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6rant6's avatar

What do you think of a woman playing King Lear?

Asked by 6rant6 (13619 points ) March 12th, 2012

Last week there were open auditions here for King Lear. Community theater, 12 performance run.

The audition notice encouraged women to read for non-traditional parts, and particularly for Lear.

How does that strike you?

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29 Answers

creepermax's avatar

I can dig that. In the beginning all parts were men, it’s like a victory for feminism.

6rant6's avatar

@creepermax “In the beginning all parts were men” Huh?

Trillian's avatar

Meh. In Japan, men played women in plays. It was thought that men had a better idea of how a woman should act.
Sandy Duncan played Peter Pan.

creepermax's avatar

Yeah all played by dudes. Like the Shakespeare ones I think.

6rant6's avatar

@Trillian To be fair, in Japan, they tried out women and they became prostitutes, entertaining the customers like strippers after the show. So then they reverted to men playing women,who became prostitutes, entertaining the customers after the show.

6rant6's avatar

It’s now apparent that maybe I didn’t make this clear. In this local production, it is not that a woman would play a male role, but that Lear would be a woman – Queen Lear, perhaps.

Trillian's avatar

What? Someone is presumptuous enough to actually change Shakespeare? A pox on their house.

Sunny2's avatar

Mothers can be as demanding as fathers, and just as foolish in their demands. So why not Queen Lear?
Directors play around with Shakespeare a lot. One of my favorites was Iago being played as an uptight military man who had a thing for Othello and all his maneuvering was out of jealousy of Desdemona. He wanted Othello for himself. Made sense to me.

downtide's avatar

I’ve no objection to having a woman play a man’s role, but changing the gender of the character is just wrong.

(Love the idea of Iago being gay though. That’s brilliant).

lonelydragon's avatar

I think it’s an interesting idea. King Lear could just as easily be a female, for all the reasons @Sunny2 gives.

Jeruba's avatar

It’s hard for me to imagine a woman behaving as Lear does with his daughters. Beyond that, I do prefer to see the roles cast as the playwright intended. (I also prefer period settings. I guess I’m just a traditionalist in that way.)

But changing the sex of some parts can work. I saw a small-theatre treatment of The Taming of the Shrew a year or so ago in which several of the male parts were played by women as women, including the father of Kate and Bianca (played as their mother). One of Bianca’s suitors was male and the other was female.

The program explained that too few men auditioned for parts and they had more than enough capable female players, so they made use of the actors they had by switching gender of some roles. I thought that was a good reason, as opposed to just arbitrarily recasting the roles.

I also think it’s good experience for an actor to try on roles other than those for which he or she seems most naturally suited.

I saw a Midsummer Night’s Dream in which all the roles were reversed: Titania was played as a woman by a man, Oberon as a man by a woman, and so on—in other words, all parts were in drag. It was interesting and quaint, but I wouldn’t want that to be the only way I ever saw it done.

wundayatta's avatar

In theory, I don’t have a problem with this. It is interesting to change the rules and see how the play comes out. It isn’t Shakespeare, per se, but it is related.

iphigeneia's avatar

A college production last year did this, advertising it simply as Lear. I didn’t get the chance to see it, but I believe it was very well received. Last year I was in a production of Moliere’s Le Malade Imaginaire/The Imaginary Invalid, which also mixed up a lot of the sexes of the roles. With old, popular plays, especially Shakespeare, messing around and trying new things (under the guidance of a good director) keeps the material fresh and engaging.

Nullo's avatar

I don’t think they ought to be calling it Shakespeare, if they’re going to do that.

6rant6's avatar

I agree with a lot of what’s been said here. I think the relationship between Lear and Cordelia is different than a mother and daughter have, could ever have. I know that mothers have an experience with girls that fathers can’t quite match. But that’s not what the play is about.

I have to say I think the hostile relationship with the other two daughters might just be enhanced with the change.

I also believe there are societal beliefs embedded in the play that will be indecipherable if a woman plays the lead.

The playwright might object except he’s dead and all.

All of the above says that to recreate what Shakespeare imagined weighs on the side of a man doing the role. But the bottom line, to me, is that it’s art. Art isn’t something that you repeat as precisely as possible. That would be ritual. With art you try things, experiment. The majority of time these experiments fail. But still. How else can we find the good stuff?

Rarebear's avatar

Heck, I’ve seen Shakespeare performed with puppets. A woman as Lear is a bit odd, but not as odd as the puppets.

6rant6's avatar

I saw puppets doing Shakespeare once. Not great actors. Kind of wooden.

Aethelflaed's avatar

Awesome. Even with feminism aside (what?? I know.), Shakespeare’s been around for quite a long time. It’s nice to try new things and mix it up, keep it fresh, even if some of the new stuff ends up falling flat on its face and you realize that’s not a good combo.

@Blackberry Tiger Beatdown for the win.

Nullo's avatar

@6rant6 Art is heavy on creation – a new play, or a derivative play, and your reasoning would fit better.
A play must be acted out for one to experience it properly, and then it lacks the permanence of, say, a sculpture. You expect the sculpture to be the same each time you see it. So the presentation ought to be as close to the original as can be, if you still wish to call it Shakespeare.

6rant6's avatar

@Nullo “experience it properly.” What, do you teach at a Victorian girls’ school? Yegads, and forsooth.

Keep_on_running's avatar

Meh, it’s cool either way.

Nullo's avatar

@6rant6 No, I just happen to think that there ought to be a distinction between the original work and the fan fiction.
It’s a play. It’s made to be performed. In fact, it’s made to be performed in the manner that it was written. If you change parts of it, it’s not the same thing, and so ought not to be called the same thing.

6rant6's avatar

@Nullo “fan fiction” What a goof.

Again, what you are talking about – doing exactly the same thing over and over – is ritual, not theater. Every single professional theater tries to do something different with each and every Shakespeare production. That’s because those of who support theater have seen Lear (and Hamlet, and the Tempest, and Macbeth, and Two Gentlemen…) multiple times. If we wanted the same exact thing every time we would buy DVDs instead.

You are hopelessly out of touch, on this, my friend.

As I’ve said, I’m not sold on the Lear as woman idea, but still, I applaud the willingness to take chance. Creativity is the soul of the arts in general and theater in particular.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Nullo You know that only 2 of Shakespeare’s plays were original, and not almost entirely based upon, lifted from, or cobbled together from pre-existing material – ie, fanfic, right? Shakespeare loved him some fanfic, he made his living off of fanfic.

Nullo's avatar

@6rant6 Not out of touch so much as having apparently controversial ideas about how things ought to be.

@Aethelflaed I’m not bashing fan fic; I used to indulge, myself. My point is that if you’re going to change bits, call the product something different from the original.

wundayatta's avatar

@Nullo I don’t know where you get this idea that plays are made to performed as written. I was at a reading of about eight short plays Sunday and we were told, quite specifically to talk to the actors and playwrights after because the plays are being changed all the time.

Shakespeare, in particular, is changed all the time. No one, as far as I can tell, seems to think they are required to play it as written. Most productions seem to pride themselves on taking new approaches to the material. If anything, the written play is a guide, if even that. Maybe just a signpost.

Theater is a living thing and the actors are always improvising new lines and productions are constantly changing to make them work better. There is, functionally, no final version of a play. Ever. I’m afraid I find myself in agreement with @6rant6 on this one.

The idea that you should remain faithful to the text, as written, is just that: an idea. Some people do it. But I would hazard a guess that that is probably the least common form of performance. Most productions change the play. That’s the whole point of producing it. You really have to because every theater is different and you have different talent for each production. There is really no choice but to change things. Besides which, you have no idea what the original looked like, anyway.

Nullo's avatar

@wundayatta I feel that the creator’s original message can only be found in the original work, as originally presented. Part of why I don’t buy into nonsense about hidden meanings in stories that do not have them. Anything else is for kicks.

6rant6's avatar

@Nullo There is no “original work”. Shakespeare was a producer and actor, not just a writer. He did not publish his plays; he could have but he didn’t. What was published was cobbled together from __different versions__ of the plays. Sometimes they are published with alternative endings. The idea of “Shakespeare as he wrote it,” is unreal.

He also wrote things to promote or disparage ideas that were prominent in his time. Those ideas are not part of our world. That means that the plays can never mean to us what they meant to Shakespeare’s contemporaries. But the plays can still be used to illustrate things about our world.

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