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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: March 2007

Shakespeare in Pain: Edward Bond’s Lear and the Ghosts of History


Like ghosts we teach a dead religion, build a few more prisons to worship Caesar in, and leave it at that.

Edward Bond

We haven't arrived where we live as long as Shakespeare writes our plays.

Heiner Müller

There can be no starker alternative - or harsher antidote - to the Shakespearian afterlife concocted by the makers of Shakespeare in Love than Edward Bond's Lear, which was first produced in London in 1971 (unless, of course, we include in the mix Bond's later play Bingo, which had its first production in 1973). Though very differently situated, both works are studies in pain: in the social and political pathologies that produce it and the emotional pathologies produced by it. As such, they return us to a period in postwar cultural history when Shakespeare's status as 'our contemporary' was figured very differently than it is today, when a play like King Lear drew to itself correspondences to everything from the Holocaust to philosophical and theological assessments of the absurdity of the human condition and of man's inhumanity to man. Probably the most prominent manifestation of that moment's approach to King Lear is the punishing black-and-white austerity of Peter Brook's 1971 film, which in many ways served to illustrate Jan Kott's influential assessment of the play as Shakespeare's Endgame in Shakespeare Our Contemporary (1964).