BookRags Literature Study Guide Lear by Edward Bond Copyright Information

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BookRags Literature Study Guide
Lear by Edward Bond

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The following sections of this BookRags Literature Study Guide is offprint from Gale's For Students Series: Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Works: Introduction, Author Biography, Plot Summary, Characters, Themes, Style, Historical Context, Critical Overview, Criticism and Critical Essays, Media Adaptations, Topics for Further Study, Compare & Contrast, What Do I Read Next?, For Further Study, and Sources.

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Edward Bond's Lear was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 1971. Bond's 1965 play Saved had already established his position as an important new playwright, and some believe early reviewers of Lear did not fully understand the play but were reluctant to condemn It, largely because of Bond's reputation. Many did find fault with the play, however, and much attention was focused on Lear's tremendous violence. Some were critical of that violence, while others defended its extremity as essential to the playwright's purpose. As with Bond's other plays, the violence in Lear remains a subject of critical debate to this day.

Another focus of attention on Lear is its relationship to William Shakespeare's play King Lear. As the playwright has noted, it is important to note that Bond's Lear be seen not simply as an adaptation of Shakespeare's play but as a comment on that drama. In various interviews, Bond has said that current audience reaction to Shakespeare's King Lear, which focuses on the artistic experience of the play, is far removed from the way Shakespeare's audience would have responded. Bond's purpose is to make Shakespeare's play more politically effective, more likely to cause people to question their society and themselves, rather than simply to have an uplifting aesthetic experience. As a socialist playwright, Bond writes plays that are not meant merely to entertain but to help to bring about change in society.

Lear has been called the most violent drama ever staged as well as the most controversial of Bond's plays. It has been revived a number of times since its original production, and Its reputation has grown as more critical attention has been paid to Bond's work Although It is clear that Lear is an important work among Bond's plays, its full effect on contemporary drama remains to be seen.
Author Biography

Author Biography

Edward Bond was born on July 18, 1934, to working class parents in Holloway, a North London suburb in England. When World War II began in 1939, Bond, like many children, was evacuated to the countryside. Even so, he was exposed to the violence of the war, the bombings, the continual sense of danger, all of which helped to shape Bond's image of the world as a violent place. Bond's education was interrupted by the war, and he left school for good at fifteen. He worked in factories and offices and served for two years in the British army. In his early twenties, he began writing plays.

At this time, in the 1950s, a new generation of playwrights was beginning to revolutionize British drama. These playwrights included John Osborne (Look Back in Anger), Arnold Wesker (Chicken Soup with Barley), and Harold Pinter (The Homecoming) . As a group, they moved away from the predictable, even insipid, British post-war theater to create drama, often political, that was new and vibrant Bond eventually became one of this group of new playwrights.

Bond wrote a number of plays before his first staged work, The Pope's Wedding, was produced in 1962. Although that play contained some violence, it was not until the production of Saved (1965), a play that includes an onstage depiction of the stoning of a baby, that Bond became notorious for the extreme violence of his work. The Lord Chamberlain, a public official responsible at the time for maintaining moral standards in British theater, heavily censored the original script. The eventual production of the play, in its entirety in 1965 at the Royal Court, resulted in the theater being prosecuted and fined.

Bond's next play, Early Morning, produced in 1968, featured cannibalizing. It was the last play banned by the Lord Chamberlain before censorship in the British theater was abolished that same year.

Other important plays by Bond include Lear (1971), Bingo (1971), and Restoration (1968). He has also written two volumes of poetry and a number of screenplays, including Walkabout (1971), directed by Nicolas Roeg.

In his later work, Bond continues to be noted for the violence in his Writing. A socialist and atheist, he is also known for the highly political content of his plays, and by the 1990s was considered a major voice in the British theater.
Plot Summary

Plot Summary

Act 1

Lear opens at the site of a wall King Lear is having built in order to keep enemies out of his kingdom. Two workers carry a dead laborer onstage Just before Lear enters with Lord Warrington and Lear's daughters, Bodice and Fontanelle, among others When Lear sees the dead man, his primary concern is with the resulting delay to the building of the wall, and he shoots the worker who accidentally caused the man's death. Bodice and Fontanelle object to Lear's violence and reveal their own plans to marry Lear's enemies, the Duke of North and the Duke of Cornwall, respectively. Lear's daughters believe their marriages will lead to peace, but Lear believes that only the wall can protect his people. After Lear and the others leave, Bodice and Fontanelle reveal the plans they share with their husbands to attack Lear's armies. In Scene 2, as Lear prepares for war, Warrington informs him that each daughter has written separately, each asking Warrington to betray Lear, then the other daughter

In Scene 3, each of the daughters complains about her husband and reveals plans to have him killed.

In Scene 4, the audience discovers that the sisters' armies have been victorious, but Bodice and Fontanelle each has failed at having her husband killed Warrington, now a prisoner whose tongue has been cut out, is brought before the sisters. Bodice calmly knits while Warrington is tortured by her soldiers Fontanelle calls for increased violence against Warrington, then deafens him by poking Bodice's knitting needles into his ears. Warrington is taken out by a soldier.

In Scene 5, Lear, in the woods, finds bread on the ground and eats it Warrington, crippled, and for whom the bread is intended, sneaks up behind Lear with a knife but leaves when the Gravedigger's Boy arrives with bread and water for Lear. The Boy asks Lear to stay with him and his wife. Scene 6 takes place at the Boy's house, where Lear finds out how the boy lives. The Boy has two fields and his pregnant wife, Cordelia, keeps pigs. When Lear goes out with the Boy, Warrington returns with a knife, and the Boy's wife calls out, saying that the Wild Man has returned. While Lear sleeps, Warrington returns with a knife, attacks Lear, then leaves.

In Scene 7, the Boy complains to Lear about the king who caused so much suffering for the workers building his wall, but asks Lear to stay. A sergeant and three soldiers come on stage looking for Lear. Warrington's body is discovered plugging the well. The soldiers kill the Boy, rape Cordelia, and kill the pigs. The Carpenter arrives and kills the soldiers. Lear is taken prisoner.

Act 2

In the first scene, saying Lear is mad, Bodice and Fontanelle bring him before a judge. When asked about Bodice and Fontanelle, Lear denies that they are his daughters. Bodice has her mirror given to Lear, as she believes that madmen are frightened of themselves. Lear sees himself in the mirror as a tortured animal in a cage. He is found mad and taken away. Bodice tells Fontanelle that there are malcontents in the kingdom and that there will be a civil war. Fontanelle replies that the rebels are led by Cordelia.

In Scene 2, the Gravedigger's Boy's Ghost appears to Lear in his cell. Lear asks the Ghost to bring him his daughters. The apparitions that appear are of Bodice and Fontanelle as young girls. Lear and his daughters talk as the two girls sit with their heads on his knees. Lear asks the daughters to stay, but they leave him. The Ghost reappears and asks Lear if he can stay with him. Lear agrees, saying they will be comforted by the sound of each other's voices.

In Scene 3, Cordelia appears with her soldiers, one of whom was wounded in a skirmish with Bodice and Fontanelle's troops. The Carpenter arrives. A soldier captured by Cordelia's men asks to join their forces, but Cordelia has him shot because he does not hate. The others go offstage, leaving the wounded soldier to die alone. In Scene 4, Bodice and Fontanelle, talking at their headquarters, reveal that their husbands have tried to desert. Fontanelle is given Lear's death warrant by Bodice and signs it. The Dukes of North and Cornwall arrive and are told they are to be kept in cells unless there is a need for them to be seen in public. Left alone, Bodice reveals that she started to have the wall pulled down, but that she needed the workers as soldiers.

In Scene 5, Cordelia's soldiers, who appear leading Lear and other prisoners, have lost their way. Lear says that he only wants to live to find the Ghost and help him. Fontanelle is brought in, a prisoner also. In Scene 6, Lear and the other prisoners, including Fontanelle, are in their cell. The Ghost arrives. He is cold and thin. Lear says he wishes he'd been the Ghost's father and looked after him. Fontanelle tells Lear that if he helps her, she will protect him if Bodice is victorious At the Carpenter's command, a soldier shoots Fontanelle.

A medical doctor who is also a prisoner arrives to perform an autopsy on Fontanelle. Lear is awed by the beauty of the inside of her body, in contrast to her cruelty and hatred when alive.

Bodice arrives as a prisoner, indicating that Cordelia's forces have defeated the last remnants of the daughters' regime. Lear tells his daughter that he destroyed Fontanelle. Bodice too has been sentenced to death. The soldiers stab her with a bayonet three times. Cordelia, now the Carpenter's wife, has asked that Lear not be killed. Using a "scientific device," the doctor removes Lear's eyes. In terrible pain, Lear leaves the prison with the Ghost. In Scene 7, Lear meets a family of farmers by the wall. They reveal that the father will go to work on the wall and the son will become a soldier. Lear feels pity and tells them to run away. Lear says that Cordelia does not know what she is doing and that he will write to tell her of the people's suffering.

Act 3

In Scene I, Lear is living in the Boy's old house with Thomas, his wife Susan, and John, all of whom care for Lear in his blindness. A deserter from Cordelia's wall arrives; the Ghost wants him to leave for the sake of everyone else's safety. Soldiers arrive, looking for the deserter, but Lear hides the fugitive Unable to find him, the soldiers leave. The others want the deserter to leave as well, but Lear insists that he-and all escapees who come to the house-can stay.

Scene 2 occurs some months later. At the Boy's house, Lear tells a group of people a fable. The audience learns from Thomas that hundreds gather to hear Lear's public speeches, but Thomas believes it is dangerous for Lear to continue speaking out against the government. Au officer arrives with Lear's old Councilor and accuses Lear of hiding deserters. The deserter from Scene 2 is taken away to be hanged. The Councilor tells Lear that Cordelia has tolerated Lear's speaking, but now he must stop. The Councilor and those who came with him leave. Lear complains that he is still a prisoner; there is a wall everywhere. The Ghost enters; he is thinner and more shrunken. The Ghost suggests that he poison the well so the others will leave; he will take Lear to a spring to drink. Lear sleeps, and John tells Susan that he is leaving and asks her to come with him John leaves, Thomas enters, and Susan, crying, asks Thomas to take her away from Lear. Thomas tells Susan to come into the house.

In Scene 3, Lear is alone in the woods. The Ghost arrives; he is deteriorating rapidly and appears terrified The Ghost believes he is dying and weeps because he is afraid. CordelIa and the Carpenter enter. Cordelia speaks of how the soldiers killed her husband and raped her and of the way in which her new government is creating a better way of life The Ghost watches his former wife, wishing he could speak to her. Cordelia asks Lear to stop working against her. Lear tells Cordelia she must pull the wall down, but she says the kingdom will be attacked by enemies If she does. When Lear continues saying he will not be quiet, Cordelia says he will be put on trial, then leaves.

The Ghost is gored to death by pigs that have gone mad. In Scene 4, Lear is taken to the wall by Susan. He climbs up on the structure in order to dig it up. The Farmer's Son, now a soldier, shoots Lear, injuring him. Lear continues to shovel. The Farmer's Son shoots Lear again, killing him Lear's body is left alone onstage.
Act 1, Scene 1

Act 1, Scene 1 Summary

This play uses William Shakespeare's classic King Lear as the starting point for a contemporary exploration of violence - physical, emotional, spiritual, and political. Part of this exploration is a searching look at the effect that violence has on those that perpetrate it, as well as on those who are its victims. Secondary themes relating to the nature of love and of guilt are also developed.

At the site of construction on a wall Lear is building to keep out his country's enemies, a foreman and several workers struggle in vain to help an injured laborer, but the worker soon dies. Lear, Warrington, Bodice, and Fontanelle, accompanied by an engineer and several aides, arrive shortly afterward. As Fontanelle complains about how wet her feet are and Bodice thanks the engineer for giving them the tour, Lear complains about how badly the work on his wall is being handled. He also says that anyone who causes any delay in construction will be severely punished. When he discovers that it was a dropped axe that killed the dead laborer, he calls for the laborer who dropped the axe to be executed. The foreman pushes the guilty laborer forward. As a firing squad appears, Lear speaks at length about how he started the wall when he was young, and he expresses his suspicion that the guilty laborer is in the employ of one of the enemies the wall is intended to keep out, either the Duke of Cornwall or the Duke of North.

Bodice attempts to get Lear to stop the execution. After he whispers to her that what he's really doing is giving the men incentive to continue working, she publicly distances herself from him and his acts, and Fontanelle does the same. Lear tells them they can be merciful when he's dead - they'll have the wall to protect them. Until the wall is built, however, he can't and won't be merciful. Bodice tells him she has proof Cornwall and North aren't Lear's enemies, but he insists they are. Bodice and Fontanelle then announce that they're going to marry Cornwall and North. Lear says the dukes only want to get over the wall and take over the country. Bodice insists that the wall be pulled down, and Lear insists upon the execution. Warrington advises Lear to make his point about discipline by imprisoning the laborer rather than killing him. Lear grabs a pistol and prepares to shoot the laborer, and Bodice says this is proof that he's insane. Lear speaks at angry length about how he's given his life to serve and protect his people and how he won't let Bodice and Fontanelle destroy his life's work. He shoots the laborer, and orders the other laborers to get back to work. He then tells his daughters they've betrayed him and their country, that he pities the men who will share their beds, that their ambition will torture the people of the kingdom, and that the people will ultimately choose who they want as their ruler - him or them.

As the foreman and other laborers carry away the two bodies, Lear goes out. Bodice orders Warrington to keep an eye on Lear, saying she'll let him know what's to happen next. Warrington and the other aides go. Bodice and Fontanelle plan to go to the dukes and prepare to make war on Lear - as Bodice says the attack must come "before the wall's finished." The sisters bid each other farewell and go.

Act 1, Scene 1 Analysis

At each point in the play, there are three essential elements to be considered. The first is the way in which it parallels Shakespeare's King Lear. Several such parallels are evident in this scene - both Lears have two selfish, manipulative daughters, both daughters marry powerful lords (one of whom is named Cornwall in both plays), and both Lears have a trusted aide (Warrington in this play, Gloucester in the other) who end up destroyed. A key difference is that Shakespeare's Lear has a third daughter, the loving, loyal, upright Cordelia. Bond's Lear has no third daughter, but interestingly, the name Cordelia is used for a character who later appears in the play and functions in a very different capacity.

The most obvious parallel between the two plays is in the title character. Lear in both plays is an absolute monarch, an old man on the brink of insanity. Both Lears come into increasing conflict with their daughters, both become increasingly insane, and at the same time, both become increasingly ennobled as they realize the repercussions of their actions. In addition, they both end up dead. That being said, there are two important differences between Lear at the beginning of this play and Lear at the beginning of King Lear.

The first difference lies in the fact that at the beginning of Shakespeare's Lear, Lear intends to divide his kingdom between his daughters and their husbands. In this play, this is not his intention whatsoever. His self-righteous focus on keeping and extending his personal power is too dominant, an important aspect of his character that makes his eventual repentance and humility at the end of the play that much more poignant and thematically relevant. The second key difference functions within an aspect of both plays that defines both a key parallel and a key difference between them - that both plays are focused on violence.

In both plays, both Lears commit acts of violence. Shakespeare's Lear commits political and emotional violence, as he divides his country in two, his daughters against each other, and himself from his beloved Cordelia. Bond's Lear commits an act of physical and spiritual violence, killing an innocent man to make a point. On one level, the characters' mutual tendency to violence, along with their eventual destruction as the result of that tendency, defines both plays as classical tragedies, theatre in which an essentially noble character is destroyed by a single fatal flaw. The difference comes in how that tendency towards violence manifests, a difference defined by their intent which serves as the second key difference between the two characters

In the first scene of Shakespeare's play, when Lear does emotional violence to Cordelia by banishing her from his presence, he does so without the deliberate intent of destroying her life. In this first scene of Bond's play, Lear does physical violence to the laborer with the explicit purpose of killing him. This establishes them at very different places at the beginnings of their journeys through the action of their respective plays. Shakespeare's Lear is impulsive and perhaps napve, but not cruel - he is, in some ways, an innocent. Bond's Lear, however, is calculated and merciless, and therefore far from innocent. This is important for two reasons. First, as previously discussed in reference to the self-righteousness in Bond's Lear, his remorselessness defines his transformation into humble repentance as more profound than it might be if he was as napve as Shakespeare's Lear. The second reason Bond's Lear is cruel where Shakespeare's Lear is foolish can be inferred from the way their parallel journeys both conclude. Because both characters end up the same way - mad, redeemed, dead - it's perhaps tempting to say there's no essential difference between the two acts of violence in the two plays. Physical violence, emotional violence, political violence - it's all the same thing. However, it can also be argued that Bond's Lear suffers more deeply than Shakespeare's Lear. Both men end up penniless, physically lost, and politically betrayed, but Bond's Lear is physically tortured and mutilated (Act 2 Scene 6). This suggests that that the intent to cause violence adds weight to the crime of violence, and therefore carries with it heavier consequences. The play doesn't explicitly say this, but such a thesis is easy to infer. Ultimately, the core thematic point of both plays is the same. The action of each bears out violence, of whatever sort, leading to more violence, and always with tragic results.

The third essential element to consider throughout the play emerges less frequently but is nonetheless indispensably significant. This is the presence of the wall, which, as Lear states here, serves to keep enemies at bay. Symbolically, however, it represents barriers to a wider perspective and understanding. For example, Lear refuses to see Cornwall and North as anything but enemies, and therefore puts up the wall. If he considered the possibility that they weren't, if he broadened his perspective, if he took down his emotional wall, he could possibly see Cornwall and North as friends, or at least as allies. This tendency towards limited perspective is another aspect of his character that defines him throughout the play, and that deepens the meaning of the transformation he undergoes by its conclusion. Also present in this scene, the wall symbolizes the barrier that exists between Lear and his daughters, and later in the play symbolizes several other sorts of inter-personal walls as well.

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