Advisable with a play like Lear to do in order written and with whole show. This will give sweep, symphonic effect, and avoid playing small scenes out of all proportion.
This is more than a play of a single man. It’s a play of man. Man’s meanness vs. his greatness. Larger than life-- as if there’s some vast impersonal signficance that illuminates all of life.
Harmony of nature and man. (Storm within and without.) Grotesque and sublime. With Lear’s entrance everything goes into motion -- everything is tempestuosly whirling and heaving. Over this there is a law, a mighty law, that rules over this storm. Honesty of approach can conquer the magnificent size and scope of the tempest. In this tempest there is a direction, a straight line through madness to salvation. There is a final end of triumph for man and his nature. Triumph of MORAL world -- a personal code toward humanity. On this level it is a moral play.
Middle scenes are highly fantastic and grotesque. Even in these we see Lear struggling to find an answer. In Lear man is standing on his own two feet. The evil is within him. These are no ghosts or witches. The evil is side-by-side with Man’s ability to find truth.
Must grasp sense of symphonic. More themes than Wagner. Many instruments are at work. You must find your own theme for work.
Even in grief and pain there is a bigness, a form.
Music is not in a line alone -- but in a whole speech, a whole scene. Play is timeless and spaceless. Elizabethan narrows it -- Prehistoric Britain. Bradley calls it an allegory -- this is more than that. A morality play is the right word in that Shakespeare is trying to describe for all men. What term would fit? People mustn’t go away saying “Poor Lear!” -- but should be thinking of our modern world. Shakespeare formulates no ethical code, no preaching. The audience is left at the end to sum it up by themselves. Audience must go away marveling with awe and exultation. (Allegory takes on a much larger meaning than it has ever had before.)
Audience wonders at man’s intense suffering. They must sense where this is going. You live through it because you may come away with renewed faith. Actor must foreshadow end of play from first curtain. (It takes integrity -- but is possible.)
Lear casts out Cordelia (love) and Kent (loyalty). In end he kneels to love and says, “I bow to you,” to Kent. Each line has more than one meaning.
Edmund, Regan and others all are realists. Then we sense their complete lack of heart, compassion and gratitude. Both Goneril and Cordelia exist in Lear -- both Edmund and Edgar exist in Cloucester. We’re dealing with man’s capacity to destroy himself and others -- MODERN. The play deals with values (love, loyalty, gratitude, ingratitude, lust) Evil is a private and inner thing. Goneril is Lear’s inner nature. Since Lear is King, evil becomes a public force.
Society is like a pyramid with the King at the top. He’s risen to the highest position. Has he the right to leave this position? When you rise above, you have responsibilities to others. Has anyone the right to divide a land, a kingdom? By so doing he’s set loose the storm that rages over the world.
There are those who say Cordelia should have lived on. Shakespeare has said that when Cordelia lies on Lear’s breast she’s fulfilled her destiny. Incorporate this into your own thinking.
In the beginning Lear asks, “How much do you love me?” This is bartering with a law that can’t be fooled with. Fool senses in half-wit way -- as only a fool can.