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

    60King Leir, Scene 8

    Perillus: Peter Higginson

    Queen's Men Dramaturgy: Narrative Over-Determination (Sc. 8)

    Read about narrative over-detmermination in Scene 6.

    The company felt that this scene, like scene 6, was largely redundant in performance. Perillus reports events that we have already seen on stage and then informs us of Leir's mistreatment at the hands of his daughters, something we are about to hear about in the next scene and witness in Scene 11. The actors asked if it could be cut but we held to our policy of performing the plays in their entirety.

    In performance the scene did little but make me wonder why it was there. Did the company lack faith in the power of their own story, thinking that the audience would have forgotten about Leir's actions by this point? Did they want to highlight Perillus, a character who will be a key motivator in the play's resolution? Is the play's "narrative over-determination" a dramaturgical technique devised to deal with an audience that was not paying attention?

    It is easy to exaggerate the idea of an unruly Elizabethan audience. Assessment of the eye-witness accounts of audiences refusing to sit or stand silently in their place must be balanced by the fact that the theatre of the period was largely aural and depended on an audience that would listen to the words the actors were speaking. The argument that the provincial audiences visited by the touring Queen's Men would have been all the more unruly smacks of snobbery. That said, what other rationale accounts for the repetitious quality of some of this play?

    The use of short monologue scenes like this one is a technique repeated throughout the play. They punctuate the action on a relatively regular basis, each bringing a different character into focus immediately before they play a key role in the development of the story. Creating plays with many characters was one of the company's innovations, breaking with the morality tradition that typically focused exclusively on the spiritual journey of one central character. Regular expository monologues may have been designed to maintain a story involving such a large number of active characters. Some of these scenes were more telling in performance than others: Ragan's monologue (Scene 25), for example, deepens the play's engagement with themes of gender and power. Repetition is an important rhetorical strategy of the period and the Queen's Men are not alone including such devices, but scenes, like this one, that only repeat information already received or about to be communicated through other means, seemed to elongate our contemporary performance without enhancing it.

    Read more about narrative over-detmermination in the play

    Watch video of Scene 8 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.)