Artistic posters like this one depicting Japanese actor Tatsuya Nakadai as Lord Hidetora Ichimonji were used extensively to promote "Ran," director Akira Kurosawa’s film based loosely on "King Lear."
Artistic posters like this one depicting Japanese actor Tatsuya Nakadai as Lord Hidetora Ichimonji were used extensively to promote “Ran,” director Akira Kurosawa’s film based loosely on “King Lear.”

The story of “King Lear,” lifted from an ancient Celtic tale of an aging monarch and his three daughters, is widely regarded as one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces.  Yet earlier audiences found the play so depressing it was rarely performed.

A more popular version of Lear emerged in 1681 when Nahum Tate, an Irish poet, turned Shakespeare’s tragedy into treacle in a flowery rewrite that spared the lives of Lear and his daughter Cordelia.  Critics panned it, but theatergoers loved it. That Lear dominated the stage until 1838 when a British actor and theater manager restored Shakespeare’s tragic ending and much of the original text.

With “King Lear,” James Reel will give his second of four lecture on Shakespeare’s origins and evolutions at the Arizona Senior Academy at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday (Oct. 2). Reel is the classical music director of Arizona Public Media and a popular lecturer at the ASA.

Reel will show how the family struggle at the heart of Lear continues to provide inspiration and plot lines for artists with vastly different visions.

In “A Thousand Acres,” which won a Pulitzer Prize, novelist Jane Smiley sets the story of King Lear on a family farm in Iowa.  Of the dozen or so film adaptations, the most compelling is Akira Kurosawa’s “Ran,” a samurai epic in which the king’s daughters necessarily become sons.  Elaine Feinstein’s play, “Lear’s Daughters,” a feminist spin, is billed as a prequel.  And a recent First-Nations production of the play was a first in every respect, featuring an all-Aborigine cast in the setting of a 17th-century

James Reel
James Reel

Algonquin nation.

Reel’s four-part series explores how the Bard’s compelling plots and characters influenced later artists.  The third lecture, on “Othello,” is scheduled for Oct. 16.

The Shakespeare series was made possible by a generous gift from an anonymous Arizona Senior Academy member.

Submitted by Caroline Bates, Academy Village Volunteer

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Many Artists Inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘Lear’: Oct. 2013
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