Did you know...?
- Directors of King Lear have two versions of the text to work with: the Folio and the Quarto (read more). In the Quarto, the final words of the play are given to Goneril's husband, the Duke of Albany, but the editors of the First Folio chose to have them spoken by Edgar.
- Shakespeare drew on a number of sources (read more) to write King Lear, but every version except his ends happily.
- Nahum Tate, who was appointed Poet Laureate in 1642, re-wrote a number of Shakespeare's plays to provide them with happy endings. In his 1681 version of King Lear, Cordelia survived to marry Edgar, caring for her elderly father until his death. This became the preferred version until Shakespeare's original was revived by 1838 with famous actor Charles McCready as Lear. McCready reintroduced the role of the Fool (cut by Tate as too frivolous) and played for the first time by a woman. The 2010 RSC production also has a woman, Kathryn Hunter, in this role (see photo).
- King George III suffered bouts of insanity so all performances of any version of King Lear were banned from the stage during his reign from 1810 to 1820.
- In Renaissance times, the King was considered to be a 'God on Earth' and it was only his Court Jester (or Fool) appointed both to amuse him and remind him of his humanity, who was allowed to speak plainly. In King Lear, it is up to the Fool to remind the King of the consequences of his actions.
- King Lear contains more references to animals and the natural world than any other Shakespeare play.
- Kent is given some ingenious insults to throw at Goneril's servant, Oswald - including 'Thou whoreson Zed, thou unnecessary letter!' and one of only two references to football in Shakespeare: 'Thou base football player.' (The other footballing reference comes in The Comedy of Errors.)
- When asked for advice to playing Lear, the famous actor/manager Donald Wolfit is remembered for replying, 'Get a light Cordelia and keep an eye on the Fool.'
- The youngest actor ever to play Lear in a professional production was Nonso Anozie, who was 23 when he took the title role in Declan Donnellen's production for the RSC in 2002.
- In contrast, when Alvin Epstein played Lear for the Boston Actors' Theater in 2006, at 81 he was probably the actor closest in age to Lear himself.
Written by Kathleen Bradley and Suzanne Worthington
Photo by Manuel Harlan showes Kathryn Hunter as The Fool and Greg Hicks as Lear © RSC