Shakespeare's European Tragedy-Act I

Parallels between Shakespeare’s King Lear and Britain’s current geo-political meltdown can be drawn for all the wrong reasons. From the rash vanity of King Boris, to Goneril and Regan’s Gove-ian betrayal, Shakespeare's play speaks of a divided Kingdom, of the old passing their burden on to the young. 

“Know that we have divided / In three our kingdom, and ’tis our fast intent / To shake all cares and business from our age, / Conferring them on younger strengths while we / Unburdened crawl toward death.” -King Lear

A sense of disruption invades the entire evening, refurbishment’s forcing a clandestine entrance into a hastily constructed dimly lit bar. This disruption fit’s neatly with both the UK’s current political landscape and the vacuum of power present throughout Lear’s descent into madness. 

King Lear explores ideas of rash political decision making, but more poignantly, Lear’s character shows that eventually the old must understand that their time is coming to an end, and pass power on to younger generations. Such a baton was not passed in Britain’s decision to leave the EU. The will of older generations have trumped the decisions of the future, with a minority of 27% of 18-24 year old’s voted leave, compared to 60% of over 65’s. 
 
It is ironic that Shakespeare’s play has its roots in the legendary ‘Lier of Britain’, since so many of Shakespeare’s plays manifest their geography with a distinctly continental flair. From the ‘Fair Verona, where we lay our scene’ in Romeo and Juliet, to ‘the state of Denmark’ where ‘Something is rotten’ and Hamlet bereaves his father’s death, the breadth of Shakespeare’s globe is spread across the European map. This leaves an unavoidably bittersweet thought in Britain’s departure from the institution which sought to unify these very countries. 

Fuelled by xenophobic rhetoric, the leave campaign mirrors the false speeches Goneril and Regan make to their father. The play’s opening scene is beautifully staged by the Old Vic, with a map of England and Ireland projected on to a canvas. With a click of Lear’s fingers the map is divided into smaller segments. The fractions are illuminated in red, white, and blue. An image which is inextricable from the divided Britain of the past week. 

Elena Angelidies-Theatre Editor