“King Lear” (BBC Drama): Play Review

A new performance of Shakespeare’s King Lear recently caught my attention as I was looking through the programmes on BBC iPlayer. This performance is still available online for another sixteen days, so I suggest that you check it out!

lear2.jpgAn Overview

Title: King Lear.
Playwright: William Shakespeare.
First Performed: 1606.
Director: Richard Eyre.
Length:
115 minutes.

King Lear is composed of two, interwoven narratives. The main narrative concerns itself with the king, who, in his old age, decides to divide his kingdom between his three daughters. This was a common tale in Elizabethan England as issues of legacy, promoted by the queen’s lack of children, were popularised during this period.

In the play, Lear decides that he is going to give the most land to the daughter who claims to love him the most. His first two daughters, Goneril and Regan, conform to this way of thinking and tell the king that they love him more than words can describe. Yet his youngest daughter, Cordelia, refuses to play this game. She tells Lear that she loves him, but that she will also love a husband, should she ever marry.

This enrages Lear so much that he banishes Cordelia from his sight, marrying her off to the King of France without a dowry. This act has serious repercussions, though, as Lear begins to fall into a state of madness. Meanwhile, his remaining two daughters plot to overthrow him, tired of his constant presence, as well as the noise of his hunting parties.

As you can expect in a Shakespearean tragedy, this all ends in bloodshed. Yet this is not only the blood of Lear and his daughters, for there is a secondary narrative that runs through this play. Gloucester, Lear’s ally, has two sons: Edgar and Edmund. The latter son was born a bastard, and he holds a grudge that causes him to disrupt the other characters, punishing both his father and brother for, in his opinion, failing to value him as a true member of their family.

The Drama

The BBC’s adaptation of King Lear is an interesting one, as, although it keeps to the original Shakespearean script, it is set in modern times, beginning in the heart of London. For the majority of the drama, this fusion of the old and new has a very powerful effect, as it allows the producers to add their own spin on Shakespeare’s play, without having to tamper with the original script. For example, as Gloucester helps Lear to escape from his vengeful daughters, he drives him away in an ambulance, which emphasises the sense of urgency in the play, as well as alluding to Lear’s madness.

lear-e1528143099752.jpgYet this fusion of styles does sometimes come across as confusing, and I wish, at times, that some changes had been made to the script. After all, in this drama, the fool, who mysteriously dies in King Lear at the end of the first act (some scholars claim that Shakespeare forgot about him), is shown to die of something that resembles hyperthermia. He goes into the ambulance with Gloucester and Lear, yet never comes out. This is an interesting addition to the play, as it reveals how the fool has essentially sacrificed himself to keep Lear company. The only issue is, at the end of the script, Shakespeare refers back to the fool’s death and has Lear tell everyone that he was “hanged”. The BBC drama keeps this line in, which makes the whole event seem rather confusing. After all, the fool is not hanged; he dies in the back of an ambulance.

Another interesting addition that the drama brings to King Lear is the use of the horseshoe. Lear appears to replace this horseshoe for his crown as he wears it upon his head at the height of his madness. He holds onto it throughout the drama, which emphasises how he is clinging both to his need to rule (this was what originally angered Goneril and Regan, as Lear failed to realise that, once that he had given them his land, he had no power), and also to his insanity.

I also appreciated the addition made to Gloucester’s secondary narrative. After the earl’s gruesome blinding, he is guided by Edgar (who is in disguise), hence the famous quote:

Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind  –  Shakespeare, King Lear.

In the play, Gloucester appears to die, unaware that it is Edgar who sits at his side, protecting him, yet in the BBC drama, Gloucester reaches out his hand to feel Edgar’s face. As he strokes it, he appears to recognise him, which provides a much more satisfactory ending to the Earl of Gloucester.

My Conclusion

There is a lot like about this adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear. It has an incredible cast that includes Anthony Hopkins (Lear), Emma Thompson (Goneril), Emily Watson (Reagan), Jim Broadbent (Gloucester), Jim Carter (Kent), Andrew Scott (Edgar), Karl Johnson (the fool) and Christopher Eccleston (Oswald). With this cast, it is inevitable that there is also some fantastic acting in this drama.

There are a few interesting features, such as the horseshoe and the modern setting, that appear to add something new to the original play. Yet while I do recommend this drama, I did think that the mix of the old and new, although interesting, did make the story a little confusing. It is therefore perhaps a good idea to watch this drama, only if you already have a vague idea of what King Lear is really about.


Thank you so much for reading! You can view a list of all my reviews here.

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Splinters through the Earth

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve taken part in Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt, but through a combination of having submitted all of my university assessments yesterday, and procrastinating from the large stack of reading that I still need to get through, I decided that I had enough time to give it a go this weekend.

For those of you who don’t already know, the Weekend Writing Prompt is a weekly challenge that provides both a prompt word and picture, along with specific prose and poetry challenges for those who want to take the extra challenge. Today’s prompt word was “fragment”, so, without any more time wasting on my part, I hope you enjoy my takes on this prompt!

Prose Challenge

The Challenge: Tell a story in five sentences about why the ground is cracking up in the below photo. Don’t forget to mention what implications it might have for your character(s).

There isn’t enough time. From right beneath our feet, the lands begin to crack in two, splinters ricocheting through the soil. I glance to my left and send a desperate glance at Jamie, but she only shakes her head; there’s no way out. We tripped the switch and released the trap: the trap that will be our end. There’s nothing to do now but close our eyes and pray.

Poetry Challenge

The Challenge: Write a five line poem that includes at least three of the following synonyms for “fragment”: piece, splinter, snippet, particle, break, shatter, fracture, disintegrate, crack.

Splintering across the night’s sky,
Or shattering through a field of ice,
Cracking through these lands awry
I finally pay the final price:
The toxic spreads – my sacrifice.

Nameless

Here’s my attempt at the latest photo prompt challenge from Creative Writing Ink. With no word counts and no real guidelines, this has to be one of my favourite challenges. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy!


I didn’t know her name. She hadn’t told me, and I’d never thought to ask. There hadn’t been time, but now – well now – I regret it more than anything.

I’d only known her for five minutes. She’d been waiting in the back seat of my car when I finished work. I’d thought then that I was going to die; ironic, really.

Nameless

Credit: Kristina Flour

I remember how she’d jumped out at me and whispered in my ear,

“Don’t go into work tomorrow.” Then, with a delicate finger pressed against her lips, she’d slipped back into the darkness, and I’d never seen her again… not in the flesh, anyway.

I don’t know what had made me listen to her. I don’t know what had made me ring up sick, but I’d done it.

I’d been sitting at home with my son when the news article came on: 50 dead in office fire.

I would have been there, in the centre of it all, but I wasn’t. I’m here at home, sat at my kitchen table, when all my colleagues, my boss, the HR lady, the intern, the people who worked in the kitchen and that mysterious woman who’d saved my life, had been burned alive.

I don’t know who she was, and I don’t know why she’d been in that office block if she’d known what was going to happen – not that she could have. In my heart, I hope she was trying to get people out. I hope she was warning them, just like she warned me, but in my head, none of that makes sense. She couldn’t have known about the fire. It had been put down to a small kitchen fire that had just veered out of control.

How could she have known? Unless she was responsible.

I sigh, tossing the morning’s newspaper away from me.

They’d moved on from the fire already, those reporters. They’d forgotten about the HR lady and that nice intern. They didn’t care about those nameless, faceless workers, because they weren’t important anymore. They were gone.

I won’t ever move on.

I can’t move on, because, in the back of my mind, there are all those horrible thoughts. There are the voices that whisper at me when I’m trying to sleep, telling me that I’m supposed to be dead.

The one thing that I’ll never understand, though, is why it was me that the woman warned. Why wouldn’t she tell the boss or the boss’ boss? I’m no one important. I’m just another nameless, faceless worker.

Except I’m alive.

Spilling Over

Here’s another story for the Friday Fictioneers photo prompt; each week, Rochelle Wisoff posts a photo, with the challenge of writing an associated story in 100 words or less. This is a very varied challenge that inspires authors to interact with each other, as much as it helps them to improve their writing. I hope you enjoy this story!


Credit: Kent Bonham

It was too soon; too sudden. I didn’t want to have to look at it. Yet, even as I decided that I wouldn’t, my eyes were opening all by themselves, sneaking a glance at the drive.

The car was remarkably unharmed; the windshield was gone, as was one of the doors, but, from the back, at least, the only damage to be seen had been committed by the gulls circling above.

I blinked hard, my emotions spilling over at last. How dare it come here, seemingly unharmed? I was screaming, beating my fists. I wanted it to feel my pain.


Click the blue froggy for more stories based on this prompt!

Author Spotlight: Charles Dickens

Here’s another installment of my author biography pages, once written for my Sixth Form’s Newspaper, Sixth Sense. The full edition of this November copy is available here. If you’re interested in reading more about Charles Dickens, you can check out my review of what is arguably his most famous novel, Great Expectations.


Charles Dickens was one of the greatest writers of all time, renowned, more than anything else, for the magnitude and diversity of his writing. In only fifty-eight years, he wrote fifteen novels, five novellas and hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles. He also edited a weekly journal for over twenty years. These achievements would be remarkable in any context, but the most admirable thing about Dickens has to be the challenging circumstances that he had to overcome in order to pursue his passion for the written word.

He was born in Portsmouth to a middle-class family, the second of eight children, yet only six of these children survived to adulthood. This was because the Dickens family was thrown into poverty when Charles’ father, John Dickens, lost control of his own finances, in an apparent lack of organisation. Charles had been living a comfortable life in private education, but was pulled from this luxury when the family was forced to move to a much smaller house in Kent.

There, however, their poverty was only worsened, until, when Dickens was only twelve years old, his father was placed in a debtor’s prison. As custom stated in the Victorian era, the entire family then had to move to London in order to reside in the rooms of the prison that were specifically reserved for the families of the prisoners.

Dickens, still only twelve years old, was then sent to work in a blacking factory, where he spent eleven hours a day labelling an assortment of bottles. This continued until he turned fifteen, which was when he started his new job as a solicitor’s clerk. He had clearly been deeply affected by his time in poverty, and so fought to prevent this from happening to him again. It did not matter that he was young and still somewhat ignorant to the world, because he had a hunger for learning, and not just for the intellectual, but for the knowledge that would help to better his own life in the future, and, essentially, to prevent him from becoming his father.

Three years later, Dickens took up a different job yet again, but, this time, he had found something that he knew he genuinely enjoyed. He became a journalist, allowing him to explore the world through non-fiction writing. At night, however, Dickens would pursue his other interest; he would use the skills that he had learnt from his career to write his own fiction stories, creating characters and storylines that are now renowned for their intriguing natures. Many critics now argue hat this was because Dickens had already experienced the positives and negatives of human life, and so when he described it for himself, he had the power to make it seem real.

In the same year that he published his first novel, Pickwick Papers, Dickens met Catherine Hogarth, who he later made his wife. Just as his happiness reached its peak, however, it then began to deteriorate once more; rumours circulated, questioning his drunkenness, and potential admittance into a lunatic asylum. Society began to doubt his sanity, and it is not too difficult to imagine why. He kept a raven as a pet, named it Grip, and had it stuffed and mounted after its death. Large portions of his writing were also, for many of his readers and critics, grotesque, considering criminality as well the supernatural.

His marriage to Catherine ended when he met Ellen Turnan at the age of forty-five. She was only eighteen years old, but their relationship escalated to the point that he was forced to leave Catherine, even though his reputation decreed that he could not file for an official divorce. Dickens’ writing continued to flourish once again, all the time using his experiences to implement his own stories and characters.

Then, one day, Dickens and Ellen were travelling home, when their train crashed. Dickens himself helped to administer medical care to those most in need, but the traumatic experience deeply affected him. He only remembered at the last minute that a portion of Our Mutual Friend had been left in the wreckage. Although he saved the novel, however, his mind had been traumatised, and, a short time after, Dickens died of a stroke, fifty-eight years old.

4. November-page-010.jpg

My original article, published in “Sixth Sense”

Story Starters: A Collection

My biggest problem as a writer has always been sticking to one story after I create the initial opening; it’s too tempting to move onto something new and more exciting! Here’s three story starters, varying in length, that I’ve, at some point, abandoned.

1) This opening story sentence is for the purposes of the writing competition at: Writer’s Digest, with the brief of a maximum word count at 25 words, and the picture prompt seen below.

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-10-30-47-am

A snowy owl swooped low above the forest, invisible against the white trees, and ignorant, for little did it know of the danger lurking there.

2) The flames roared high above them, great waves of smoke towering higher still. They choked and coughed as they ran, ducking and diving around the broken infrastructure that now surrounded them. Time was running out; they were already scorched and burned in more places than they knew, the agony of their wounds occasionally causing them to contort their steps as they raced onwards. Great chunks of wall and ceiling were crashing around them, too, wires dropping down into the fiery mass and sparks exploding from every direction. The reality was that they had entered hell itself, and every runner accepted that fact with a bleak resolution. There was no turning back, and, chances were, there was no escape. Hell had become the endless corridor of fire that they now faced, and they were all too aware of it.

3) The sirens were louder than they should have been. Even before her body crumpled and collapsed onto the pavement, they were there with us, ringing in our minds and pounding in our hearts. Craig was bent over her, muttering to himself and beating the ground with his fist. Little Pete was at his side as usual, waiting for the directions that would never come again. I didn’t need to crouch over her as they did, though, because I knew. In reality, I think we all knew, even before we’d hit her; we’d known even before she’d been lit up in front of my car headlights and Craig had fought to avoid her. There was no use checking her pulse or breathing rate. There was no point, because Kelly Holmes was dead, and we’d killed her. We were murderers.

“We should run,” Craig breathed, turning to face us in the half-dark. “The sirens don’t mean anything. They could be hours away yet.”

“I agree,” Little Pete piped up instantly, not even allowing a breath between Craig’s suggestion and his own sycophantic plea for attention. I shrugged, but I doubted that they could see the slight movement in the darkness. I wasn’t going to run. I didn’t want to run. I was a murderer. I had to stay and face the police, no matter how devastating that would be.

“Dan,” Craig persisted, ignoring Little Pete. “We need to go, now.” I swallowed hard, feeling braver in every new cry of the sirens.

“Then go,” I whispered, looking not at Craig and Little Pete, but at Kelly. She was beautiful even now, her long, dark hair a mess about her shoulders and back, and her slender, ghostly form almost shining in the light from the surrounding street lamps. I’d known her since she was little, from when we’d played together in my back garden. She was dead now. She would never breathe again, never laugh, never smile. She was simply gone.

“Dan, they’ll get you!” Craig whispered, his voice slightly incredulous. I could not look at my best friend, though. He wasn’t like me. He wasn’t feeling this like I was. He felt only fear, whereas I felt only loss, grief and a furious, biting sense of self-hatred. I had done this. “Dan, you know what that means!” Craig persisted, shaking my shoulder now.

“If you want to run, run,” I snapped, looking at Craig at last. “Save yourself. You better hurry up, though. It’s been too long already.” Craig stepped back slightly, confusion edging its way into his fear clouded mind. He looked at Little Pete then, suddenly lost and vulnerable. Pete looked back, and suddenly they were no longer leader and disciple, but two scared boys: criminals.

Without another word, they took off, running in the opposite direction from the houses and sirens beyond them. There were fields not too far off, and after that, the forest. If they made it that far, they were safe. It was said that fugitives and criminals caked the trees themselves, living amongst the branches and leaves on the earthy floor. I used to have nightmares about the place, but for Craig and Little Pete, it had just become the last hope. Maybe, just maybe, they would be okay.

I looked back at Kelly then, and my heart shuddered to a halt, too.

“The Odyssey”: Poem Review

The Odyssey is one of the greatest tales of all time, renowned for its influences over other works, its critical commentary of the human condition, and, more importantly, its story.

fullsizerenderTitleThe Odyssey.
Author: Homer.
Publication: 800BC? (unknown).
My Edition: 2007, Harper Perennial.
Length: 390 pages.
My Rating: 5/5.

Unlike Homer’s earlier work, The IliadThe Odyssey is a complex poem with numerous embedded narrators and a non-linear storyline, its protagonist and hero, Odysseus, reflecting on many of his adventures, such as with the famous Cyclops, Polyphemus, and mysterious witch, Circe, after they have already happened. The Odyssey is clearly then a more adventurous work compared to The Iliad, which, in twenty-four books, depicts a passing of only forty days. The later text describes the passing of ten years, Odysseus travelling all over the known world and bringing culture and mystery to the work. More significantly, perhaps, The Iliad features mainly prominent heroes, such as the likes of Hector and Achilles. Whilst The Odyssey does this, too, it also depicts multiple women with developed characters, and even gives a perspective of the world from the eyes of a beggar. In considering the nature of humanity, then, The Odyssey is a clear view of the world of Ancient Greece, considering its beliefs, customs, and every level of its society.

Many readers of The Odyssey struggle with it, perhaps because of its unusual features, such as constant repetition and the use of epithets; these, however, were devices used by the poet when the story was told in its oral form, as it predates the existence of the Greek alphabet. The presence of the “human” gods in the poem may also be cause for confusion, as they constantly interfere with the actions of the mortals around them. However, though these factors may, initially, seem off putting, cultural differences will always be apparent in unfamiliar texts, whether they originated in modern France or historical Ghana. Really, it is worth accepting these differences and embracing the unfamiliar culture, in order to properly process the incredible tale of The Odyssey, for it truly is one worth reading.

What I found most interesting when reading the poem, was the nature of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife. Ancient Greece was a place of the typical patriarchy, where the man ruled the woman and she existed only to serve him. What seems curious, then, is that the “cunning Odysseus” is matched only by the “cunning” of Penelope. To prevent herself from having to remarry in her husband’s ten year absence, she tricks her many suitors, telling them that she will only choose her new husband once she has finished weaving a shroud upon her loom. However, “cunning” Penelope returns to the weaving each night, unpicking her stitches to delay having to choose one of the suitors to marry. This is a clear sign of the intelligence of Penelope, but what is still more interesting, is the question of when she truly recognises her husband.

When Odysseus finally returns to Ithaca from his many “wanderings”, the goddess, Athene, disguises him, changing his appearance into one of a beggar. This is in order to aid him in the destruction of Penelope’s suitors and the reclaiming of his household. However, the beggar Odysseus speaks to Penelope from book XIX of The Odyssey, and what struck me, is that, whilst the true “reunion” between Odysseus and Penelope officially takes place in book XXIII, the “cunning” Penelope may have been far more informed than this would suggest. After speaking with the beggar, she goes from swearing to never marry again, to hosting a competition to decide who the lucky suitor would be. If she truly did not know of her husband’s return, why would she have such a change of heart? And why would the contest play on Odysseus’ greatest strength, that being the bow and arrow? It makes more sense if she knew that he was home, but could not reveal this fact, so as not to ruin his plan to destroy the suitors.

Whatever the case, this argument proves the greatest strength of The Odyssey: its interpretations. With such an ancient story, there have been hundreds of different theories and ideas questioning its every aspect, and there is so much to wonder about. Really, the magic of The Odyssey is then in its reception, just as much as it is in its existence.

Regardless of how deeply you read into the poem’s narrative, this is a story that I feel everyone should be made aware of. It has influenced every book we know today, whether this was done consciously, or not. It is an epic, and a story to take throughout your life.