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Compare two versions of ‘King Lear’ and examine how Lear’s downfall is predicated.

After comparing the two productions of ‘King Lear’, both Richard Eyre’s 18 and Michael Elliot’s 18 versions, I have found that there are a number of contrasts between the two. Both performances set up Lear’s oncoming downfall through the use of different interpretations of the characters in the opening scene and then continue to reinforce this notion through the use of set and props. He is depicted differently in both cases and so the audience sees a different reaction in the same character.

In the 18 production, Lear was shown as a somewhat frail old man, still clutching at his remnants of power and ruling, who had planned to divide up his land between his three daughters. His youngest, Cordelia, to get the most, as she was the favourite. However, when he hears her unsatisfactory reply, he flies into a fit of rage, showing all his anger and dismissing Cordelia at once. By doing this, Elliot has shown Lear as a man whose emotions are very close to the surface and easily awoken when he is provoked. This causes Lear to, at times, be seen as a somewhat harsh and unfair character, with no remorse.

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In the 18 production, Lear’s reaction to Cordelia’s response is shock and upset, but this particular character is not as violent in the way he reacts to it as the 18 character is. This character shows a more genuinely hurt response and is more sensitive to his daughter’s apparent harsh reality. By showing Lear in this way, Eyre has shown a Lear whose emotions are more readily prepared and sensitive to the great disappointment brought about by Cordelia’s answer. Not one whose emotions allow them to do such ridiculous things, however this does not stop him from banishing Cordelia.

Both these interpretations of Lear show a man whose emotions are easily provoked and cause him to do irrational things in the heat of his anger. These are not necessarily good traits for a King to have. The fact that he is so upset by this trivial little thing that happens to him, shows a flaw in his personality right from the start, and sets the foundations for the events that follow.

The fact that Lear sets his daughters against each other in a fight for his approval by asking “which of you shall we say, doth love us most?” is quite mad in itself. Not only does the King have a fair idea of which of his daughters loves him the most, he is also doing something quite odd by openly expressing that he favours Cordelia. “I loved her most” By doing this, he automatically sets his daughters against each other in a fight for the best cut of land. His two eldest, Goneril and Regan, fall into his trap and try to out do each other with their elaborate proclamations of love for him, “A love that makes breath poor and speech unable; beyond all manner of so much I love you” (Goneril). Cordelia, on the other hand, refuses to “heave her heart into her mouth” and tells of her love for her father exactly how it is, without the over exaggerated tirade her two sisters have used. This of course, upsets Lear and he banishes her from his kingdom. This is an absolutely terrible thing for any parent to do to their child especially over something as small as what Cordelia has done; told the truth.

Whilst his daughters are telling of their love, we see two very different ways in which Lear is responding to this. In the 18 film, Lear sits quietly and listens intently to both his two daughter’s speeches and then makes the respective decisions.

In the 18 version, he teases Goneril while she is making her speech by hugging and kissing Regan as if to make Goneril feel jealous. He is then very amused whilst Regan gives her speech which seems to be more directly aimed at Goneril because she is of course trying to better her sister.

This is fitting with the personality traits of the two Lears as the 18 version shows the more emotionally controlled Lear who has a better way of expressing his hurt and the 18 version shows the more immature and highly strung Lear whose emotions are let loose. This is perhaps a good gauge of the level of madness of the two Kings. The 18 Lear is perhaps not as mad at this stage as the 18 Lear seems to be.

The setting of the two plays in the opening scene is also symbolic of the way King Lear’s downfall is to come about. The foggy atmosphere of the 18 version is symbolic of the events to follow. Fog represents unforeseen dangers and unexpected troubles. Which is exactly whet arises after Cordelia’s speech. The 18 version is set in a more modern type room with a red interior and matching d�cor. Red is seen as the colour of power, often used in Royal garments and robes. It can also be seen as a colour used to enrage animals such as bulls during a fight. So, by using the red in this set, Eyre has not only shown how Lear is very much in a position of power, but also how he is “flying the red rag to the bull” so to speak, by asking his daughters to battle it out for the best portion of land.

Both Richard Eyre’s 18 and Michael Elliot’s 18 versions foreshadow the down fall and eventual death of King Lear, essentially brought about by himself. Even though he may not physically do it himself, he is the one who instigates it by dividing his daughter’s loyalty right from the start. His extreme naivety, selfishness and carelessness are all factors in his destruction. The opening scenes in of both these productions eloquently portray the events that lead up to and cause the downfall of King Lear, his daughters and his kingdom.

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