Stage, Text and Reception- the Trinity in Edward Bond’s Lear. Koyel Bhattacharjee M.A., 1st year.

University of Calcutta. SLIDE 1
1. The development of the stage- Ages have passed since

the interconnection between stage and text has been established. Starting from the Stone Age, if we consider the cave paintings to be a text, each and every painting was a performance, represented in artistic terms. And with the development of mankind, imagination took its flow. Man’s performance deviated from hard-core reality to semi-realistic or surrealistic portrayal of events. From the depiction of a hunting or gathering scene of the Stone Age man, mankind moved on to further complications of the human psyche. The human psyche developed with the flowing ages and thus the stage and text experienced transcendence. Performance and text has an interconnection, which, though not well defined is definitely understandable. The stage requires a script for the performance, which is itself a text. And the stage acts as a platform for representation of the text. And the actors have the liberty to reinterpret the script. The intonation plays an important role in the understanding of the scenario in a play, and thus the actor’s gestures, tone of voice and expressions becomes a representation of the script, i.e., the actor’s understanding of the script, rather than direct presentation. Varied reception of the same text in various ages was also observed. The use of stage found new objectives in various ages. Whereas the Elizabethan age playwrights used the stage to gain the favors of the royalty, the post-world war stage became a platform to express the ideological, political and sociological view, either for

or against the government. The process of construction, deconstruction and reconstruction of ideas and objectives continue with time through stage and text. Drama moved to wit and intellect with the neo-classical age where the pleasure was intended for the brain and not for the heart. The late 19th and early 20th century witnessed dramatists like Galsworthy who dealt with the problems of the age. Shaw dealt with the social and domestic problems of his age. Eliot, one of the prodigal proponents of modernism talked about the crisis of the individual in the age of war and oblivion. The post-modern drama was characterized by a deeper sense of despair and frustration of an individual both as an individual himself and as one among the mass. Terrified by the naked violence of the war, the post-world war generation had no fairy land to create a make belief world of even in their dreams. Especially the post world war (ii) generation had nothing but a bunch of shattered dreams to live on, the promises of a better, secure future made by various political wings all proved fruitless. London, the land where the sun never set experienced tremendous loss of power internationally. The socialism hoped to create a better future but proved to be as aggressive, dictatorial and violent as any other political system, resulting in mass disillusionment. Immediately following the World War 2, the people had their hopes on the left wing of politicians, i.e., the communists; but that soon resulted in heavy disillusionment. The National Insurance Act and National Health Service Act of 1946 and the National Assistance Act of 1948 were not efficient enough to recover the battle-scarred nation. The kitchen sink drama developed as a result of stinging disillusionment of the youth of the generation. The theatre of the absurd is also believed to be a product of the lack of stability of the politically, militarily and economically challenged nation.

2. Lear and King Lear- the stage, then and now-

Theme, plot, characterization, situations and stage techniques are bound to change from the age of Shakespeare to the 20th century. The socio-political background of the age influenced the objective of the stage. Elizabethan age theatre groups were all professional groups whose sole income lied in the performance of the play. They required the authorization of any nobility and so they had to be careful not to displease them as that would make their profession vulnerable. So, politically controversial topics were avoided in the plays. In some, they are found in traces but they are not easily understandable. The 20th century stage was no longer a stage to win royal favors but to rebel. Bond himself says that

The Shakespearean audience would have desired and easily accepted the restoration of, or at least the hope for the restoration of the administration, and so in King Lear in the end, Edgar stands to take the responsibility of taking over the scrambles of the administration. But in the post-war 20th century, the vision is unrealistic. With the mass disillusionment and the despair of the post-world war generations, where the political parties failed to prove up to the expectations, communism under Stalin resulted in a dictatorial rule, the rise of Nazism, Fascism was witnessed; neither the people nor Bond was in a state to depict such smooth and uncomplicated sociopolitical solution. Bond himself witnessed direct exposure to the horrors of war and violence when he was evacuated to the countryside during the World War 2 and also during his service in the army. Thus Lear had to have guns and pistols, gory, brutal violence and the shocking autopsy scene. Post-world war man was in search of identity, they do not expect a state of rest, and they find the hope of restoration of peace to be nothing but an unrealistic dream. So, Bond’s Lear has a political role to play even in the end. There is no reliable individual to restore peace and harmony and emphasize on the welfare of the

subjects, but a group of people who claim to be revolutionaries but eventually gets corrupt. But Bond, in midst of all this, does not end in hopelessness. Both the plays, though tragedies, end with the hope for a better future. In Shakespeare, the hope is the hope of stability, when Edgar will take over, but in Bond, the hope is the revolution, the rebel against the suppression of the government through John, Susan and Thomas.
3. The ascent of Edward bond- Lear was marked by the

brutal portrayal of violence onstage. Bond reinvents Shakespeare’s King Lear, portrays Lear in a fictitious world, where Lear is a whimsical king, paranoid with the fear of being overpowered by foreign powers. His daughters rebels against him and Lear experiences a military defeat. He flees to a gravedigger’s boy and his wife and the soldiers searching for Lear kills the boy and rapes his wife and takes Lear captive. Later, the gravedigger’s wife, Cordelia emerges as the leading face of a revolution against the dictatorial rule. She leads the people against Bodice and Fontanelle, Lear’s daughters and frees the nation from their grasp. But Bond does not leave it here to portray the Utopian ‘lived happily ever after’ nation. His realism, sense of the common world, political understanding begins here. Through Cordelia, he depicts the post-revolution socio-political condition, the revolution leading to a greater disillusionment as the leaders of revolution themselves exercise dictatorship. Lear was a tyrant, and so was his daughters, they were some kind of fascist rulers while Cordelia, though originally expected to be a bringer of democracy, turns out to be a communist tyrant. After much suffering, Lear, both individually and politically, becomes a common man and is found to instigate a struggle for a new revolution against the old revolutionaries among the people. He becomes a voice, though feeble, against the newly emerged dictators who suppress all kinds of anti-government voices and dies as a protestor. His death occurs in the

time when another revolution is at the horizon. Whether this revolution reaches its objective or is suppressed or eventually results into another case of ‘power corrupts’ is not shown, perhaps because Bond wanted to end with hope for a better future or he believed that this revolution and re-revolution is a constant, never-ending process. But what is of chief concern to us is the way he depicts the process of revolution- the horrifying image of monarchy followed by the brutal ‘during-revolution’ phase and finally depicting the unexpected images of the postrevolution state.
4. Violence in Lear- Bond’s portrayal of violence in Lear

is heavily hammering to its audience. His brutal use of violence onstage sometimes is considered hyperbolic but that is, no doubt, the hard-core reality. But This autopsy is followed by Bodice’s death in the hands of Carpenter’s soldiers who kicks her and bayonets her to death and removal of Lear’s eyes with an instrument by the prisoner. Lear’s death too was by a rifle shot from a farmer’s boy who has joined the army. SLIDE 5
5. Violence-viewed and read- What strikes us in the

very beginning is the death of the worker in the opening scene. But it is not shown onstage. Perhaps because Bond intends to display onstage the acts of violence only and not the accidents. So he skips the depiction of the accident but the shooting of the third worker is shown on stage. Lear kills the man himself and proves his paranoia to us. It is not so striking to read about killing by pistol, being in the post-world war generation, but Bond’s show of brutality lies in the process of his sentence. It lies in how Lear justifies the murder of the worker. When read, we read that the workman is tied to the post and Lear delivering futile justification of his decision and the importance of protecting his people, failing to understand that the real threat to the people is he

himself. But when we view the scene, the workman is tied to the post throughout Lear’s speech and encounter with the opposition from his daughters continuously remains the object of our sight. While reading the text, the scene might take us away from the worker and bestow out full concentration on Lear; but during watching, we cannot disorient ourselves from the worker on the stage, tied to a post, waiting for the final verdict from Lear. Naturally, our minds are more set on the anxiety over what shall fall upon the unfortunate worker. So, the Study of Lear’s character becomes secondary. The reason behind such a ruthless decision of Lear is not of primary concern to us, whereas during reading, it is the individual “Lear” that we are bothered about. The death of the worker, killed by Lear, his body hanging as if to bow from the post, when witnessed onstage, is bound to arouse a reaction of the mass among the audience that this king needs to be dethroned. But when read, we take a moment to wonder why is Lear so delusional, as he says, “I gave my life to these people…When I am dead, my people will live in freedom and peace and remember my name, no- venerate it!...They are my sheep and if one of them is lost I’d take fire to hell to bring him out…” SLIDE 6 Act 1 scene 4 displays the torture of Warrington in the hands of Bodice and Fontanelle. SLIDE 7 Both while reading and viewing, this scene is bound to affect us. But the viewing experience is no doubt, more shocking. We are unprepared for the torture of Warrington and Fontanelle’s sadistic obsession for the pleasure to watch Warrington being inhumanly tortured. Imagine Fontanelle jumping around gory Warrington, taking pleasure in his pain, and wanting to sit on his lungs, When read, it appears ridiculous and we realize that the daughters are not mentally very sane, but when performed, it horrifies us and hammers us to believe that the sisters are mentally perverted. Fontanelle

jumping on Warrington’s bloody hand and Bodice deafening him with her knitting needles, when viewed, gets exponentially harsher. SLIDE 8 In Act 1 scene 7, soldiers are found to have tracked Lear and the gravedigger’s boy and his wife becomes a kind of collateral damage. Warrington and the gravedigger’s boy’s murder and the rape of Cordelia, though very horrifying, is not very unpredictable. SLIDE 9 A rape is not unheard of, but the high, short gasp of Cordelia from inside the house and the gravedigger’s boy falling dead goes to almost an unbearable extent. The soldiers are so perversely obsessed with violence that they kill the pig as well. Bond might have included the killing of the pigs to produce the stage effect of brutality and extreme violence. We can close our eyes if the scene of violence becomes unbearable, but we cannot close our ears to resist the sounds. The squealing of pigs serves that purpose. There is no running away from that horror. When read, we are deprived of the sound effects, and thus the killing of the pigs holds to us its literary significance only, but the live slaughter, chiefly the ‘squealing’ becomes very significant to the audience. They receive a direct impact of the brutality. When we read, we have the leisure to wonder, ‘why are the pigs being killed’, but as audience we cannot think as we are being hammered continuously, being directly involved with the action on stage. The squealing of pigs as they are slaughtered becomes a kind of stage technique for better effects on the audience mind. SLIDE 10 I’d like to point out to the scene of the death of the wounded soldier in act 2 scene 3. It is significant both from literary and spectating point of view. The wounded soldier dies, and no one is bothered. In this case too, the reader has a minute to wonder, to judge the situation, but the audience, involved in the action, is quite likely to get frustrated, why isn’t anyone reacting. Imagine a man dying in front of a group of people and everyone ignores him as if there is nothing significant going on. Bond attempts to shock us with that reaction to hammer into us how trivial human life becomes in the process of revolution. The reaction has a portrayal of what can be called a social callousness.

Cordelia and her soldiers pick up their things and moves away, without a single glance at the soldier lying dead. The audience does not expect this. They expect a martyr’s end for the soldier, but all they experience is silence. Readers begin to analyze the situation but the viewers are shocked with the lack of reaction, silence. Bodice screams as the soldier kicks her and bayonets her 3times, and at the final bayonet, she gives a spasm and dies, too has a contributing audio-visual effect on the viewers. SLIDE 11 But, surpassing these all, the autopsy scene has the maximum potential to affect the audience. When read, it fills us with pity and sympathy for Lear. SLIDE 12 The daughter’s body is cut open in front of the father and Lear desperately searches for any particular distortion in her organs that might be the cause of her inhuman nature. The prisoner doctor who performs the autopsy points to Lear the particular organs and Lear says, “The things are so beautiful…Her body was made by the hand of a child, so sure and nothing unclean… Did I make this- and destroy it?” Lear became conscious of his love for his daughter only when she was lying on the table, lifeless, cut into two. But on stage, it is something beyond. The animalistic brutality becomes a method of proving that Fontanelle was nothing beyond a normal human being. When viewed, it strikes us more powerfully with the realization that the beauty of the human organs in this case is more than the alive human itself. The dark mind have made the bloody organs appear beautiful and sanctified. The pointing out of the stomach, lungs and womb is intended to receive a disgustingly shocking reaction from the audience. I, personally, found the scene to be melodramatic while reading the text, but imagining the very same script being performed, it was horrifying. The melodramatic strain vanishes as, in the auditorium, we do not judge but we experience. The script gains a visual reality during its performance. The contrast between the casual tone of the fourth prisoner and the baffled, confused, helpless tone of Lear is best understood on stage and not while reading. Lear’s search for the beast within her daughter or some distortion in the making of her body and his final realization that she was a woman of flesh and

blood, lovable and delicate, has a dramatic quality which makes justice only on stage. SLIDE 13 The painful moans of Lear too, cannot be experienced by the readers whereas to the audience, the audiovisual medium is being used to convey the pain of Lear when his eyes are being taken away. SLIDE 14, SLIDE 15 Cordelia, gaining power, turns into a dictator herself and when Lear attempts to show her that she is on the wrong path, she informs him that he will be put to trial. She tries to suppress any kind of opposition and the dramatic significance of the scene lies in the expression in Cordelia’s face, her voice when she spoke like a stern dictator. SLIDE 16 Lear’s body lies on the stage, after the farmer’s boy shoots him, people curiously peeks but they are driven away. And Lear’s death follows silence. SLIDE 17 The significant gesture lies in the looking back of one of them, and the farmer’s son shepherding them off. What the readers may be curious about is that what might be the expression on that man’s face? Casual inquisitiveness? Deep concern? Or disgust? This answer is left for the director’s interpretation by Bond. He does not specify the answer. But this gesture has the potential to answer a simple question that is quite likely to haunt the spectators, was Lear’s death taken seriously by at least a single man who was not an acquaintance of Lear? Was anyone’s death taken seriously by any common man in the whole play?
6. Reader’s reception- The basic appeal of the same

play changes when they are read and viewed. While reading, the tendency is to be more analytical, but while viewing, we remain more involved with the action on stage. In case of any drama, the text has to depend on the readers’ understanding of it as the drama requires the readers to picturize the sequence of events. The picturization is not that necessary in case of novels as the narrative is meant for a reader

friendly explanation. Also, the environment of the two affects its reception. While reading, we are likely to be influenced by external sources and also, we can stop further reading. We have the liberty to analyze the scene, re-reading and re-interpreting it. But in the theatre, there is no opportunity to disorient ourselves and replay the scene for reinterpretation. Along with its advantages, there are disadvantages as well. The performance becomes the director’s interpretation of the text while the text leaves it to the readers’ imagination and intellect to understand it, it becomes a kind of open text. The drama, when read, becomes more of an open text. But in case of Lear, the audiovisual imagery is very significant to feel the objective of the play. Lear has a portrayal of the brutal, ruthless violence which is significant for the understanding of Bond’s objective, and unless experienced, it fails to generate the desired reaction from us which Bond wants from those who witness the play. In the text, the readers are informed of who is where, what is happening, while during performance, the readers experience the placements and happenings. Let me cite a small example to illustrate this; “Off, squealing starts as the pigs are slaughtered. SOLDIER D takes the WIFE into the house. The BOY suddenly drops dead.” Or “SOLDIER O bayonets her three times. Slight pause. She writhes. He bayonets her once again. She gives a spasm and dies.” When read, does this bother us as much as it could have on stage, when we can hear the pigs squeal, or see the soldier bayonet Bodice (though it will not be a real bayonet, but an act)? Does reading “Off, a single shot. No one reacts.” and hearing the shot and watching people not even bothered even on stage generate same reaction in us? I don’t think so. Though the text is no doubt, of great literary importance, Bond’s plays have a performative importance and stage effects hold a primary role in the reception of the play. The hammering with

violence, which Bond intends to do, can be experienced only when the performance is viewed. When read, it just deeply affects us.


Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful