Helleman books

Book four page 36


King Lear - a Marxist interpretation

Amelia Kelly delivers a Marxist reading of King Lear. Through examining two scenes, she was asked to imagine that she had viewed a Marxist performance of the play and to explain how this interpretation was conveyed. Imagining a production, her understanding of staging and the text of the play enabled her to convey the central tenets of a Marxist interpretation.

After viewing Henry Stockard's production of King Lear, it appeared he had decided to concentrate his vision of the play on a Marxist reading - one that sees texts perpetuating the beliefs and values of a class-based society. Stockard seems concerned with the relationship between the text and the placement of classes in society, thus demonstrating and challenging ideas associated with the oppression of the underclass. Throughout the play, he explored the way classes were represented, notably in Act 2, Scene IV and Act 3, Scene IV.

By deciding to divide his kingdom on the basis of loyalty and obedience, Lear was seen to perpetuate the social order. By transferring his wealth to his family, the audience was confronted with Lear's assumption that his daughters owe him respect because of his position as a father and as King. This idea of obligation, which is owed not earned, strictly perpetuated the social order of the ruling class. In addition, the silence, or absence of the lower class from the text, marginalised their existence.

This same idea is also clearly portrayed in Act 2, Scene IV outside Gloucester's castle, where members of the underclass are employed. Prior to this scene, the accumulation of wealth and therefore power was clearly portrayed. As the scenes shifted from castle to castle, the higher class is perpetuated. This is illustrated through the opulance of the castle setting with the lower class seen only as servants positioned as lesser beings. When Kent emerges in the the stocks, this was seen as little more than reinforcing the myth of the upper class.Whilst he may have been disguised as a beggar, the employment of bright light signalled to the audience that he is and will always be a member of the upper class.Ironically the stocks accentuated the oppression of the lower class, aided by the fool's comments, 'Horses are tied by their heads, dogs and bear by th'neck . . . and men by th'legs' .


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