In 1603, another plague year in London, William Shakespeare took his players on a tour. The Chamberlain’s men visited Bath, Rochester and came here, to Dover. Was this the time that he wrote, or at least visualized, King Lear? That he saw the White Cliffs and was inspired to write one of the great scenes in modern drama – when blinded Gloucester jumps to what he believes will be his death? My Arden Shakespeare, edited by R.A Foakes, says the play was written between 1605 and 6. It’s all possible.
I like to imagine that Dover Castle helped to inspire King Lear, with its themes of confused family, inheritance and property rights; of Kings and Alpha Men now shaken into crisis by the thrusting greed of their middle-aged children and their own visions of mortality. I imagine too the playwright walking the cliffs before a performance of some work – they are now known as the Shakespeare Cliffs – and plotting The Tempest and its brave new worlds. I also imagine swathes of Kent, the Garden of England, inspiring Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like It. It is not hard to. Dream on, here.
Below, the Alkham Valley in Kent, yesterday:
The first performance of Lear was for King James Ist at Whitehall, London, in December 1606. Perhaps Tom Coryat saw it along with the Prince of Wales, his patron. Let’s hope: the play was not performed again in Tom or Shakespeare’s lifetime.
Twenty years ago this spring a National Theatre production of King Lear ended my relationship with drama – until last autumn. I thought Anthony Hopkins’ Lear and Michael Bryant’s Gloucester the best thing I’d ever seen. David Hare directed. I tried theatre afterwards but the plays seemed lightweight; the ideas weak. Last autumn watching Carolina or Change and The Coram Boy at the National Theatre in London I realized I missed the collective wonder that great theatre brings.
Surely that is one of the web’s most pressing issues: its collective is tangible but not visceral: and its shared pleasures consumed alone. Of course watching kids in front of their screens, in internet cafes, or wi-fi’d up and instant messaging as we once chatted, this may just be my age speaking. The academic Sherry Turkel once wrote that unless one was born after 1985 the web was a learned language, not something adopted at birth. My generation is Betwixt indeed.
And theatre is far cheaper than even mediocre football these days.