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The Tragedy of King LearRichard Burbage was Shakespeare's leading actor and closest colleague in the theatre. He was the original Richard III, Hamlet, Othello and Lear. This may be a self portrait (he was also a painter), but the identification is not absolutely secure.

Plot Summary

Lear, King of Britain, decides to abdicate and divide his kingdom between his three daughters. When his beloved youngest, Cordelia, refuses to make a public declaration of love for her father she is disinherited and married to the King of France without a dowry. The Earl of Kent is banished by Lear for daring to defend her. The two elder daughters, Goneril and Regan, and their husbands inherit the kingdom. Gloucester, deceived by his bastard son Edmund, disinherits his legitimate son, Edgar, who is forced to go on the run to save his life. Lear, now stripped of his power, quarrels with Goneril and Regan about the conditions of his lodging in their households. In a rage he goes out into the stormy night, accompanied by his Fool and by Kent, now disguised as a servant. They encounter Edgar, disguised as a mad beggar called 'Poor Tom'. Gloucester is betrayed by Edmund and captured by Regan and Cornwall, who put out his eyes. King Lear is taken secretly to Dover, where Cordelia has landed with a French army. The blind Gloucester meets but does not recognize Edgar, who leads him to Dover. Lear and Cordelia are reconciled, but in the ensuing battle are captured by the sisters' forces. Goneril and Regan are both in love with Edmund, who encourages them both. Discovering this, Goneril's husband Albany forces Edmund to defend himself against the charge of treachery. A knight appears to challenge Edmund and, after fatally wounding him, reveals himself to be Edgar. News comes that Goneril has poisoned Regan and then committed suicide. Before dying, Edmund reveals that he has ordered the deaths of Lear and Cordelia.


RSC Staging History 1960-2007

1962 RST/1962-63 Aldwych/1963 Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt, Paris/1964 Aldwych/1964 European and US Tour: Peter Brook

Peter Brook (design); Guy Woolfenden (music); John Barton (fight director)

Paul Scofield (Lear), Alec McCowen (Fool), Tom Fleming/Brewster Mason (Kent), Alan Webb/John Laurie (Gloucester), Brian Murray (Edgar), James Booth/Ian Richardson (Edmund), Irene Worth (Goneril), Patience Collier/Pauline Jameson (Regan), Diana Rigg (Cordelia), Tony Church (Cornwall), Peter Jeffrey/Clifford Rose (Albany), Clive Swift/Michael Williams (Oswald), Hugh Sullivan/Barry MacGregor (France), Tony Steedman (Burgundy), Philip Brack (Curan), Gareth Morgan/Michael Burrell (Doctor), Ian Hewitson/Leslie Southwick (First British Captain), Gordon Honeycombe/Peter Tory (Second British Captain), Peter Geddis/Ian Lindsay (Messenger), Ian Cullen/John Church (Captain), Michael Burrell/Ken Wynne (Old Man)

1968 RST: Trevor Nunn

Christopher Morley (design); John Bradley (lighting); Guy Woolfenden (music)

Eric Porter (Lear), Michael Williams (Fool), Sebastian Shaw (Gloucester), Alan Howard (Edgar), Norman Rodway (Edmund), Sheila Allen (Goneril), Susan Fleetwood (Regan), Diane Fletcher (Cordelia), Patrick Stewart (Cornwall), Terrence Hardiman (Albany), Ben Kingsley (Oswald), Julian Curry (France), John Kay (Burgundy), Ted Valentine (Curan), Richard Simpson (Doctor), John Shrapnel (Gentleman), Richard Moore (Knight), Bruce Myers (Servant)

1974 TOP/1974 The Place/1975 US Tour: Buzz Goodbody

Anna Steiner (design); Brian Harris (lighting)

Tony Church (Lear), David Suchet (Fool), Jeffery Dench (Gloucester), Mike Gwilym (Edgar), Charles Keating (Edmund), Sheila Allen (Goneril), Lynette Davies (Regan), Louise Jameson (Cordelia)

1976 RST/1977 Aldwych: Trevor Nunn, John Barton, Barry Kyle

John Napier (design); Clive Morris (lighting)

Donald Sindon (Lear), Michael Williams (Fool), Tony Church (Gloucester), Michael Pennington (Edgar), Robin Ellis/Paul Shelley (Edmund), Barbara Leigh-Hunt (Goneril), Judi Dench/Meg Davies (Regan), Marilyn Taylerson/Cherie Lunghi (Cordelia), John Woodvine (Cornwall), Richard Durden (Albany)

1982 RST/1983 Barbican: Adrian Noble

Bob Crowley (design); Brian Harris (lighting); Ilona Sekacz (music)

Michael Gambon (Lear), Antony Sher (Fool), Malcolm Storry (Kent), David Waller (Gloucester), Jonathan Hyde (Edgar), Clive Wood (Edmund), Sara Kestelman (Goneril), Jenny Aguter (Regan), Alice Krige (Cordelia), Pete Postlethwaite (Cornwall), David Bradley (Albany), Chris Hunter (Oswald), John Bowe (France), Ken Bones (Burgundy), Raymond Llewellyn (Curan), Dennis Clinton (Doctor), Christine Kavanagh (Servant), Tom Mannion (Servant)

1989 Almeida: Cicely Berry

Chris Dyer (design); Robert A. Jones (lighting)

Richard Haddon Haines (Lear), Patrick Miller (Fool), Colin McCormack (Kent), Desmond Barrit (Gloucester), James Purefoy (Edgar), Patrick Robinson (Edmund), Marie Mullen (Goneril), Jill Spurrier (Regan), Amanda Root (Cordelia), David Acton (Cornwall), Peter Lennon (Albany), Paul Hargreaves (Oswald/France), Stephen Gordon (Burgundy/Doctor)

1990 RST/1991 Barbican: Nicholas Hytner

David Fielding (design); Chris Parry (lighting); Peter Hayward (music)

John Wood (Lear), Linda Kerr Scott (Fool), David Troughton (Kent), Norman Rodway (Gloucester), Linus Roache (Edgar), Ralph Fiennes (Edmund), Estelle Kohler (Goneril), Sally Dexter (Regan), Alex Kingston (Cordelia), Richard Ridings (Cornwall), Paul Webster (Albany), Paterson Joseph (Oswald), Clarence Smith/Simon Austin (France), Michael Gardner/Ken Shorter (Burgundy), Vincent Regan/Peter De Jersey (Curan), Griffith Jones (Old Man), Rowena King (Servant), Julie Saunders (Servant)

1993 RST/1994 Barbican: Adrian Noble

Anthony Ward (design); Alan Burrett (lighting); Shaun Davey (music)

Robert Stephens (Lear), Ian Hughes (Fool), David Calder (Kent), David Bradley (Gloucester), Simon Russell Beale (Edgar), Owen Teale (Edmund), Janet Dale (Goneril), Jenny Quale (Regan), Abigail McKern (Cordelia), Simon Dormandy (Cornwall), John Normington (Albany), Mark Lockyer (Oswald), Richard Clothier (France), Stuart Bunce (Burgundy), Christopher Robbie (Curan), Raymond Bowers (Doctor)

1999 Tokyo/1999 Barbican/1999-00 RST: Yukio Ninagawa

Yukio Horio (design), Lily Komine (costumes); Tamotsu Harada (lighting); Ryudo Uzaki (music)

Nigel Hawthorne (Lear), Hiroyuki Sanada (Fool), Christopher Benjamin (Kent), John Carlisle (Gloucester), Michael Maloney (Edgar), William Armstrong (Edmund), Sian Thomas (Goneril), Anna Chancellor (Regan), Robin Weaver (Cordelia), Nicholas McGaughey (Cornwall), Simon Chandler (Albany), Nicolas Tennant (Oswald)

2002 Swan/2002 Young Vic/2002 Spain, Italy, France: Declan Donnellan (RSC Academy production)

Nick Ormerod (design); Judith Greenwood (lighting); Paddy Cunneen (music)

Nonso Anozie (Lear), Edward Hogg (Fool), Steven Robertson (Kent), Ryan Kiggell (Gloucester), Bruce Godfree (Edgar), Adam Webb (Edmund), Aishling Howard (Goneril), Katherine Manners (Regan), Kirsty Besterman (Cordelia), Keiran Hill (Cornwall), Matthew Douglas (Albany), Guy Flanagan (Oswald), Dean Ashton (Curan), Robert Wyan (Burgundy), Mo Zainal (France), Sarah Everard (Old Woman)

2004 RST/2005 Albery: Bill Alexander

Tom Piper (sets), Kandis Cook (costumes); Tim Mitchell (lighting); Jonathan Goldstein (music)

Corin Redgrave (Lear), John Normington (Fool), Louis Hilyer (Kent), David Hargreaves (Gloucester), Pal Aron (Edgar), Matthew Rhys (Edmund), Emily Raymond (Goneril), Ruth Gemmell (Regan), Siân Brooke (Cordelia), Anatol Yusef (Cornwall), Leo Wringer (Albany), Sean Hannaway (Oswald), Caolan Byrne (Burgundy), Samuel Clemens (France), Peter Bygott (Doctor), Michael G. Jones (Old Man), Louise Bangay (Lady), Jack Whitam, Matt Cross, Tam Matu (Knights)

2007 Courtyard/international tour (Complete Works Festival): Trevor Nunn

Christopher Oram (designer), Neil Austin (lighting), Fergus O'Hare (sound), Steve Edis (music), Malcolm Ranson (fight director)

Ian Mckellen (King Lear), Sylvester Mccoy (Fool), Frances Barber (Goneril), Monica Dolan (Regan), Romola Garai (Cordelia), William Gaunt (Gloucester), Philip Winchester (Edmund), Ben Meyjes (Edgar), Jonathan Hyde (Kent), Guy Williams (Cornwall), Julian Harries (Albany), Ben Addis (King of France), John Heffernan (Oswald), Peter Hinton (Duke Of Burgundy), Seymour Matthews (Curan), Adam Booth (1st Knight), Zoe Boyle (Goneril's Lady in Waiting), Russell Byrne (Doctor), Naomi Capron (Servant), David Weston (Gentleman), Richard Goulding (2nd Knight), Melanie Jessop (3rd Servant), Gerald Kyd (Servant)

For a gallery of over 100 production images from a selection of these productions (and some older ones in the pre-RSC Shakespeare Memorial Theatre), together with sample costumes, pages from promptbooks and other visual materials, go to

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