The trip so far has been off to a wild start. During a week of battling jet lag, finding my way around Oxford, being inducted into Trinity College, and overall adapting to life as an OSAP student, any free time I’ve had has been dedicated to reading Shakespeare. I am pleased to report that we have successfully read, discussed, and seen play number one: King Lear. Having never read King Lear, I didn’t know what to expect. To my surprise and delight, King Lear turned out to be a fascinating read, rich in familial conflict, power struggles, questions of fortune, and of course, madness and foolery.
After briefly becoming lost en route to the Radcliffe Science Library last Monday, I was able to participate in a stimulating class discussion on King Lear. Dr. Gollapudi initiated the discussion with a brief history of when and where the Lear story originated and how we came to experience Shakespeare’s version of it. As a large part of this course is the experiential element, Dr. Gollapudi reminded us that performances belong to the actors and not the authors, and thus encouraged us to consider how the pays might be performed as we read.
After a few more days of exploring Oxford, on Wednesday we traveled by train to Stratford-Upon-Avon where we visited the birthplace and grave of William Shakespeare, and ended the day with a performance of King Lear by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Note the curse on Shakespeare’s grave: “Good friend for Jesus’ sake forbear, to dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, and cursed be he that moves my bones”
The play was simply stunning. The first thing that struck me was the color scheme. Everything on stage was in shades of black, white, red, and gold, while the set itself was relatively simple. At times, there was a massive glass box that moved on its own which functioned initially as part of Lear’s throne and later as the set for Gloucester’s graphic blinding.
The actors themselves brought a lot to the performance. My favorite characters were Edmund and Cordelia, though everyone gave a riveting performance. Oddly enough, I found Lear to be one of the least compelling characters of the play, as his tragedy was the result of his own actions I had little sympathy for him. I love characters who are willing to go against the tide in perusal of their beliefs, and thus Edmund and Cordelia had my full attention.
In addition, it was fascinating how the actors manipulated the timing and delivery of their lines so that the original text could meld with modern humor. Overall, the King Lear experience was phenomenal.
So far, Shakespeare in Oxford has been an incredible experience. I look forward to four more weeks in this beautiful city, surrounded by amazing people, and reading extraordinary literature.