King Lear: The Only Life Coach You Will Ever Need

Derek Jacobi as King Lear. Copyright Telegraph UK

Love Shakespeare or hate him, it makes no difference to me.  In fact, your personal feelings towards the man that some call the greatest literary figure in history is a simply an opinion, and one that cannot disprove the likliehood that William was not only a great storyteller, but also omniscient.  This occurred to me half way through King Lear, a beyond words, blow- your- mind, Donmar Warehouse production I attended last evening at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music).  The phenomenal cast, led by Derek Jacobi (many of you will recognize him as the Archbishop from The King’s Speech), was so engrossing in their delivery of Shakespeare’s words that I hardly noticed being spit on by the actors (note to self, is sitting front row worth it?), as they annunciated each and every syllable (there are a lot of “t'”s mind you) of the script. The immersion in the stage also delayed my realization that King Lear is not simply a story about the downfall of a King and the disintegration of a family, but really a tale of humanity becoming secondary to self-interests and how often times, virtue and immorality coexist to a sum zero.   Moreover, the real lesson learned is that anything you really need to know about life, can be found in the pages of this play.

What lessons you ask?  Wonder no longer.  And if you aren’t a Shakespeare snob, no worries. I have provided the UpMyAli translation for your convenience (and enjoyment).

1. How many times have you heard this phrase, “of course I love him/her, whatever that means”.  What is love?

“Love is not love
When it is mingled with regards that stand
Aloof from the entire point.” 1.1.241

Translation: For it to be real love, you gotta go all in.

2. How to be happy in life?  It’s simple.

“Have more than thou showest,
Speak less than thou knowest,
Lend less than thou owest.” 1.4.132

and

“Keep thy foot out of brothels, thy hand out of plackets, thy pen from lenders’ books, and defy the foul fiend.”  3.4.96

Translation: Don’t spend more than you have,  avoid prostitutes, make and cultivate positive healthy friendships, and most importantly, don’t be a know it all or a show-off.  Why can’t we learn these simple lessons that Shakespeare shared with us in 1606!! Is 405 years not long enough?

3. Women, if you want something, just cry.

Derek Jacobi and Pippa Bennett-Warner

“Let not women’s weapons, water-drops,
Stain my man’s cheeks!”  2.4.277

Oh, and when speaking to your man, your success in negotiating what you want entirely depends on not what you ask, but how you ask for it:

“Her voice was ever soft,
Gentle and low, an excellent thing in woman.” 5.3.275

Translation:  If a king cannot ignore the power of tears, especially when interrupted with a soft and gentle request (or admission that you had to buy the red sole heels on sale for $499),  your husband is unlikely to be able to either.

4.  Basic Human Need versus Want

“O, reason not the need: our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous:
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life’s as cheap as beast’s: thou art a lady;
If only to go warm were gorgeous,
Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear’st,
Which scarcely keeps thee warm. But, for true need, (2.4.35)

Translation: When we say, we need that new dress, we don’t.  Clothing serves the purpose of providing the body with warmth, but as King Lear points out to his daughters, their choice of dress has more to do with being fashionable and admired, than it does the basic utility of warmth.

5. Give Wisely. And Never to Your Daughters:

“Put on what weary negligence you please,
You and your fellows; I’ll have it come to question:
If he dislike it, let him to our sister,
Whose mind and mine, I know, in that are one,
Not to be over-ruled. Idle old man,
That still would manage those authorities
That he hath given away! Now, by my life,
Old fools are babes again; and must be used
With cheques as flatteries,–when they are seen abused.
Remember what I tell you.” (1.3.3)

Translation: King Lear, who abdicates all his power and territory to two of his three daughters (he banishes the third, Cordelia, for being honest and not kissing his backside), is looking for a place to retire. He has in mind living with one of his two remaining daughters and in typical fashion, as can be seen in the words above spoken by his eldest daughter Goneril, once the daughters have control of his money and power, they see no need to be loyal!  After trying to convince the other to take their father in, the sisters jointly decide to let him live on the streets.  I bet a son wouldn’t have pulled that crap.  (Side note, Gina McKee and Justine Mitchell played these villainous roles to perfection).

Justine Mitchell and Gina McKee, by Johan Persson

I am positive that I could continue on pulling out relevant lessons that we could learn from Shakespeare in many of his other works, but for the sake of time, and your attention span, I won’t.  I do wish that you all would have had the opportunity to witness the magic of this production of King Lear, it truly was unforgettable.  You can see future productions by going to the BAM website and purchasing tickets for the upcoming fall season.  Trust me, its worth every penny.

Note: The citations are done in (Act.Scene.Line) format.


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