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Talking Shakespeare

Notes from a Journey

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Louis Fantasia

Talking Shakespeare is a collection of essays on Shakespeare’s plays and politics and their impact in the world today. Originally given as provocative talks on Shakespeare at some of the most prestigious universities, conferences, and theatres around the world, they reflect on the author’s more than thirty-year career as a producer, director and educator. The essays provide a unique and personal look into multiple aspects of Shakespeare’s world—and ours.

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Chapter 7. King Lear, or Tragedy in the Age of Oprah

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· 7 · KING LEAR, OR TRAGEDY IN THE AGE OF OPRAH (Originally given as the Grace Ford Salvatori Lecture, University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi, 2009) The great tragedies threaten me. They keep me up at night, thinking about their themes and the meaning of life. But we tend to shy away from tragedy in the theatre today. We have too much of it in real life. The events of Sep- tember 11th, Hurricane Katrina, Asian tsunamis and African genocides, the all too frequent mass shootings such as Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech, or Binghamton, New York— these are all familiar tragedies, as are the private and personal losses we each must suffer in life. Do we really need to go to theatre and see more? What’s to be done? Are classical tragedies simply museum pieces, long- abandoned artifacts to be dusted off or consumed when we want some “cul- ture?” Are they pretexts to be reworked by modern artists in ways that are seemingly more relevant, politically correct, or culturally acceptable, as in a recent Los Angeles production of King Lear, wherein Lear was played by an African- American actress? Or is there some intrinsic value to these plays that we are in danger of losing, something that will actually help us face our own real life tragedies? Tragedy as I use the term here covers 2,500 years of Western drama, and focuses on what Aristotle, who pretty much defined the genre, called a “lim- ited” number of families. These...

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