Crowding out Dover 'Cliff' in Korol Lir

Richard Ashby

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For a whole host of critics, the 1970 Russian film version of King Lear (Korol Lir) directed by Grigori Kozintsev represents the pinnacle of Shakespeare on film. Yet the film infamously cuts perhaps the most famous scene of the play—the scene at Dover cliff, in which Edgar leads the blinded Gloucester to an imaginary precipice and improvises a sublime poetic portrait of everyday plebeian life, before stepping aside to watch Gloucester take an undignified pratfall onto the flat stage. This absence has been taken by some critics to be paradigmatic of the inability of conventional film to recreate the fluidity of early-modern stage space. Yet critics have been too ready to suppose that the absence of the Dover cliff scene from Korol Lir is testament to the limits of film and not to its opportunities. Drawing on the diary that Kozintsev kept while filming Korol Lir—published under the title King Lear: The Space of Tragedy—and the work of Siegfried Kracauer, I contend that the Dover cliff scene is absent from Korol Lir, not simply because it is ‘unfilmable’, but because it is redundant: Kozintsev can use the photo-realist space of film to actualize the vision of everyday life forged by Edgar in any frame he wishes. In his bid to capture a wider social reality than is possible on stage, I contend that Kozintsev makes particular use of crowd scenes, from the opening moments of the film all the way to its bloody dénouement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210–229
Number of pages20
Issue number2
Early online date29 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017

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