They may have been written centuries ago, but there’s a Shakespeare play for every modern social or political moment. During his administration, President Obama was characterized as being both Hamlet and Henry V, while George W. Bush’s presidency was likened to Macbeth. In 2019, King Lear is weighing heavily on Americans’ minds, not just because of the current occupant of the Oval Office, but also aging media titans like Rupert Murdoch, who are at the point of passing on their kingdoms to the next generation.
And no less a Shakespeare authority than Kenneth Branagh — who plays the Immortal Bard in his latest film, All Is True — sees clear parallels between the fictional Lear and the all-too-real Trump era. “It’s very relevant — it always is, and for different reasons,” the Oscar-nominated actor-director tells Yahoo Entertainment. “I do think that King Lear touches on very pertinent things.” (Watch our video interview above.)
Chief among those pertinent things is what Branagh describes as the “contained outrage of previously voiceless people,” which boils over when Lear announces his plan to break up his kingdom among all but one of his daughters. “That taps into a a barely contained rage that I think is out there right now from those who have not been heard before.” Branagh also notes the way that Lear’s actions cause a widening rift among his subjects, one that exposes the tensions that have always existed — but were never acknowledged — between both sides. “It seems to unleash a desire for the destruction of people with a different point of view,” Branagh notes. “There’s a tremendous lack of forgiveness in King Lear as well that is perhaps also something our world is experiencing.”
Division and an anger at the “other,” isn’t just happening on this side of the Atlantic. Branagh says that King Lear is also an apt play for his native land’s error-prone “Brexit” from the European Union ... even moreso than The Comedy of Errors. “It’s about a division between England and France where very different points of view about hands across the water is understood. Maybe that’s the Brexit play.”
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