Dispossession and Disintegration, Pity and Fear: The instrumentality of objects in two productions of King Lear

  • Sarah Roberts


Acknowledging the limits of theatre activism in the face of escalating displays of power and social injustices which define a contemporary context for staging Shakespearean (and classical) tragedy, this article reflects on the Take Away Shakespeare Company production of King Lear (1998) and on Jonathan Munby’s National Theatre production of the play (2018). As a member of the creative team of the 1998 production, the author takes on the quasi-archaeological exercise of piecing together residual fragments. Following Stephen Halliwell, the article revisits the value of pity and fear as critical tools for analysing modes of response, since these may be more analytically productive than empathy, which suffers from extended application and overuse. The roles of spectator and designer both raise pressing questions about theatre as a medium in relation to the intertwining of form and reception. The affective impact of intertwined word and image – actor and object – invites analysis of the rhetoric of the objects embedded in the action of Shakespeare’s plays. In King Lear, variously deployed, ‘things’ augment words as crucial mechanisms for advancing action and staging violations of human life and dignity, triggering responses of pity and fear.