The Play’s the Thing

I recently finished editing a volume on Herman Melville’s aesthetics (who knew there was MORE to find in his fabulous writing?), and then edited a book on early Greek thought in light of modern philosophy (a book that left me untouched, and slightly bewildered as to the why of its existence), and now I am editing a book on Shakespeare’s King Lear.

This is the fun part of my job. As I edit, I am constantly Googling, looking up references from the books, for my own edification. The chapter on productions of King Lear throughout the centuries led me to read about David Garrick and the early theater productions of Shakespeare, and then on to read about Ian McKellen and Laurence Olivier and Michael Gambon, and on and on. Sure this takes more time than just reading the book and editing it, but I’m learning so much as I do this extraneous research. Learning for my own knowledge, but also to benefit me in the long run as I continue to edit. The more I know about a broad swath of subjects, the better I’ll be at my job.

In addition to doing research on many of the actors named, I did research on staging of productions, both British and American, which led me to a staging in Taiwan’s Contemporary Legend Theatre, with a one-man production called “Lear Is Here,” starring Wu Hsing-Luo. From there, it was an easy leap to a Russian production, and then back again to television productions. But it was the understanding of stage sets and lighting that fascinated me, as they enhanced the written work of Shakespeare’s script with lighting and imagery that prompted different emotions from the viewers than would ever have been prompted by the text alone.

The text is the beginning, but beyond the text, there is so much that can be added, through the actors, the music and sound effects, the set, the lighting, and the costumes. I can’t help but wonder what Shakespeare would have thought about the productions since his time. I’m certain he would have been as enchanted as I, if not more so. Imagine if he were writing today, with the music, the visuals, the sounds available. But would his text have been a solidly foundational now as it was then? I wonder. Nevertheless (shaking my head to clear my mind)…we have his texts, and the play’s the thing!