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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Story of King Lear (The)
by Melanie G. Mazzucco
Age Range: 9-11
King Lear is the story of an aging monarch who is headstrong and blind to his weaknesses. He decides to divide his kingdom amongst his three daughters, according to which one recites the best declaration of love. His two eldest daughters Goneril and Regan are ambitious and selfish; they pretend to love him with their eloquent declarations of love which please their father enormously, but later they treat him cruelly. Cordelia, his youngest and favourite daughter, who is completely loyal and unselfish, is disowned after King Lear confuses her honesty with insolence. It is a tale of greed, betrayal, lust for power, and cruelty.
The Story of King Lear has been handed down over the years in the oral tradition of storytelling until it was written down in Latin by Geoffrey of Monmouth and others, including Edmund Spenser wrote it in English. The story has varied over the years but it was not until William Shakespeare wrote the play of King Lear that it became one of the greatest tragedies of English literature. Combining the tale of Lear with a story from a book by Philip Sidney, about an old blind man betrayed by his bastard son and saved by his good son, Shakespeare wove Lear’s and Gloucester’s stories together, invented the mad fool with the jester’s cap and the tragic end to King Lear because he needed to have a dramatic ending for his play.
Since then there has been numerous productions, translations, abridgements and adaptations although no one dared to rewrite the ending. This adaptation by Melania G. Mazzucco, translated by Virginia Jewiss, does break the mould by going back to earlier versions of the King Lear story and away from the tragic ending of Shakespeare’s play, to an ending where Lear does not descend into madness and Cordelia survives and becomes Queen of Britain. The atmospheric watercolour illustrations by Emanuela Orciari enhance this eloquent retelling.
The Story of King Lear is part of the ‘Save the Story’ series, a selection of classic stories from around the world that have been retold for today’s children. The series was conceived by Italian writer Alessandro Baricco working in close collaboration with the Scuola Holders in Turin, founded specially to develop new and innovative ways of telling stories.