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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 23-Aug-18


Sunday 23-August-18

King Lear, its modern-day relevance and the exhaustion of acting

I was lucky enough recently to see King Lear performed in London, with Sir Ian McKellan in the title role. The whole thing was utterly spellbinding and McKellan was incredible. The applause at the end was fittingly tumultuous. Acclaim is the greatest reward for actors. It is immediate and direct, a clear signifier of success. As a student I acted in Shakespeare and loved every single hand-clap (few that there were in our late-night performances for post-party revellers).

The Lear show notes made reference to its relevance to current politics, in the manic folly of seeking absolute power, in the polarization of Machiavellian versus kindly factions, and the fragility of life that we often miss. As humans, we endlessly repeat the mistakes of history as we confidently and emotionally know that this time it will be different. We need to see ourselves as capable, influential and successful, and so we avoid advice and the lessons of the past. When our leaders act like this, as did Lear and as do current leaders, then they harm us all.

My wife, as a former literature teacher was particularly stunned by the play. We reflected later on the exhaustion of playing a part. McKellan inhabited the role, putting on the mask of the troubled king and viscerally experiencing the trauma, as he does every night. It must be exhausting and he certainly looked drained at the end. There are many jobs where we have to act in some way. Teaching is a performance, as is managing, pleading, selling and so on. At the end of the day when we have played a role, we come home exhausted. And the greater the gap between who we really are and the masks we must wear, the greater that exhaustion.

I feel lucky now. After many years in education and business, where I had to wear the mask, I now live through my writing, in which I can be true to myself and true to my readers, explaining what I have learned and perhaps spreading greater understanding.

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