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King Lear

By William Shakespeare

August 2016

Elements Theatre Company presents Shakespeare’s gripping tale, King Lear. Wishing to retire but not abdicate, Lear divides his kingdom between his three daughters, according to which of them is most eloquent in praising him. His favorite, Cordelia, says nothing and the kingdom is never the same. Chaos is set in motion as family loyalty is tested and inhuman aggression is unleashed as appetites of revenge and greed run rampant in this once unified kingdom. An epic tale of sorrow, forgiveness, madness and reconciliation, King Lear is set in the Atrium of the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, MA. This production crowns Elements’ 2016 season celebrating the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

King Lear was presented outdoors in the Atrium of the Church of the Transfiguration, Rock Harbor, Orleans, MA.

Pre-performance guest speakers included Kathryn Moncrief, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of English at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, and Tina Packer, (Actor/Playwright), Founding Artistic Director of Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA.

Lear, king of Britain, decides to step down from his throne and divide his kingdom among his three daughters. Before his whole court he proposes a contest whereby the daughter who is able to convince him that she loves him most will receive the largest share of his realm. His older daughters, Goneril and Regan, outdo each other with flattering answers, and Lear immediately grants them their shares of the kingdom. Cordelia, his favorite, however, refuses to participate in the sham, telling Lear that she loves him entirely as a daughter should love her father, but no more. In his rage at her response, Lear not only disowns Cordelia, but also banishes his most trusted advisor, Kent, when he comes to Cordelia’s defense. Lear divides the third of the realm that he had reserved for Cordelia between Goneril and Regan and imparts his power and authority to their husbands, Albany and Cornwall. The king of France, long a rival for Cordelia’s love, receives her as his wife, even though she comes without a dowry and with the promise of her father’s everlasting ire.

Almost immediately, Goneril and Regan renege on the agreement Lear made with their husbands, Cornwall and Albany. Lear and his hundred knights quickly become unwelcome at either of their homes, his servant is put in the stocks, and his authority is disrespected. Lacking other respite, Lear flees his daughters and wanders in madness into a fierce storm on the heath. Accompanied only by his Fool and the loyal Kent, who has returned in disguise to be his servant, Lear spends the night at the mercy of the elements.

Meanwhile, Gloucester, an honored nobleman in Lear’s court, is deceived by his illegitimate son, Edmund, into believing that his legitimate son, Edgar, is seeking his father’s life so that he may inherit his father’s lands and title. Edmund tricks Edgar as well, convincing him that Gloucester is in a rage against him and that his life is in danger. Edgar flees into the storm, and disguises himself as a mad beggar called “Poor Tom.”

Gloucester, still loyal to Lear and realizing that Goneril and Regan have turned against their father, decides to help Lear. He reveals to Edmund that a French army is poised to invade England to defend Lear against his daughters. Edmund tells Regan and her husband, Cornwall, who accuse Gloucester of treason, tear out his eyes, and turn him out of his castle into the storm. Cornwall is wounded by one of Gloucester’s servants and later succumbs to his wounds. Edgar, still disguised as Poor Tom, finds Gloucester and leads him to the city of Dover, where Kent has already taken Lear.

The French army has landed in Dover as part of an invasion force led by Cordelia who hopes to save her father. Edmund, playing on the weaknesses of Regan and Goneril, has become romantically involved with both. Because Goneril’s husband, Albany, has become increasingly sympathetic to Lear’s cause, Goneril and Edmund conspire to kill Albany when opportunity presents itself.

The despairing Gloucester wants to end his life, but Edgar saves him by leading him off an imaginary cliff and describing to him the miracle of his preservation from death. Meanwhile, when the English troops reach Dover, Edmund leads them to victory over the French forces led by Cordelia. Lear and Cordelia are captured and led away to prison.  Edgar appears in Edmund’s camp, duels with Edmund, and mortally wounds him. Edgar recounts the death of Gloucester, whose grief and guilt could not be contained when he learned the truth about his sons. Jealous of Regan’s relationship with Edmund, Goneril has poisoned her sister and subsequently takes her own life when her plot against Albany is revealed. Before his death, Edmund seeks to rescind his execution orders against Lear and Cordelia, but he is too late. Lear appears with Cordelia’s body in his arms. Although he was able to kill her executioner, he was not able to save her life. He dies in grief over her body, leaving Edgar, Albany, and Kent to determine the kingdom’s future.