Peter Brook’s film production of King Lear was followed by diverse critical opinion. W. Chaplin (1973) deemed the production as a dramatic failure due to its violent nature; however, W. Johnson (1972) conversely praises the “bursts of exaggerated violence” which he claims, leads successfully to the establishment of the production’s atmosphere. Through both these views we see violence as being central to interpreting Brook’s King Lear. In a similar fashion, Anne Bradby (2004) described Shakespeare’s Lear as having an “atmosphere of unparalleled rapine, cruelty, and bodily pain” as central to its plots and themes (a theme also touched on by other critics such as G. Orwell (1947), and W. Knight (1949)). From this, we see that interpreta-tions of King Lear benefit from an examination of violence. In order to show how Brook estab-lishes his distinguishing atmosphere of violence, I am going to explore the presentation of vio-lence, the destruction of compassion, and the reactions to both of these key aspects of the pro-duction.
Stark violence is created to directly establish violence through: setting, brutality stem-ming from characters’ action, and emphasis on language. Key elements include the architectural environment (castles), the Costumes and the Props (specifically the choice of weapons), and landscape. In addition, to increase the significance of these features, Brook uses diverse respons-es towards the violence, and careful focus on cinematography.
Landscape and setting permeate every scene in every production; within Brook’s Lear this repetition creates the continuity of stark violence through the production. In instances like Edgar’s bleak escape at 0:42, to the gruesome conclusion of the battle at 2:01, the landscape and setting create a remorseless post-apocalyptical atmosphere. One key example of the desolate set-ting is 1:06 where the backdrop of torrential rain and piercing wind leaves no escape for the characters from their suffering. The unchanging backdrop reflects and amplifies the suffering, reinforcing the brutality. Brook ensures this feature perpetuates throughout the entire production with the suffering maintained or exaggerated through the setting.
Within the overall setting castles play a significant role. Castles represent a metaphor for suffering by representing a false shelter: one the one hand a physical respite from a storm, on the other exposing those who enter to cheerlessness, with no prospect of comfort. Developing these “cheerless castles”, Johnson’s view typifies many of the scenes we see in castles. At no point do characters appear comfortable and at peace, thus constant feel of unease and discomfort afflicts the characters. With dark rooms and hard stone within interior scenes all lacking comfort. The discomfort is transferred to the audience, who after seeing the character’s unease, begin to empa-thize with the characters. From this, Brook use of castles within setting ensures the setting does not creep...