be resolved in the near term), interpretation based on serious reflection of the script in hand will play its role, and less anxiety might be generated by the fact that not only are productions going to be different, but that within a single run performances will vary-sometimes markedly-from day to day. It is not a matter of rightness or wrongness but whether the presentation, at all levels, really works. Audience members individually will have their own reactions--as they should with Shakespeare (or Beethoven or Brahms, for that matter). Perhaps the danger in production lies in an attempt, at times, simply to be different, to be challenging and new in a way that the newness becomes more an end in itself and avoids, consciously, older approaches simply because they are older.

  2. The Introduction, by Ogden, offers useful comments on the history of the text, on the essays in the volume, on attitudes to the play and reactions to it on stage, and on the nature of tragedy in terms of Lear; while the first essay, T.H. Howard-Hill's "The Two-Text Controversy," makes a clear statement about the importance of printed texts and plunges the reader solidly into the Q/F waters and their conflicting currents. Grace Iappolo's "The Idea of Shakespeare and the Two Lears" follows, documenting in large measure the recent discussions regarding the possibility of revision and arguing lucidly for that view and against the notion of the so-called (hypothetical) "lost original" and the validity of the conflated text. That Shakespeare may well have revised existing plays is in no way a challenge to his brilliance or an inference that the original version is necessarily inferior. With Lear, Iappolo suggests, there are two versions: let them stand. Richard Knowles in "Two Lears? By Shakespeare?" takes the opposite view; after outlining the positions of pro and anti-revisionists, he outlines the differences between Q and F, noting additions and cuts. His conclusion is that F, in the end, does not look like an authorial revision (its accretions are, he suggests, un- Shakespearean) and underscores the validity of Q. However, Robert Clare in "Quarto and Folio: A Case for Conflation" (a revision of an essay first printed in The Library), sees the problem differently; suggesting a real insecurity in the argument against conflation, he looks at the New Oxford/revisionist position (viewing it as essentially subjective), argues that some passages of Q led W.W. Greg to refer to "'clumsy and fumbling lines'" (p.81), and examines particular parts of the play in F (e.g., cuts to some of Albany's lines, the trial scene), and the elaboration/enhancement of Edgar's role, offering the possibility that some of the changes, especially the omissions, may have been made without Shakespeare's approval.

  3. R.A. Foakes' "Textual Revision and the Fool in King Lear" (originally published in Trivium) follows, considering the role of the Fool in both Q and F and various approaches to performance, and suggesting that the revisions in his lines are, for the most part, Shakespeare's, and that they point to a somewhat complex character, a mixture of "boy," court jester, and rational critique of a world gone horribly awry. Just as Foakes' essay offers performance-oriented observations, so too does William A. Ringler Jr. in "Shakespeare and His Actors: Some Remarks on King Lear" (first printed in the Proceedings of the Comparative Literature Symposium), commenting on the practice of doubling/portraying multiple roles in Shakespeare's company. James Ogden's "Lear's Blasted Heath" (which appeared first in the Durham University Quarterly) deals usefully with the influence of Nahum Tate's "happy ending" version (up to the early nineteenth century) with particular reference to the presentation of the scenes on the heath (the illustrations are helpful), noting the work, for instance, of Kean and Macready, and the eventual restoration of Shakespearean text, while Richard Levin's "King Lear Defamiliarized" points to the shift to new critical approaches, including Marxist, feminist, and new historicist.

  4. Carol Rutter's "Eel Pie and Ugly Sisters in King Lear" examines in a challenging way not only the possibility of seeing greater "authority" in the female voices but also the treatment of these roles in recent productions (e.g., by Peter Brook, Adrian Noble, et al.), and Benedict Nightingale's "Some Recent Productions" follows nicely, seeing a major shift in the staging of the play with Brook's direction at Stratford in 1962 and going on to review more recent approaches by Noble, David Hare, Max Stafford Clark, Deborah Warner, et al.. She looks at particular portrayals of individual characters-a discussion especially useful to producers, actors, and students of the theatre.

  5. Anthony Davies' "King Lear on Film" deals with the problem of playing the drama for the screen, and focuses particularly on the work of Peter Brook and Grigori Kozintsev. It also gives some attention to television productions (e.g., by Michael Elliott and Jonathan Miller) which, though Davies finds the Elliott version for Granada admirable in some respects, seem largely, for him, to fail to meet the visual/dramatic potential of the drama, in some cases because of the conditions (for instance, studio venues) in which they were filmed. However, it is always wise to reflect that film Shakespeare is not stage Shakespeare: cleverness with camera angles, close-ups, managed shifts of view, and extraordinary scenic effects can accomplish much but may deflect an audience not only from the general interplay between characters on stage in a scene but from the vitality of the language and the necessity of responding emotionally and intellectually to the imagery which is so central to Shakespearean text. Stephen J. Phillips in "Akira Kurosawa's "Ran" argues that the noted Japanese film, for all its divergences from Lear (which he points out), really is Shakespearean, contrary to the views of Peter Ackroyd and Anthony Davies, for example. While essentially a commentary on Kurosawa's adaptation and a comparison with its source, Phillips' essay offers insightful comments about the play, the roles of its central characters, and the function of the family as a source of stability and power. The collection concludes with Stuart Sillars' "King Lear: Toward a Visual History," an intriguing and useful review of a variety of paintings of characters in the play (some played by specific actors) by an array of artists, including Louis du Guernier, Pieter van Bleeck, James Barry, Alexander and John Runciman, William Blake, Henry Fuseli, Benjamin West, and, in the nineteenth century, which saw less attention given by visual artists to Shakespearean figures and scenes, Ford Madox Brown. While the essay by James Ogden contains some illustrations to enhance its content, several of which (pictures by du Guernier and West) are relevant to Sillars' piece, more plates would be of significant help here-the reader would not be forced to go outside the volume to find the pictures which Sillars discusses in such a cogent way. And once again, the comments in this article are of particular value to anyone with an interest in performance practice and the history of Lear on stage.

  6. Each essay, with the exception of Nightingale's overview of late twentieth century productions, is followed by its own set of notes and, as appropriate, bibliographic detail; there is no general bibliography. The volume concludes with a set of brief comments on the contributors and, fortunately, an index which is of particular assistance in locating references to--or discussions of--subjects in more than one essay.

  7. Despite the fact that Ogden and Scouten's volume may seem at first to be something of a critical smorgasbord, there is a clear direction to the arrangement of papers, and the organisation works well. The underlying concern, as the articles move from text to interpretation and finally to depiction of interpretation, is the play as it is to be offered in performance. The views expressed vary, as one might predict, with respect to a number of important questions, and the differences are challenging and useful and remind the reader, in a salutary way, of the necessity of re-examining old views, of testing apparently comfortable conclusions, as well as of the very real privilege of engaging with candour in academic and artistic debate. There will be more to be said, undoubtedly, on many of the subjects addressed in this book--that, at least, is one of the certainties of the Shakespearean critical world.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2000-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).