A Modern Perspective on King Lear

Just a few brief thoughts. . .

In watching the 1984 TV version of King Lear last week, it occurred to me that this story would take on quite a different interpretation in modern times. Perhaps it’s over-simplified, but as I tucked the DVD back into its rental envelope this is how I summarized the movie in my mind:

*spoiler alert – this goes for the whole paragraph*

A wealthy old man with Alzheimer’s disease decides to give away his entire fortune to his three daughters before he actually dies, with the expectation that they will take care of him in his waning years, but disinherits his only loving daughter while having a mild dissociative episode. Feeling cast aside, she marries and moves away. In her absence, the other two daughters take all of their father’s wealth and throw him out in the cold – literally in this case. Everybody dies in the end, but that’s Shakespeare for you.

If this story were to be adapted to the trappings of the here and now, Lear would probably get put in an old folks’ home and spend his artificially shortened years in a drug-induced stupor. Or maybe he would basically become a homeless guy wandering the streets. That kind of sounds like the plot of a Lifetime original movie about elder abuse, except for his being a man, but I must admit that many of the works written by Shakespeare and his contemporaries which are usually referred to as “classic” plays from ye olde tymes give off the stench of melodramatic tripe when translated into a modern setting – or even when they’re not. Actually, if it was made for theater release instead of TV, it would probably win an Oscar. Academy Award voters really love to watch anything involving large amounts of overwrought actors/actresses portraying characters who suffer through a chain of almost impossibly horrible tragedies.

In conclusion, “Out foul jelly!”

. . . I will never think of jelly the same way again.

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