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Film Versions of King Lear

The purpose of this research is to examine two film versions of Shakespeare's King Lear. The plan of the research will be to set forth the context for and fundamental premises of the two works, and then to discuss the style, tone, language, and treatment of the protagonist in each.

The television production of King Lear adapted by and starring Laurence Olivier is accurately described as straightforward in its style of treatment of the text. The production as a whole is set in pre-Christian Britain, which is consistent with the fact that, according to Rowse, the Lear story was familiar to Elizabethans from Holinshed's account of ancient British history and legend (Rowse 338). The use of Stonehenge like pillars and rustic wood as structural elements, together with wilderness exterior settings, is consistent not only with the period of the play but also with a sense of legend and the vastness and bleak purity of nature. In turn, all these features contribute to the sense that the play concerns questions and themes that have universal significance, consistent with Aristotle's idea that tragedy requires "some amplitude" (39).

The focus of the British production is very much on the transformation of Shakespeare's protagonist, Lear. The critical reception of Olivier's performance indicates the verisimilitude of the change in the character's fortune and his attainment of tragic stature commensurate with the pattern of ideas in the play. One review cites Olivier's performance as in the nature of an extraordinary artistic valedictory, noting his "astonishing 'King Lear' in which the aged actor carried off one of Shakespeare's most physically demanding roles with flawless excellence. Another man--a lesser one, perhaps--might have called it a day then, content to exit on a rising note" ("Olivier" 1). Elsewhere, the critic refers to Olivier's achievement as "the most tragically vain and foolish Lear" ("Olivier" 1). Such commentary p...

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Film Versions of King Lear. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 22:17, November 30, 2021, from