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Playing Shakespeare’s Monarchs and Madmen

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Edited By Louis Fantasia

Playing Shakespeare’s Monarchs and Madmen is the third volume in the Peter Lang series, Playing Shakespeare’s Characters. As in the previous volumes, a broad range of contributors (actors, directors, scholars, educators, etc.) analyze the concepts of monarchy, leadership, melancholy and madness with not only references to Elizabethan and Jacobean studies, but also to Trump, Brexit, cross-gender and multi-cultural casting. What does it mean to “play the king” in the 21st century? What is the role of an “all-licensed” Fool in the age of spin? Who gets to represent the power dynamics in Shakespeare’s plays? This volume looks at the Henrys, Richards, Hamlets, Lears and various other dukes and monarchs and explores the ways in which men—and women—approach these portrayals of power and the lessons they hold for us today.

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7. My Poor Fool: A Case for and against Double Casting Cordelia and the Fool in King Lear (Jessie Lee Mills)

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Jessie Lee Mills

Much has been written on the parallels between Lear’s Fool and his youngest daughter, Cordelia. Within the narrative, they serve as the two truth-tellers, prove to be Lear’s most loyal devotees, and do the most to uphold Lear’s dignity as he spirals into madness. Indeed, a number of productions have double cast Cordelia with Lear’s Fool, including the recent 2019 Broadway revival starring Glenda Jackson as Lear and Ruth Wilson as Cordelia and the Fool.1

This doubling is supported by many Shakespearean scholars, who “near the turn of the [nineteenth] century, [proposed] the hypothesis that the actor playing Cordelia doubled as the Fool in early productions of King Lear.”2 This argument, presented as early as 1894 by Alois Brandl, “arose as a means to explain the disappearance of the Fool in Act III, as well as for his failure to appear or even be mentioned in the first scene of the play.”3 Combing through the archives, scholars have hotly debated this hypothesis throughout the twentieth and now into the twenty-first century. Shakespearean scholars Thomas Stroup and Richard Abrams both trace the discourse quite succinctly in a footnote and endnote, respectively, noting that while some scholars dismiss the proposal outright, others believe the premise quite plausible and focus the debate on whether Robert Wilson or Robert Armin (two members of The Chamberlain’s Men) took on the dual roles.4

From a historical standpoint, this hypothesis offers a fascinating glimpse...

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