Synopsis

Production Act One

The Pictish warrior Queen Lear has abdicated her throne and in the process lost everything that she holds dear. She carries the dead body of her daughter Cordelia onstage and cradles it in her arms, singing a lullaby. As her heart breaks and she breathes her last, Cordelia’s spirit joins in the lullaby and causes the past to flood back into her broken memory…

As Lear prepares to step down from the throne, her tribe erupts in a celebration of fire, music, and magic. Impulsively, Lear announces that she will divide the kingdom between her three daughters Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. As her two older sisters swear grand oaths of fealty to their mother, Cordelia pledges only the love and loyalty due from a child to her mother. This humility enrages the vain Lear and she banishes Cordelia to Gaul. Lear’s faithful confidant Ailis chides the Queen for her actions and is banished as well.

Meanwhile Ethne, the bastard daughter of the noble Thane of Gloucester, conspires to usurp the legitimate place and inheritance of her sister Etain by convincing their mother that Etain seeks to murder her. Etain flees this plot and Ethne fakes an injury, claiming her sister wounded her. Gloucester’s allegiance switches to Ethne and she disinherits Etain.

Lear travels to Goneril’s castle where her presence causes great unrest and she leaves, enraged, to seek comfort with Regan. Ailis, in disguise, becomes Lear’s servant. Ailis strikes one of Regan’s servants for exhibiting disrespect to Lear and is publicly shamed outside of Gloucester’s castle. The Queen arrives and demands that Ailis be freed. Goneril and Regan align themselves against Lear and strip their mother of her retinue of warriors and the last vestiges of her power. This rejection causes Lear to go mad and rush out into a raging storm.

The spirit of Cordelia sings as she summons a powerful storm.

Production Act Two

Cordelia’s spirit sings of the bitter depths of man’s capacity for betrayal as Lear conjures a violent tempest of her own with what’s left of her anger and magic.

Etain disguises herself as a madman and resides on the moors on her mother’s estate, in order to keep a close watch on Ethne’s machinations. Ethne accuses her mother of treason, and Regan’s husband gouges out Gloucester’s eyes. Ethne conspires with Regan and Goneril separately.

Once the storm has subsided the Fool, Etain and Ailis (both in disguise) seek to calm Lear’s broken mind and restore her dignity. Etain discovers the blind Gloucester wandering the moors and prevents her from committing suicide by jumping off of a cliff at Fowlsheugh.

Cordelia arrives with the Gallic army and rescues Lear from the elements. However, the Pictish forces soon overcome them and capture Lear and Cordelia. Goneril’s husband Aberdour reveals Ethne’s treachery. Etain reveals her true identity and mortally wounds Ethne in a duel. Goneril poisons Regan, then commits suicide by falling on a dagger.

Lear rescues Cordelia from being hanged but is unable to save her life. She carries the body of her daughter, crowned with flowers, and cradles her on the ground. She prevents the Gallic forces from cremating Cordelia by conjuring a spell that makes the young woman’s dead body vanish.

Lear’s heart breaks and she dies. Cordelia’s spirit reaches out for Lear and the two spectral figures step through the veil of death into the next life, together.


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Credits for Program

QUEEN LEAR

A Drama with Music

By William Shakespeare

Concept by David Grapes

Freely Adapted by David Grapes and Robert Neblett

Arrangements and Original Music by Vince diMura

Special Thanks: Anna Landy, Lucy Peacock, Shelly Gaza, Steven McDonald

Produced by special permission from Summerwind Productions, LLC

Box 430 Windsor, CO 80550     www.summerwindproductions.com


Notes Regarding the Production Concept

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ORIGINAL PRE-PRODUCTION CONCEPT

In this radical, dynamic reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, we transpose the action of the tragedy to Northern Scotland’s Orkney Islands in the 5th- 6th century AD, and place the iconic central role in the hands of a female actor to bring a fresh perspective to the play. Told from the perspective of the dead Cordelia, time unfolds before our eyes in a celebration of ancient magic and music, unlike any version of Lear ever produced before.

In the mythical “Orcades,” great tribal warrior/shamanessess queens have ruled since the Neolithic Era. The last of these, Queen Lear, was defeated not by Scandinavian invaders or by internal revolution from within her people, but rather by her own arrogance and misguided sense of human infallibility. She divides the queendom between her daughters, the land’s rightful heirs, only to banish her youngest child Cordelia, after she fails a test of fealty to her mother. The remaining daughters, Regan and Goneril, conspire to rid the queendom of the queen’s influence for their own benefit and slowly torture her into madness. Additionally, the Thane of Gloucester and her daughters are unwittingly pulled into the power struggle, with catastrophic results. In the end, death conquers all and the sun rises on a new era for the tribe, as a man takes his place on the throne for the first time in centuries.

The gender reversals in the proposed casting of this production not only provide significant roles for female actors, to which they might otherwise never have an opportunity to bring their own unique vision, but it also contextualizes the actions and themes of the play within a historical perspective of the Earth goddess-based religions of the pre-Christian Celtic peoples who inhabited Northern Scotland for centuries. Basing the play’s action within such a matriarchal sociopolitical system not only endows a female Lear with immense feminine strength but it also transforms the text’s emphasis on familial bonds as a motif to reflect the betrayal and re-assertion of a maternal sensibility and sensitivity to Lear, Cordelia, Gloucester, and Edgar.

In addition to these choices, the tribal setting of the play allows for incredible theatricality that can only intensify the emotional core of the drama, incorporating Celtic music, dance, combat, magic, and a sense of formal ritual that informs the culture of the time and place.

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BASIC CAST BREAKDOWN

Female Roles                                                               Male Roles

Queen Lear                                                                Fool

Cordelia                                                                      Oswald

Goneril                                                                       Albany

Regan                                                                         Kirkwall (Cornwall)

Gloucester                                                                  King of Gaul (France)

Ethne (Edmund)                                                        Brittany (Burgundy)

Etain (Edgar)                                                             Gaul Soldiers (Knights)       

Warriors (Knights)

Ailis (Kent)

Old Woman (Old Man)

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DRAMATURGICAL STRATEGIES

In this adaptation process, we plan to implement a cutting of the script that emphasizes the role of Lear and results in a performance structure of two production acts, with an ideal total running time of 2.5 hours, including intermission. In order to do this, we will consolidate dramatic locations whenever possible. Some minor characters will also be consolidated as well to perform multiple functions.

We will open the production with Cordelia’s funeral, leading to a scene in which Lear, heartbroken, sings a lullaby to her daughter’s lifeless body. From this moment emerges a magical fragmenting of the narrative, in which the ghost of Cordelia emerges to take the audience back to when the story began. We are transported to the raucous feast and dance marking the end of the Queen’s reign, which serves as the inciting incident at the beginning of the tragedy. Throughout the course of the performance, Cordelia’s ghost wanders in and out of the action, providing commentary and emotional resonance for certain moments. Finally, at the play’s conclusion, we return to Cordelia’s funeral, which we relive once more, but with greater context. Queen Lear dies of a broken heart and the ghost of Cordelia returns to Lear’s body and sings the same lullaby that was sung to her, and leads the ghost of Lear into eternity. Her one true daughter by her side.

Research into the primitive folklore and social traditions of ancient Scotland will play a major role in determining the specific physical language of the play. The casting of runes and possible animal sacrifice, coupled with shamanessic chants and trances, may inform the scene in which Lear divides her queendom. It is important to emphasize that the female tribal leader of this world of women is not merely the queen, but one who has proven herself repeatedly to be its primary warrior, healer, and religious leader as well. Additionally, the legend and mythology of the warrior queen Boadicea will inform our reading of Lear as a female tribal leader.

The pivotal mad/storm scene will be informed by magic and psychology. Because she is a shamanessess endowed with the power over nature, her internal emotional state summons the storm into being, through chanting and incantations, as well as silencing it as she retreats into her own subconscious. For example, she may summon the storm into existence with magic spells, but as her mind becomes further and further disconnected from the natural world around her in her grief and rage, the deafening sounds and effects of the storm suddenly cease, and we witness a desperate woman alone on a still cliffside raging, trapped by the intensity of her broken internal mind.

We have incorporated the texts of ancient Celtic incantations, charms, and songs, into the script, as well as researching authentic Celtic music styles of the period to be reflected in the sound design. Lear and Cordelia and the Fool will be expected to sing throughout the drama (and ideally, the Fool would be able to play an instrument to accompany some of the singing). We have also be researched alternate versions of Shakespeare’s play, as well as other dramatic and prose versions of the story (including the anonymous King Leir and the accounts from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae and Holinshed’s Chronicles) to cull possible text for songs, poems, and other minor insertions into the performance text, specifically in moments of heightened theatricality. This tactic is used sparingly and with great dramaturgical discretion, always in deference to Shakespeare’s canonical text. 

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PRODUCTION NOTES

The physical setting of the piece will be inspired by the harsh shorelines and stone circles and henges of Neolithic Britain, specifically existing monuments that stand to this day in Orkney. Kirks and burial mounds will be referenced in the stage geography – a world of stone and sky and water, and ultimately, emptiness.

While the physical personae of the female characters are firmly planted in the Celtic traditions of their time, the male characters, with the exception of the Fool, will exhibit Norse traditions of costumes, hair, and weaponry.  That is not to say that the female roles are defenseless; these women will possess their own sense of military strength and their own armor and weapons, to illustrate the strength of their society in these rough lands for thousands of years.

Any visible written language should be indicated as stone/wood carvings in Ogham, or the “Celtic Tree Alphabet” found on early artifacts such as the Buckquoy spindle-whorl. The entire world should feel like it has been carved out of the stone that juts out around the characters from the lonesome moors and cliffs.

Music tracks are available for the productions and music can be played live onstage, using period instruments if budgets allow. There is a heavy use of drums to accompany dance, chant, indicate battle, etc., as well as flutes and stringed instruments (lyres, lutes, etc.).

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THE USE OF GAELIC LANGUAGE

The world of Queen Lear is one of magic and imagination and poetry, but it is informed by historical research about the Scottish Orcades and the Pictish tribes that inhabited them until roughly 800-900 AD. Audience members will note that Shakespeare’s language has been accentuated by segments of Gaelic language, poetry, and song. While basic Celtic language forms were introduced to Scotland as early as the 4th century AD, the Picts of Orkney utilized their own distinct language forms, most of which survive in intricate stone carvings that are more ideographic in nature than representative of vocal sounds. As there is no extant record of spoken Pictish language, the creative team behind Queen Lear made the decision to weave Gaelic translations of Shakespearean texts (from sources as diverse as the Sonnets, As You Like It, and Hamlet) and other assorted texts (including a lullaby by Robert Burns) into the tapestry of the play’s exotic sights and sounds. This decision was more about the creation of an evocative mood than historical accuracy, and capturing the haunting spirit of music from Celtic traditions that have been reintroduced to contemporary society by such artists as Enya and Celtic Women during the Celtic Fusion revival of the 1990s.


ONLINE RESOURCES FOR REFERENCE

Text of Shakespeare’s King Lear (Project Gutenberg): http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/1128/pg1128.html

Text of Anonymous King Leir: http://pages.unibas.ch/shine/kingleir.html

The Heritage of the Orkney Islands: http://www.orkneyjar.com/index.html

Orkney Official Website: http://www.orkney.org/

Spirit of Orkney: http://www.spirit-of-orkney.com/contents1a/

Historical King Leir: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leir_of_Britain

Boadicea, ancient Celtic Warrior Queen: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boudica

BBC Radio History of Boudica (Boadicea): http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00r7lr9

Ogham Alphabet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ogham

History of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth (Google Books – Free): http://books.google.com/books?id=3HQDAAAAMAAJ&dq=geoffrey%20of%20monmouth&pg=PR3#v=onepage&q&f=false

Holinshed’s Chronicles Compared with Shakespeare’s Plays (Google Books – Free): http://books.google.com/books?id=8oDWN1zlSzkC&dq=holinshed&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false

Gaelic Incantations, Charms, and Blessings of the Hebrides (Google Books): http://books.google.com/ebooks?id=UT8SAAAAYAAJ


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