QueenʼsMen Editions

About this text

  • Title: King Leir
  • Author: Peter Cockett

  • Copyright Queen's Men Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Peter Cockett
    Peer Reviewed

    King Leir

    160King Leir, Scene 24

    King Leir: Don Allison
    Cordella: Julian DeZotti
    Gallia: Paul Hopkins
    Mumford: Alon Nashman
    Perillus: Peter Higginson
    Country Folk: Scott Clarkson, Matthew Krist and Jason Lamb

    Lengthy, wordy, and arriving at around the two-hour mark of the performance, this scene proved extremely difficult for the actors to perform but it was key to the success of the play. The joyful, reconciliatory spirit of this scene marks a key difference from Shakespeare's tragedy.

    Queen's Men Stage Directions: The Sudden Banquet (Sc. 24)

    The SQM staging of the arrival of a sudden banquet was developed from close analysis of the stage directions and followed the project's aim to satisfy the majority of evidence in the text wherever possible. There were easier and more economical ways to stage the banquet. Mumford could have laid a cloth on the stage and served out food from his basket. This could have seemed like a banquet to the starving Leir and Perillus and as Andrew Griffin, the textual editor, suggests, "banquet" can also mean "a slight repast between meals" (Note at TLN 2168 [[ Missing milestone ann-2168 ]]). But this solution would have ignored the two clear references in the stage directions to a table. Andrew's suggestion that Mumford should enter carrying a basket and a small trestle table at the start of the scene also has some merit. Mumford could then set up the table and lay out the food when Cordella calls for "some meat" (TLN 2164). But this would not satisfy the implications of Perillus' following lines:

    Yonder is a banquet
    And men and women, my lord; be of good cheer,
    For I see comfort coming very near.
    Oh, my lord, a banquet and men and women! (TLN 2168-71)

    There are two key factors here. First, Perillus refers to men and women in the plural; the stage directions so far have only marked entrances for the Gallia, Mumford and Cordella - two men but only one woman. Second, he says he sees "comfort coming very near" and the next line specifies that the "comfort" is "a banquet" which he then connects to the "men and women" he just mentioned. The verb "coming" implies the banquet is arriving from somewhere and since Perillus refers to more characters than are presently on stage according to the stage directions then it is possible that the banquet is brought on stage by new characters entering the scene. This was the evidence in the text on which we based our staging.

    Although there is no mention of the country folk in the stage directions, it is not uncommon for characters' entrances not to be marked in early modern texts. Since Cordella was talking about the country folk earlier in the scene, their appearance held a certain amount of logic within the world of the play. That said, this logic is the logic of realism in which stage action is made plausible by reference to the real word. Alternatively, the table could simply be shoved on stage through a central entryway; this choice would highlight the symbolic importance of the food's arrival. One further option we did not consider was that Gallia, Cordella, and Mumford might be accompanied by attendants of both sexes that are not identified in the opening stage direction. This performance choice would account for the reference to "men and women" and allow for the banquet to be set up speedily. They could also have brought in stools so that Leir and Perillus could "sit" at the table as Cordella invites them to (TLN 2178), something the SQM solution failed to satisfy.

    There is no textual justification for the song the country folk sing as they enter but we discovered early in the process that our company like the original Queen's Men were excellent singers and looked for any opportunity to exploit their talents. Furthermore, bringing a table and food onto the stage is a clumsy business, not interesting enough to stand alone, but too distracting to be executed behind dialogue. Covering this action with a song therefore made theatrical sense. Most of all, however, the song increased the focus on the symbolic importance of the action by making the arrival of the banquet more arresting and magical. Following Perillus' prayer, the country folk started to sing off-stage and he responded to the sound initially, slowly turning to see the arrival of the table and food and reacting with a sense of wonder. Having been thrown out of the homes of his other two daughters, Leir here receives hospitality from apparent strangers. By adding the song and turning the arrival of the "banquet" into a small spectacle we were following the implications of the stage directions but also implying a connection between the banquet and God's divine justice - an idea central to the play.

    Read more about the Queen's Men's stage directions.

    Watch video of Scene 24 on the Performing the Queen's Men website. (The video footage is password protected. Click on "Cancel" in the pop-up window to obtain password.)

    Queen's Men Dramaturgy: Narrative Over-Determination (Sc. 24)

    Read about narrative over-determination in Scene 20

    From the point of view of modern dramaturgy Leir's speech is an odd one. The play has already been under way for approximately and hour and forty minutes and yet the playwright gives Leir 40 lines that reiterate the central action of the play to this point, providing the audience with no new information to warrant the use of time. There is some on-stage motivation for the tale since Cordella has not heard the story but even so in a standard modern production it would be a strong candidate for the cutting room floor. The SQM project was committed to performing the texts in their entirety and we had the chance to consider the dramaturgical function of the reiteration of the plot.

    Read more about narrative over-determination.

    Performing Cordella (Sc. 24)

    165Read about performing Cordella in Scene 21

    The key for me was Cordella's tears that begin even before the opening of the speech(TLN 2237). It is not the events of the plot or even the way in which Leir delivers the story but rather their impact on Cordella that is important. Cordella is crying before the tale begins but when she speaks again it is firm monosyllables: "No doubt she will. I dare be sworn she will" (TLN 2389). Our conclusion was that she moved from tearful sympathy to resolution as she heard of her sisters' "impiety" (TLN 2381).

    Read more about performing Cordella.

    Performing Leir (Sc. 24)

    Read about performing Leir in Scene 23

    Don Allison did an incredible job with this hugely difficult speech. As he grew into the performance it began resemble an act of confession and penance. Leir suffered through the narration of his own errors and his own suffering at the hands of his daughters and in doing so cleansed himself of the past.

    Read more about performing Leir

    Watch video of Scene 24 on the Performing the Queen's Men website. (The video footage is password protected. Click on "Cancel" in the pop-up window to obtain password.)

    Queen's Men Dramaturgy: Medley Style (Sc. 24)

    Read about the Queen's Men medley style in Scene 23

    The speech also strings out a dramatic irony, delaying the moment of Cordella's self-revelation to the point that it becomes almost ridiculous. Leir's following speech exacerbates that effect by describing himself as he is "constrained to seek relief/Of her to whom I have been so unkind" (TLN 2283-2284). Once Cordella gently reveals herself, the two characters compete to outdo each other in showing penitence, as they kneel to ask each other forgiveness and blessing. Ultimately Cordella rights the patriarchal balance, insisting that she should kneel to her father, not vice versa, and the sequence finishes with her kneeling to receive her father's blessing.

    The repeated bobbing up and down of the two characters proved amusing in rehearsal and performance and initially we tried to resist the laughter, which we felt worked against the emotional import of the scene. Resistance was pointless and in retrospect our instinct was likely the product of a neo-classical division of tragedy and comedy arising from our own cultural assumptions. In the later performances the cast embraced the laughter and found they could preserve the characters' sincere intent to confess fault and relieve each other of blame while still accepting the audience's laughter at the repeated physical business. Indeed, Mumford's decision to kneel saying "Let me pray too, that never prayed before" (TLN 2349) played out as a joking reference to the excessive kneeling made the mixing of humour and sincerity fully intentional on the part of the company as it likely was on the part of the play's creators. At its best the scene prompted a joyful laughter mixed with tears for some and an ironic recognition of the patriarchal politics at play for others.

    Read about the Queen's Men medley style in later scenes

    The Queen's Men and Shakespeare (Sc. 24)

    Read about the Queen's Men and Shakespeare in Scene 23

    Shakespeare's version of the same moment in the story is an excellent example of how he learned to bury deeply symbolic structures beneath a surface of sparse realism. Traces of the Leir scene remain in Shakespeare's version. Cordella still asks her father's blessing and, although it is not marked in the stage directions, Lear still kneels: "O looke vpon me Sir,/And hold your hand in benediction o're me,/You must not kneele." (Internet Shakespeare EditionsF: 2810-2812). The contrast between the extensive rhetoric of the Leir scene and Shakespeare's short, sparse scene is extreme, but accepting the power of the Shakespeare scene need not undermine our admiration for the Queen's Men version which has its own charm. Leir is a romance not a tragedy and the mix of laughter and tears is entirely in keeping with the rest of the play. The same mix is present in Shakespeare's scene but personally I find it is the kind of laughter that chokes due to the intensity of the emotion summoned by Lear's lines: "Do not laugh at me,/For (as I am a man) I thinke this Lady/To be my childe Cordelia" (Internet Shakespeare EditionsF: 2823-2825). The laughter in the Leir scene in contrast is a joyous release and launches the characters and the play into the final sequence of action - the conquest of Britain and the restoration of the king.

    Read more about the Queen's Men and Shakespeare.

    Watch video of Scene 24 on the Performing the Queen's Men website. (The video footage is password protected. Click on "Cancel" in the pop-up window to obtain password.)