Emily E. Mullin

Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellow in the Humanities

20092010 Forum on Connections

Emily E. Mullin

English, Theatre

College '11

Understanding the Evolution of King Lear: An Examination of the 1838 Performance at Covent Garden Theatre

How do we adapt classic stories to fit modern times? Throughout the 18th Century, Shakespeare’s King Lear was adapted to fit the aesthetic needs of the Romantic and Sympathetic theatre community. Not until 1838 was Shakespeare’s original version returned to the stage. This 1838 production of King Lear, bravely produced by eminent tragedian William Charles Macready, represented a turning point in the play’s history—merging the divergent critical and theatrical interpretations and defying the popular opinion that the play “could not be represented onstage.” I have examined this particular performance in the context of 18th and 19th Century theatre history, as well as the artistic decisions William Macready made, which contributed to the production’s influence over every subsequent production of King Lear. What did it mean for Macready to return the “original” Lear to the stage in 1838? How might this performance have impacted the theatrical history of the play?