QueenʼsMen Editions

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  • 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

    King Leir, Scene 6

    King Leir: Don Allison
    Gonorill: Matthew Krist
    Ragan: Derek Genova
    Cornwall: Jason Gray
    Cambria: Scott Clarkson
    Lord: Phil Borg
    Perillus: Peter Higginson

    Queen's Men Dramaturgy: Narrative Over-Determination (Sc. 6)

    Read about narrative over-determination in Scene 2

    As a director, this scene always seemed redundant to me. McMillin and MacLean identified the tendency of the Queen's Men dramatists to show a thing and report it, a characteristic of the dramaturgy that they described as "narrative over-determination." Nothing surprising happens in this scene. The events are the logical consequence of the earlier scenes and could more economically have been recounted third hand as in fact Cordella does in the following scene (TLN 599-602). So what was the purpose of this dramaturgical technique?

    50The scene opens with the sisters clarifying the root cause of their hatred of Cordella, adding vanity to their list of vices. They inform us of Cordella's plight but this is information we will discover for ourselves in the next scene anyway. Leir enters defending his decision to disinherit Cordella and abdicate his throne in favor of Cambria and Cornwall, telling us that he expects their arrival "within this two days" (TLN 517), upon which words the duo expeditiously appear. Leir's next line: "But in good time they are arrived already" (TLN 518 ) always got a big laugh in performance. I always felt that the audience was laughing at the clumsiness of the storytelling at this point. I read the compression of time as a sign that the company was aware of the scene's narrative redundancy. I feel that a story editor today would suggest removing this scene, relying instead on Cordella's account of its events in the following scene to advance the story.

    My interpretation of the scene in performance was clearly colored by my own artistic assumptions and training that told me that any scene should provide some significant turn of events that advances the course of the action. I believe there is a degree of validity to my argument and other early modern plays find more concise ways to advance their stories but it is also important to acknowledge that the Queen's Men's dramaturgy has its own charm. It proceeds at a more leisurely pace and often the pleasure of localized humorous events outweighs concerns over the significance of each moment in relation to the whole. The fact that Leir makes reference to time in two the lines adjacent to the kings' entrance implies the comic effect was deliberate. It also builds on the sense of the lovers' haste established in the previous scene and the punning on the word "nothing" (TLN 491) mirrors Cambria's confusion over the words "whole" and "hole" in the previous scene (TLN 454) establishing sexual desire rather than romantic affection as the key compatibility between the sisters and the two kings - a contrast with the expressions of love between Cordella and Gallia in the following scene (TLN 634-722). In the SQM performance, Cambria and Cornwall dashed onto the stage, breathless, with a swirl of their capes to enhance the comic effect and the lusty relationships between the kings and the two wicked sisters were established in a delightful and distracting visual display. The basic narrative development - that they get married - is thus cemented in the imaginations of the audience. It was not economical in terms of time but it was more engaging and fun than the account of the same events given by Cordella in the subsequent scene.

    Read more about narrative over-detmerination

    Watch video of Scene 6 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.)