Shakespeare, the Movie: Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV, and Video

By Lynda E. Boose; Richard Burt | Go to book overview

9

IN SEARCH OF NOTHING

Mapping King Lear1

Kenneth S. Rothwell

Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again

(1.1.90)

Nothing almost seems miracles

(2.2.165)

In William Shakespeare's King Lear, the old king begins his spiritual odyssey with a “map” (1.1.37), 2 and ends it with a “looking-glass” (5.3.262). The way in which these two non-verbal elements frame the narrative suggests they are more than casual but have some kind of metaphorical significance.

At the beginning of the play, to illustrate his “darker purpose” (an ill-advised scheme for dividing the kingdom among his daughters), King Lear calls for a visual aid: “Give me the map there” (1.1.37). In the imperative mood, the terse words challenge an actor to wring them dry of meaning through the “paralinguistics” of pitch, loudness, tempo, timbre, etc. 3 How exactly should they be uttered? Which word should be stressed? Unstressed? “Give?” “Me?” “Map?” The 1623 Folio text capitalizes “map” while the 1608 Quarto lower cases it. Does this slight alteration imply not so much indifference in the printing house as an authorial revision that latently privileges “map” over the other four words? (Urkowitz 1980: passim). As the possibilities multiply, the actor runs the risk of becoming like the obsessed student of Stanislavsky who found forty-four different ways to say “Good evening” (Elam 1980:82).

Actors playing King Lear have recorded on film and tape widely different strategies for uttering this single line. There've been a bombastic Orson Welles, inscrutable Paul Scofield, powerful Michael Gambon, cherubic Laurence Olivier, testy Yuri Yarvet, irascible Michael Hordern, and introspective Burgess Meredith. The brusque king who bellows and snarls at underlings has not yet been exposed “to feel what wretches feel” (3.4.34). If the actor emulates Michael Hordern, he stresses “there, ” which makes the reading especially harsh and

-135-

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Shakespeare, the Movie: Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV, and Video
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Plates vii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Totally Clueless? 8
  • Notes 20
  • 2 - Race-Ing Othello, Re-Engendering White-Out 23
  • Notes 41
  • 3 - War is Mud 45
  • 4 - Top of the World, Ma 67
  • Notes 78
  • 5 - Popularizing Shakespeare 80
  • Notes 93
  • 6 - Shakespeare Wallah and Colonial Specularity 95
  • Notes 102
  • 7 - Poetry in Motion 103
  • References 119
  • 8 - When Peter Met Orson 121
  • References 134
  • 9 - In Search of Nothing 135
  • References 146
  • Stage Performances of King Lear Cited 147
  • 10 - A Shrew for the Times 148
  • Films and Videos Discussed 168
  • 11 - Shakespeare in the Age of Post-Mechanical Reproduction 169
  • References 185
  • 12 - Grossly Gaping Viewers and Jonathan Miller's Othello 186
  • 13 - Age Cannot Wither Him 198
  • Notes 213
  • 14 - Asta Nielsen and the Mystery of Hamlet 215
  • References 224
  • 15 - The Family Tree Motel 225
  • References 239
  • 16 - The Love That Dare Not Speak Shakespeare's Name 240
  • References 267
  • Index 269
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