King Lear is one of William Shakespeare's most famous tragedies. It was first performed in either 1605 or 1606 and is widely considered one of the greatest tragedies of all time. It touches on themes of loyalty, kinship, and the politics of kingdoms. Its inclusion in the novel Station Eleven as the play that Arthur dies performing is especially significant, as Lear is a character who deals with intense amounts of regret.
This classic play revolves around the central character, Lear, who is preparing to give up his crown and divide up his kingdom among his three daughters. These daughters—Regan, Goneril, and Cordelia—first have to present their father with a token of their affection. This token is simply a public declaration of how much they love their father. The oldest two daughters, Goneril and Regan, present fawning and disingenuous declarations to their father; this satisfies the aging king. His youngest daughter (and favorite) Cordelia presents a simple answer, refusing to indulge her father's need for flattery: "I love your majesty/according to my bond; nor more nor less." This act of honesty causes King Lear to go into a rage; he curses his daughter and tells her that she will no longer receive any piece of the kingdom, and banishes her from his sight.
The tragedy ensues with a power struggle between Goneril and Regan and their husbands and Cordelia, who escapes to France to marry the Duke there. Goneril and Regan begin undermining their father's authority, causing him to go insane and wander the countryside with his Fool. As the sisters and their husbands fight over land, Cordelia tries to find a way to her father, with her husband the Duke of France drawing up an army to invade her sisters' lands and find her father.
Ultimately, it ends in tragedy. Cordelia and France lose the war and, on her sisters' orders, Cordelia is to be executed alongside Lear. Lear, watching his favorite and loyal daughter die, kills the executioner. The play ends with Lear regretting the decisions he made while holding the corpse of Cordelia.
There have been multiple film adaptations of Lear, but there are two big screen releases that closely follow the play. The 1971 USSR film Korol Lir (King Lear) was made by the Soviet filmmaker Grigori Kozintsev and is a Russian adaptation that has received critical acclaim. At the same time, theatre director Peter Brook helmed a screen adaptation of King Lear in English, which boasted a desolate landscape that mirrored the feelings of the characters that they were trapped in their decisions with nowhere to go.