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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Students Experience Shakespeare's King Lear

The tragedy of William Shakespeare’s King Lear involves the rapid decline of the aging King Lear, his fall from power, a tale of redemption, a clash of nature, a war for the throne, and the rise from ignorance into wisdom. King Lear’s rejection of his daughters ends with his gaining of love and compassion, as the tragedy unfolds with calamitous nature and traitorous individuals wreaking havoc.

The seniors of Ms. Bloom’s AP Literature class received the opportunity to attend a remarkable production of King Lear at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on February 4, 2014.  The three and a half hour production featured Frank Langella as King Lear, who has starred in such films as Superman Returns, Dracula (as Dracula), and Disney’s Now You See It.  Langella brought his decades of wisdom and stardom to the stage at BAM, where he performed incredibly as King Lear, capable of shifting into rage and stupendous shouts in an instant.

The seniors in this class had been preparing all year for the rigorous AP Lit exam, analyzing novels and prose passages, writing essays on them, and now studying poetry.  In preparation for the production of King Lear, the graphic version of Shakespeare’s tragic play was distributed and read. Unlike the simple prose books of Shakespeare’s play that had been distributed throughout high school, the graphic version allowed for readers to accurately picture the scenes and ongoing textual dialogue, analyze the actions of characters and the changing role of nature throughout the book in a more elaborate and sophisticated manner, and did not contain a definition of certain antiquated words, enabling the students to hone their skills in reading and understanding Shakespeare’s sophisticated dramas.

The visual presentation of King Lear allowed the students to observe first-hand the contents of the play on stage, which may have employed different takes on certain scenes than students expected. The visual effects of this performance were stunning, including a sprinkler system designed to appear as though rain was falling from the roof for several minutes during a fierce thunderstorm. In another scene, a character’s eyes were gouged out and promptly replaced with “blood,” while the eyes were picked up and thrown off stage.  Since we were already familiar with the play, we all tensed up as that scene approached and watched eagerly and in horror as the eye-gouging events unfolded before our very eyes.

The performance of King Lear at BAM was truly spectacular, and it was an amazing opportunity for the seniors in AP Lit to partake in a unique cultural experience connected to a subject studied in class. ~Andrew Hersh