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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: September 2019

Chapter 8 - Romancing King Lear: Hobson’s Choice, Life Goes On and Beyond

from Part III - The Genres of Lear


This chapter focuses primarily on two films that use King Lear to comic and romantic ends: Hobson’s Choice (directed by David Lean, 1954) and Life Goes On (directed by Sangeeta Datta, 2011). In remediating Harold Brighouse’s play about a tyrannical, incontinent Lancastrian boot maker and his three daughters, Lean not only captures its Shakespearean echoes but adds new filmic ones, primarily through his visualization of situations only narrated in the 1915 playtext. Datta’s transference of Lear’s familial discord to a first-generation Bengali family in contemporary London goes even further in quoting Shakespeare’s play at crucial moments in the narrative. In each film, the juxtaposition serves to isolate the unreasonable father to the benefit of the daughters’ narrative fates, while also allowing a dimension of sympathy (comic and sentimental, respectively) for men mentally unmoored from a lost political order. Moreover, the chapter enlarges on these patterns by citing family resemblances with other comic Lear intertexts on both small and large screen. These latter draw further attention to media specificity, format and distribution. The analysis not only illuminates the productions but can also enrich current scholarly conversations about genre, gender and Shakespeare’s movement towards tragicomic romance.