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Discuss the similarities and differences between Edward Bond's Lear and Shakespeare's King Lear.

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In Edward Bond's Lear and William Shakespeare King Lear, the title character is a tyrannical, self-centered man. In Bond's version, Lear's extreme self-importance is initially communicated through violence and the killing of a worker. In Shakespeare's original play, Lear's egomania is first relayed through words. We know he's severely self-important because he wants his daughters to tell him how much they love and worship him in front of his entire court.

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Edward Bond's Lear is, perhaps paradoxically, both an enhancement of the basic plot and themes of Shakespeare's King Lear and a kind of inversion of it.

In Shakespeare, despite Lear's faults and his descent into madness, the basic premise is that Lear is a good man and a good ruler who is victimized by the evil around him as well as by his own misjudgment and foolishness. The play conforms to the basic ideal of tragedy in showing Lear as a great but flawed man, one who is defeated but still emerges as somehow greater than the forces that have brought him down. In Bond's version, the premise with regard to Lear himself is arguably the opposite of this. Lear begins as a cruel tyrant whose main goal is to build a wall to keep his enemies out. Bond's play was premiered in 1971, so in some sense it was prophetic with regard to this "wall" theme and a leader who makes it the centerpiece of his rule, or at least his intentions. Lear tyrannizes his daughters Bodice and Fontanelle, but they are evil themselves, more so than Shakespeare's Goneril and Regan. Instead of arranging and approving their marriages to noblemen as in Shakespeare, Bond's Lear opposes their marriages to his enemies, Cornwall and North. The daughters and their spouses make war against him and defeat him.

This plot device is similar to that in Shakespeare, but the implications of it are dissimilar. There is no third daughter in Bond's version, though there is a character named Cordelia. Therefore the central conflict between the "good" Cordelia and the evil sisters is eliminated. Other elements in Shakespeare are altered or conflated. Bond has Lear as the one blinded, as is Gloucester in Shakespeare's version. Early in Bond's play, a character named Warrington serves as a Gloucester-type figure who is mutilated: his tongue is cut out and his eardrums are destroyed by needles, on the order of the one of the daughters. Overall the cruelty shown by Bond is greater and more systematic than that seen in Shakespeare's play, to the extent that some critics and theatergoers were repulsed by the violence and sadism in Lear when it premiered in the 1970's.

Yet despite these differences, both plays are linked by a kind of fantasy atmosphere. They are fable-like, disconnected in some sense from concrete time and history, and are dreamlike, surreal parables of man's evil and, paradoxically, helplessness. In both there is a message against the violence and cruelty which are enacted again and again, and in both Lear learns and is transformed by the suffering he undergoes. But as a whole Bond's play is even darker and more pessimistic than Shakespeare's Lear, despite the status that play rightly holds as the darkest of all Shakespeare's tragedies.

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There are several similarities and differences between Edward Bond's Lear and William Shakespeare's King Lear. One thread that doesn't change is the egomania of the title character. In both versions, Lear is exploitative, grandiose, and full of self-importance.

We see Lear's egomania in King Lear when he asks his daughters to tell him how much they love and adore him in front of the entire court.

We see Lear's egomania in Lear when he shoots and kills the laborer who accidentally caused the death of another laborer.

Again, in both instances, the well-being of others is dismissed. It’s Lear that matters the most.

In King Lear, does Lear think about how humiliating it might be for his daughters to publicly worship him? In Lear, does Lear think twice about taking another person's life? What's more important to Lear: the person or the construction of his wall?

One of the big differences that you might want to note is how Lear's grandiose personality is initially shown. Bond uses murder and violence while Shakespeare use speech. Literally, we see Lear's me-first personality through the words of his daughters and the lack of words from Cordelia.

Why does Bond employ violence? You might want to think about the moment Bond is writing in. It's the 1970s. What's going on? The Vietnam War. Of course, there were wars during Shakespeare time, but maybe if Shakespeare saw the kind of violence that the typical person saw on their TV in the 1970s, his King Lear would have been as violent as Bond's.

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I think that one of the strongest points of convergence between both visions of the old man's narrative is that there is a discussion of the complexities in the parent and child relationship.  Shakespeare's work reflects this in terms of how loyalties shift in both realms.  King Lear's loyalty to Cordelia shifts when he perceives her as loveless.  The loyalty of Regan and Goneril shift when they have won favor with their father.  In Bond's work, Lear perceives his children, Bodice and Fontanelle, as devoid of love and loyalty, and yet, he realizes that there was a point in which they did have love.  In both works, there is a strong examination of the complex nature of parent and child and the relationship between both.  I do think that this also highlights a difference between both works which is significant to understanding both.  While there is little in way of happiness at the end of Shakespeare's work, there is some redemption in how Lear and Cordelia come together at the end.  Albeit short lived, there is a clear understanding of how there can be recognition of that which is good, true, and beautiful.  It is short lived, but it is there, reflecting how art in Shakespeare's time, or even how Shakespeare himself, fully granted the reality of needing to find unity in a world devoid of it.  No such reality exists in Bond's vision, where violence and relegation of voice happens constantly and consistently.  The use of violence and the replication of such violence is part of Bond's world view, something that Shakespeare did not seem to articulate.  In this difference, there is significance in that both works' fundamental world view comes from different points of view.

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