(Back to HOME PAGE)

LEAR AND CORDELIA AT HOME:
THEME AND VARIATIONS


Herbert Lindenberger


This play is protected by U.S. copyright. The permission of the author must be obtained for any performances.

 

Lear and Cordelia at Home was performed at Principia College, Elsah, Illinois, February 8-11, 1968, under the direction of Charles R. Lyons, who also played the role of Lear. Barbara Becker played Cordelia; Jeffrey Hamlin played the part marked Director, and Edward Bradley was the King of France. The following persons played the various Attendants: Richard Booth, Paula Bradley, Elizabeth Edwards, Harley Gates, Alec Jones, Todd Kneeland, Sarah McGuiness, Alice Rayner, and Robert Thomas.

PREFATORY NOTE: Rereading this play for the first time in 36 years, the author was amazed at how surely it reeks of the theater of the 1960's, whose conventions it sought to treat in an at once serious and playful way. As one looks back historically, one notes its ostentatiously impoverished décor and costumes, its mock-spontaneous interactions between actors and audience, its existential and psychoanalytical clichés, its deliberately irritating repetitions, its Beckett-inspired obsession with objects, its Genet-like games, its Brechtian alienations, above all, its unashamedly shameless theatricality.

 

CHARACTERS:
Lear
Cordelia, his youngest daughter
King of France, Cordelia's husband
A Man
A Woman
Director (to be played if possible by the real director)
Attendants (a dozen or so)

SETTING:
A mythical ancient France

THEME: "... thou mad'st thy daughters thy mothers."
Fool to Lear, I, iv

VARIATIONS:

Agony I
Reunion
Coronation
Phone-call
Building-blocks
Gong
Wind-machine
Apologia
Death-bed
Home-movie
Masked-ball
Auction
Improvisation
Intermission
Trial
Agony II
Catastrophe

Epilogue
ALTERNATE VARIATIONS:
Fence (in place of Wind-machine)
Club (in place of
Improvisation)

NOTES TOWARD PRODUCTION:
(l) A unit set should be used to insure quick scene changes. The set must make provision for, among other things, a stairway, thrones, auction block, judge's bench. Furniture should be crude and/or stylized to make possible multiple uses for single pieces.
(2) Throughout the play the full title LEAR AND CORDELIA AT HOME: THEME AND VARIATIONS must remain projected somewhere within the
audience's view. Directly underneath the play's title the name of each scene must be projected during the time the scene is being played. If slide projections are unfeasible, a sign with the play's title should be set up somewhere, while the names of scenes, to be placed under this title, can be changed from scene to scene by one of the attendants.
(3) Easy access must be maintained between stage and audience.
(4) LEAR and CORDELIA are to wear tights under their robes. Characters designated as MAN, WOMAN, and DIRECTOR are to dress as nearly as possible in the way they expect members of the audience to dress. ATTENDANTS should lack individuality. They should wear identical costumes--robes that accord with the style of LEAR and CORDELIA's. Men and women may be used interchangeably as ATTENDANTS. Certain ATTENDANTS will have specialized functions, and their costumes should indicate these functions by some symbol attached to them--a musical note, for instance, for MUSIC ATTENDANT or a quill pen for SCRIBE ATTENDANT.
(5) All "backstage" effects must be (or at least seem) visible to audience. Musical effects, for instance, are to be in the hands of the MUSIC ATTENDANT, who officiates in some visible place at, say, an old-fashioned wind-up phonograph (or tape-recorder if the latter fits in better with the rest of the production). Even the person in charge of projections should be visible, if possible, and dressed in the regular ATTENDANT's costume. ATTENDANTS should not hesitate to assume more than a single function as long as their actions do not seem confusing. Thus, MUSIC ATTENDANT, after putting on record for Coronation March, may join the other ATTENDANTS cheering at the coronation.
(6) List of theme (the Fool's line to Lear from Shakespeare) and variations (the titles of the various scenes) must be included on the theater program.
(7) At the director's discretion an intermission may be held between WIND-MACHINE and APOLOGIA in addition to the intermission designated in the list of variations on the program. If this extra intermission is held, the word INTERMISSION should be removed from the list of variations, and the program should simply indicate that two intermissions will take place. In this case only the second intermission--the one between IMPROVISATION and TRIAL--should include actor participation.
(8)
The only variations that need be performed in the stipulated order are the first three (AGONY I, REUNION, and CORONATION) and the final three (TRIAL, AGONY II, and CATASTROPHE). The order of the variations in between may be altered to suit a particular production. And one or more of these may be omitted if this should also suit a production. The director and cast may even choose to compose an additional scene or two as long as it can legitimately serve as a variation to the stated theme.
(9) At the director's discretion a note may be included in the program to inform the audience that from the late l7th century through the mid-19th century King Lear was regularly performed in England with a happy ending composed by Nahum Tate, from whose version the verse lines at the beginning of the first scene are borrowed.

AGONY I
(As lights dim, the title AGONY I is projected directly under the title of the play. MUSIC ATTENDANT is seen and heard beating metal. When the stage has become totally dark we hear the sound of groaning from stage center. As lights go on we see LEAR, without crown, lying stretched out across what seems like a boulder. The sounds of the metal become gradually less frequent after stage lights up.)
LEAR (Feebly): Director!
DIRECTOR (Getting up from an aisle seat in audience, speaks impatiently): Here I am! Here I am!
(He runs briskly down to stage and confronts LEAR, whose groaning has become increasingly less perceptible since he called DIRECTOR)
Now what is it you want?
LEAR: I want the happy ending.
DIRECTOR: The happy ending? Are you sure you know what you're saying?
LEAR: It's much too painful this way. I want the happy ending.
DIRECTOR: You know there's nothing like the tragic ending to give the audience the proper lift!
LEAR: I don't want the tragic ending any more.
DIRECTOR: I'm warning you, the happy ending's never the same fun.
LEAR I've told you three times now: I don't want the tragic ending.
DIRECTOR (Exasperated): Have you fully considered what you owe these people?
(He extends his arm to indicate audience)
They've stood in line at the box office holding their hard-earned money, they've had their baby sitters hired weeks in advance, and now they're sitting here all tense for a fine and exhilarating evening. You better be sure you know what you're doing.
LEAR: Let me have the happy ending.
DIRECTOR: (Less resistant now) I want there to be no recriminations, self or otherwise.
LEAR: I want the happy ending.
DIRECTOR (Calling out backstage in a somewhat despairing tone): Give him the happy ending.
(Immediately a number of ATTENDANTS come out from both sides, start pulling furniture out from among props. CORDELIA, rather confused, is led out by an ATTENDANT from left. She wears a large crown, which, except for a few specified intervals, she will continue to wear throughout play. DIRECTOR helps LEAR up, leads him out right. Neither LEAR nor CORDELIA notices the other at this point. ATTENDANTS are all talking to one another. Lights gradually dim to black-out as DIRECTOR leads LEAR out. In the middle of the confusion MUSIC ATTENDANT starts a drum-roll which he continues until start of next scene.)
(Back to list of Variations)

REUNION
(Drum-roll comes to gradual halt. As lights go on, DIRECTOR is the only person moving on the stage. In the center CORDELIA lies on a cot. She is covered up to the neck by a sheet. LEAR is barely visible in right wings. He is blind-folded, is held back by two ATTENDANTS, each of whom holds one of his arms. DIRECTOR moves behind cot, in front of it, views it from various angles. CORDELIA raises her head slightly at one point, then lies back again. A moment later she raises her head a good bit further, looks at DIRECTOR, who, with a sweep of the hand, signals her to lie down again. She lowers her head, then raises it immediately after.)
CORDELIA (Turning to DIRECTOR): It doesn't seem right this way.
DIRECTOR: Just lie down and keep still for now.
(CORDELIA lies back again. DIRECTOR signals ATTENDANTS, who lead LEAR, still blind-folded, to CORDELIA'S cot and place him so that he stands directly above her head)
LEAR: Tell me, friends, where am I?
FIRST ATTENDANT:
In a new country, Sir, where past afflictions
Are forgot and long-rent ties renewed.
She pines for thee, yet knows not thou art near.
An early grief did blight her youth and days.
Yet weep not when thou dost behold her, Sir.
One glance at thee and all the gloom that's dragg'd
Her spirits down will melt like morning dew.
LEAR (Confused): What lowly creature, friends, doth pine for me?
I understand thee not.
FIRST ATTENDANT:
Much wrongèd King,
Thou know'st not yet the change that Nature's wrought:
The Wheel of Fortune now has made her circle.
And blessings yet stand 'twixt thy grave and thee.
SECOND ATTENDANT:
Remove his napkin. Great wonders such as earth
Hath never seen await him now.
(FIRST ATTENDANT removes blind-fold. LEAR blinks his eyes, gradually gets used to the light, looks around him)
Look down,
My Lord, behold the treasure thou hast found.
(Pause, as LEAR gradually recognizes CORDELIA)
LEAR: Is't possible? Cor . . . Cordelia, oh Cordelia I
(CORDELIA gradually raises her head)
Let the spheres stop their course, the sun make halt,
The winds be hush'd, the seas and fountains rest,
All Nature pause, and listen to the change.
(During LEAR's speech CORDELIA has gradually raised herself, looked him briefly in the eye, then suddenly gets up from cot, turns her back to LEAR and faces DIRECTOR)
CORDELIA: Stop it, stop it, stop it! I don't like this thing at all.
(During following speeches LEAR and ATTENDANTS remain frozen in the poses they were in at the moment of CORDELIA's interruption)
DIRECTOR (Obviously miffed): What's ailing you now?
CORDELIA: I think we ought to start again from scratch.
DIRECTOR (Hurt): I simply meant for you to try it out this way, to . . . to give it a chance.
CORDELIA (Moving back and forth, speaks without looking at DIRECTOR): It's so miserably forced a way of bringing us together. I want it to be natural . . . simple . . . without all that fuss.
(Ellipses in CORDELIA's speeches indicate not only pauses, but also a gesture characteristic of CORDELIA throughout this, but no other, scene: as she grasps for words she extends one or both arms part way, holds her palms upward, momentarily clenches her fists)
DIRECTOR (Trying to be conciliatory): Would you feel better if we cut down on the speeches?
CORDELIA: In a way, I suppose. But then . . . whatever I say . . . I don't think you're really going to understand.
DIRECTOR: Say it and give me a chance at least.
CORDELIA: Well, the way you're making me play it . . . this way . . . let's face it, it just isn't . . . me!
DIRECTOR (Impatiently) Oh God!
CORDELIA: It just isn't me having to lie there passively . . . having myself ministered to.
(Pause, then abruptly)
Well, now I've said it.
DIRECTOR (Decisively, to ATTENDANTS): We'll try it the other way around. Bring him out on a stretcher, will you?
(ATTENDANTS quickly lead LEAR offstage right. At the same time CORDELIA turns away from DIRECTOR, moves slowly toward left, sulking with her back to DIRECTOR. DIRECTOR addresses her unaware of her reaction)
Now we'll have him put down there--
(He points to cot)
--and you'll be the one who's ministering to him. In other words I'm reversing the whole plan just to suit you.
(ATTENDANTS quickly bring LEAR out on a stretcher, even before DIRECTOR has finished speaking, place LEAR on cot, pull sheet over him. DIRECTOR addresses CORDELIA, who still has her back turned both to him and to cot)
Well?
(No answer. ATTENDANTS meanwhile have gone offstage)
Doesn't this suit you any better?
(Pause. CORDELIA looks slowly, disdainfully at cot, at DIRECTOR, then turns away again)
CORDELIA (Still turned away, speaks quietly): None of you are ever going to understand, so it's no use explaining. Couldn't you see I wanted it to be . . . natural . . . spontaneous . . . with both of us facing each other as equals, in full awareness of what the other is? I . . . I wanted this scene to be something lovely that all of us would remember.
DIRECTOR (Calling to ATTENDANTS backstage, speaks with an acid tone to his voice): Take him back again. The prima donna doesn't like it this way either.
(To CORDELIA)
So why didn't you speak up earlier?
CORDELIA (Quietly): I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't let myself go that way. I'm afraid I let myself get all pent up inside till I finally had to explode. You see . . . well . . . if you really want to know the truth . . . do you really want to know the truth?
DIRECTOR (Impatient): So--out with the truth!
CORDELIA: You see, all this time I was waiting for you to show some sensitivity to my needs.
DIRECTOR (Angry): So what is it you want of me? I'm just the director here, I'm not your daddy.
CORDELIA: I knew you'd never understand--you're so busy engineering all those grand-style effects of yours. May I ask you something? Has it ever occurred to you you had anything but a bunch of marionettes you could shunt about the stage at your every whim? Has it ever occurred to you?
DIRECTOR (Conciliatory): All right, so let's be practical. How would you go about arranging for this reunion? Will you want him to come to you in a dream? Are you planning a formal rendezvous, with cocktails, up on Cloud Nine? Speak up, and whatever you say, I'll see if I can think up some way of staging it.
CORDELIA (Thinking to herself, looks the stage over, gestures as though placing things around the stage): We must set up a barrier that's still not quite a total barrier . . . something that can hold us apart, yet also work to bring us together.
(Pause, then quickly)
I think I want a window.
DIRECTOR: You're always insisting on objects and things.
CORDELIA: The things I use onstage are things that are full of meaning for me. They . . . they are meant to suggest even . . . bigger things, you might say.
DIRECTOR (Sighing, to ATTENDANTS backstage) Attendants, bring the little lady a window.
(To CORDELIA)
Was there anything else you could use while they're still out there?
CORDELIA (Still looking over the stage): Don't rush me, please. It's just now I'm even able to feel my way into Cordelia. These things take time.
(During her speech two ATTENDANTS have come in with a mullioned window frame. They look to DIRECTOR for instruction as to where to put it)
DIRECTOR (To ATTENDANTS): Ask her where she wants it. I don't work here any more.
CORDELIA (Before they can even ask): Right here, parallel with the cot. This--
(She points to cot)
--this will be Cordelia's chaise and above it, though about two feet away, let's say, we'll have the window. I must ask you to hold it up for now so I can get the total picture.
(ATTENDANTS stand on either side of frame, hold it up according to CORDELIA'S directions. Throughout the following scene she seems to be speaking as much to herself as to DIRECTOR and audience)
What we've got to realize from the start is the special dilemma that Cordelia's in. The point of the scene is to portray this dilemma in all its . . . emotional coloring and at the same time to show the coming of her father as her . . . way out of the dilemma. When the scene opens we see her sitting and reading--
(As she says this she sits down on cot as though it were a chaise and takes an imaginary book off an imaginary table next to chaise)
--for months now she's been immersed in the most rarified of studies . . . yet somehow . . . these have not sufficed--
(She lets the feigned book drop on the floor, shakes her head slowly to indicate her despair)
It can all be conveyed quite beautifully, you see, by pantomime. And all this time we have Lear standing in the wings in readiness attended by his friends--
(ATTENDANTS enter holding LEAR at right entrance, as at beginning of scene, except that he is not blind-folded now)
--yet before he can discover her she must reveal . . . the texture of her life--
(CORDELIA looks around stage a moment)
She tries embroidery--
(CORDELIA pretends to pick up embroidery from the imaginary table next to cot and works at it for the next few lines)
--there's no stimulation here, of course, but it's something to get her mind off herself momentarily, something to kill time with through all the painstaking demands it makes . . . yet to no avail--
(She drops the feigned embroidery on floor with the same head-shaking as when dropping book)
--she lies staring at the ceiling and contemplates her . . . place in life.
(CORDELIA lies back and looks upward, but, as though aware that the cot is supposed to be a chaise, she does not let her head go all the way down)
Given her position as Queen of France, you see, she lives in a most unnatural sort of isolation. She has servants for everything she needs, her marriage is good and all that, yet something is missing that she's never quite been able to put her finger on--in short, her life has been badly deficient in meaning.
(She sits up again)
She has tried her hand at verse, among other things--
(She picks up an imaginary pencil and writing-block from imaginary table, pretends to write a word or two, then looks up perplexed, waving pencil in her hand)
--verse of a rather wry and wistful sort . . . but again to no avail . . . sometimes the words refuse to corne.
(She drops pencil and writing-block as she had dropped the books and embroidery, shakes her head again, then abruptly gets up, walks back and forth while speaking following lines)
She little suspects at this point that something new is about to fill the vacuum she has felt for so long . . . she tries out her lute--
(During following lines she picks up lute from imaginary table, sits down with back to window pretending to strum)
It's in just this pose he must catch his first glimpse of her--
(ATTENDANTS start to bring LEAR to window, then leave him there and return backstage immediately. LEAR at first sees CORDELIA only from the back, looks confused)
--she plays a slow and mournful tune to symbolize her sadness. Yes, unbeknownst to her, they have brought him here to France, to put him in her care . . . yet she still has no inkling. . . . She hears a light tap on the window-pane--
(Her words are immediately followed by LEAR's knocking on window-frame. He still acts unsure who is inside)
--she turns around to see who might be intruding at this strange hour--
(CORDELIA turns around and looks at him, then turns away quickly shaking her head; LEAR meanwhile has recognized her and stopped tapping, has opened his mouth to indicate wonder and happiness, but as soon as she turns away he starts knocking loudly on the frame)
--she sees him, yes, but she refuses to trust her eyes for fear of later disappointment. She keeps telling herself it's only some beautiful ghost from the past. . . . She shakes her head in disbelief. . . . The knocking grows louder. She stands up . . . looks around again--
(She is momentarily disconcerted as she remembers she was supposed to be holding a lute)
She has already dropped her lute in the excitement. . . . She looks at him--
(He stops knocking, stares mouth agape at her, as earlier)
--and she knows that now it is real, yet still she shakes her head wondering how she has ever deserved this joy--
(She walks around to window shaking her head, yet beaming)
--an emotion like this is too much for any two human beings to have to absorb at once. . . . They rub their noses against the window-pane, having no other way, it turns out, to express themselves to one another--
(She starts rubbing her nose against pane and LEAR quickly follows suit)
--they are really quite speechless, to say the least. . . .
(She draws her head back and looks at him with a beaming smile, and he quickly follows suit. They remain in this position for a moment, both shaking their heads slightly to indicate wonder. As they look at each other, one ATTENDANT signals the other and points conspicuously with one hand first at LEAR and CORDELIA's heads, then at window-frame, then at floor. The other ATTENDANT gets the joke and both quickly move frame downward so that it rests on floor. LEAR and CORDELIA suddenly find themselves without barriers, at least from the waist upward. As soon as they realize this, CORDELIA exclaims "Father!" and LEAR exclaims "Cordelia!" and they meet in a passionate embrace, though with the window frame still separating the lower parts of their bodies. The DIRECTOR, who has remained onstage throughout this time, claps vigorously. Quick black-out, though DIRECTOR's clapping can still be heard for a few seconds but is soon drowned out by music for next scene.)
(Back to list of Variations)

CORONATION
(MUSIC ATTENDANT has put on record of Coronation March from Meyerbeer's Le Prophète during black-out. Music must start softly, gradually build up in volume during course of scene. Lights go quickly to full brightness. A half dozen or more ATTENDANTS form crowd of spectators downstage. Upstage are three thrones, that of KING OF FRANCE at right, CORDELIA's in the middle, and a conspicuously smaller throne for LEAR at left. Thrones are unoccupied when lights go on. ATTENDANTS look eagerly toward offstage right, occasionally whisper to one another such phrases as "Can you see him?" "He's coming!" "What's the latest rumor about the Queen's father?" One of them seems to see part of the procession coming in the distance and gives signal to the others, shouts "They're coming!" Soon CORDELIA appears in a be-ribboned sedan chair carried by ATTENDANTS. Chair is stopped for a moment while spectators cheer, shout "Long live the Queen!" and CORDELIA waves at them regally. Then she is brought near her throne, steps off, ascends throne, continues to wave at spectators from throne. Meanwhile ATTENDANTS with chair have gone off left and quickly re-entered from right carrying KING OF FRANCE. Crowd shouts "Long live the King!" Chair is stopped for a moment, KING gestures to crowd to quiet down.)
KING (Pompously, after finally managing to quiet crowd down): In conjunction with my spouse the Queen--
(He gestures benignly toward CORDELIA)
--in conjunction with my spouse the Queen, I hereby proclaim her venerable sire, known by the name of Lear, to the honorary rank of King-Father, to reign at our sides forever, with all the privileges and honors due his age, his station, and his immeasurable sufferings.
(Crowd cheers, KING is brought near his throne, steps off, ascends throne, continues to wave at spectators from throne. ATTENDANTS with chair quickly go out left. Spectators are already beginning to peer out toward offstage right, and one of them gives a signal to the others when he appears to see LEAR. They whisper things like "I never even knew she had a father," "I can't wait to see him!" "Isn't it wonderful?" "They never had to do this!" Then LEAR enters from right on sedan chair. His crown, which he wears throughout rest of play, is conspicuously smaller than those of the KING and CORDELIA. When he enters, the enthusiasm of the crowd is even greater than it was for KING and CORDELIA. He smiles and waves regally at crowd, who shout "Long live the King-Father!" The chair stops briefly to show him off to crowd, then delivers him near his throne. KING and CORDELIA extend their arms to him and look at him benignly as he ascends throne. Quick black-out as he sits down on throne. MUSIC ATTENDANT cuts off record in the middle and we immediately hear the sound of somebody's feet stomping high above the stage.)
(Back to list of Variations)

PHONE-CALL
(Sound of two feet stomping from above, At first all that is visible is a lit-up telephone. Gradually lights go on, but they remain fairly dim throughout scene. Telephone is a luxurious pink, with a pink cord extending upwards to ceiling. Two cots are set parallel to one another on stage, with telephone in between. On cots are KING OF FRANCE and CORDELIA, both with their crowns on. When lights go on, both are tossing and turning violently, as though disturbed by the stomping. They glance at one another briefly, then CORDELIA lifts phone receiver and dials. A distant ring is heard, stomping stops when phone is answered. Throughout CORDELIA's speech KING remains immobile, though he looks at her admiringly.)
CORDELIA: Is that you, Father? I wasn't disturbing you, I hope. . . . Well, as a matter of fact I suspected you weren't quite asleep yet. If I'd thought you were sleeping, I'd have waited till morning, of course. But I have a fairly good way of knowing when you're still up and around--I have a fairly good way, yes I have. . . . It's not exactly that you're keeping us awake, since we're sure to go to sleep eventually--it's just going to take a little longer, that's all. . . . Of course I can see that and we're the first to understand how easy it is to forget every now and then that we're right under you. . . . Yes, of course, we understand completely, but you really didn't need to growl at France when he tried to take the matter up with you yesterday. Now I want you to be nice to France. He has nothing but the best of intentions and he's been very good to me, you know. . . . Of course not, Father. There's no reason in the world you have to force yourself to go to bed the same time we do. . . . I can't blame you at all for not being able to sleep. You've been through such a lot, and so much more than anybody could ever conceive of. . . . Of course we want you near us. If we'd thought only in terms of the noise problem we'd have moved you to the East Wing, but we know for a fact we can't give you the sort of care there that we give you here. It's much better this way for all of us. . . . Of course we want you to feel free to walk around. But then you know there's walking and walking, and the kind of walking you've been doing is more on the order of, shall we say, stomping. . . . Heavens no, it's not just for our sakes, for France and me, that is, but you're getting to an age where stomping around like that isn't any too good for you. . . . No, of course not. As you yourself just said the other day, you can't hope for too much when you get up in years like that. . . . I should say so, and you're not the first person in the world who's had to face up to this. Nor the last either. The time will come when France'll have to face the fact he isn't the man he once was, and I'll have to start keeping him in tow too.
(Long pause)
Why of course I have time right now. . . . I think that's a superb idea. . . . Yes of course I will. . . .
(She moves receiver away from her and cocks her ear toward ceiling. Same loud stomping as before is heard, then stops, and CORDELIA moves receiver back to ear)
It could be better, yes, it definitely could.
(She moves receiver away again, and this time somewhat lighter footsteps are heard)
That's still a bit brisk, dear.
(She moves receiver again, and this time only a light pitter-patter can be heard. CORDELIA smiles benignly)
That's lovely. Father. You'll live to be a hundred that way. Good night, dear, sleep well.
(She puts receiver down, she and FRANCE quickly turn over ready for sleep as lights go out. Pitter-patter continues and light on telephone dims out a few seconds after other lights.)
(Back to list of Variations)

BUILDING-BLOCKS
(LEAR sits on floor at stage center putting the finishing touches on a castle he is building out of children's blocks. As lights go on, voices are heard approaching from offstage left. FRANCE and three ATTENDANTS enter, with FRANCE walking next to one ATTENDANT--to be designated as ARCHITECT ATTENDANT--and the other two behind them. FRANCE is holding a large set of blueprints and the ARCHITECT ATTENDANT is pointing to various parts of the blueprints. The two ATTENDANTS behind them are trying to look at the blueprints over FRANCE's shoulder and at the same time to listen to the conversation. The conversation between FRANCE and ARCHITECT ATTENDANT takes the following form, though the first part of it, which occurs offstage, will remain largely unintelligible to the audience)
FRANCE: You're sure we can't possibly put it over the West Wing?
ARCHITECT ATTENDANT: It wouldn't support another story.
FRANCE: Why wouldn't the South Wing do?
ARCHITECT ATTENDANT: It would spoil the symmetry of the castle as a whole.
FRANCE: I'd have nothing against using the East Wing if you think it'll work.
ARCHITECT ATTENDANT: The forest would obscure the view from there, unless of course you'd want to remove some trees.
FRANCE: The Queen would never approve of that. Then why don't we settle on the North Wing?
ARCHITECT ATTENDANT: The insulation would be prohibitive the way the wind from the heath comes through there in winter.
(If this conversation has been exhausted by the time they have crossed the stage, they should start in again at the beginning. Conversation should continue so that audience can hear their voices dying out offstage right. As soon as LEAR is aware of them approaching the stage, he stops building and looks toward wings at left, all the while holding in his hand the last block he was about to put on his castle)
LEAR (To FRANCE, trying to interrupt him as soon as the latter has entered the stage): Can you tell what this is I'm building? Can you guess?
(FRANCE and ATTENDANTS neither hear nor see LEAR, but continue talking as they walk. When LEAR sees they are walking in path of his building he suddenly shouts)
Watch it! Watch where you're going!
(They fail to hear him and, still continuing their conversation and studying blueprints, walk across LEAR's building and completely destroy It. They finish crossing stage without ever noticing what they have done. LEAR tugs at FRANCE's gown as he passes by, but FRANCE continues on. LEAR shouts)
Look what you've done! Can't you even see what you've done? This was your own castle you trampled down.
(The next lines after FRANCE and ATTENDANTS are offstage)
France! Come back here, you! Get away from those men! Come back here, France! You've got to come back here to help me rebuild this! It's your own castle you did this to! Come back here, France!
(While he has been shouting, CORDELIA has appeared from offstage left and, without his having noticed her, has come over and bent over him)
CORDELIA (Putting her hand firmly on his shoulder and interrupting as he shouts): Whatever is the matter, Father?
(She pats him lightly on the cheek)
Calm down now. Calm down so you can tell me what's the matter.
LEAR (Shaking, almost hysterical, points to mass of blocks): Look what he did!
CORDELIA (Still patting his cheek): Look what who did?
LEAR (Pointing at mass of blocks): France did. He trampled it down.
CORDELIA: But that's nothing, dear. All we have to do is build it up again.
(She gets on floor, starts gathering blocks to rebuild)
LEAR: It was our castle.
CORDELIA: So we'll simply rebuild our castle.
(Throughout the following dialogue CORDELIA works busily rebuilding castle)
LEAR: I want you to go tell France what he did.
CORDELIA: Nonsense, dear. France would feel much better about it if he knew we'd rebuilt it right away.
LEAR: I don't want France to feel good.
CORDELIA: You'll be very happy once we're done. Now come help me. Why don't you start working on that side over there?
(LEAR, sulking in an obvious way, reluctantly puts a few blocks on. CORDELIA works several times as fast as he does)
Now see how easy it is? It goes much faster than you think when you put your mind to it. Aren't you happy to see how well it's going?
(She looks at him, gets no reply)
Of course you're happy, and you'll be even happier when you see it all done. Yes?
(She looks at him again, still gets no reply. He reluctantly puts on another block)
You're just going to have to accept the fact that things get created and things get destroyed, and once they're destroyed it doesn't do any good to fret about what's past and done with. It does nobody any good at all, so that once something's broken we've got to put all our thoughts into rebuilding it, just like this. Aren't you happier now?
(She looks at him, gets a slight, very reluctant nod)
I knew you'd be. And see, we're almost done now. You never thought it would go so fast. I know you never did. That's your trouble, dear, you get discouraged so easily you forget how much you're capable of doing. I want you to remember this, Father. Now I'm perfectly willing to help you this time, but from here on out you're on your own. If you expect to survive in this world you're going to have to learn there's no substitute for fending for oneself. And whenever anybody breaks down what you've been building up, you're not to waste your time moping or getting back at him, but you simply keep your chin up and start all over again if you have to. Now you see how easy it's been? There's really nothing to it. Wasn't that easy now?
(She stares him in the eye)
Wasn't it?
(Pause, then he smiles and nods)
I knew you'd think so.
(CORDELIA gets up)
Now, I want you to know that what I'm about to do is meant for your own good, and I want you to remember everything I've just told you, and then I'm going to leave and let you work things out for yourself--
(Just then she unobtrusively, though quite intentionally, kicks the whole structure down with her foot)
--just for yourself alone.
(LEAR squirms and turns away as soon as he sees what she has done. She does not notice his reaction)
You've seen how quick and easy it is. I'll leave you alone now and you can call me when you're done. Wasn't that quick and easy now? Wasn't it?
LEAR (Suddenly turning to look at her, shouts at top of his lungs as soon as she has finished her question): No!
(CORDELIA, stunned, starts to run off left. LEAR does not move. Quick black-out.)
(Back to list of Variations)

GONG

(During black-out four gongs are heard. When lights go on, CORDELIA is standing on a platform, a gong next to her, and in her hand the stick with which she rings it. LEAR stands across the stage from her.)
CORDELIA: That was very bad.
LEAR: But not the worst, certainly.
CORDELIA: Bad enough though.
LEAR: Five bells would be worse than four bells.
CORDELIA: Four bells is nothing to boast about.
LEAR: So how many bells means it's unforgivable?
CORDELIA: Those things can't be measured.
LEAR: Then what business did you have measuring the last one?
CORDELIA: Go easy now, Father. I'd hate to have to start ringing it again.
LEAR (Raising voice slightly): I said what business did you have measuring the last one? You insist on calling that one very bad, and then you won't tell me how much is unforgivable. I don't like it one bit, not one bit!
CORDELIA: I think it's time you got your mind off this and settled down to--
LEAR (Raising his voice): I said I don't like this one bit. It's grossly unfair what you and this husband of yours are making me do.
CORDELIA: His name is France and he's your son-in-law.
LEAR: I don't care what his name is and what connection, if any, he's supposed to have with me.
CORDELIA: Easy now, or you'll say something really unforgivable.
LEAR: I don't care what I say. Do you hear that? And I'll say anything I damn please about the two of you any place, any time. Did you hear that?
(She tries to interrupt him, but he interrupts her interruption)
Any place, any time, and if I feel like saying you're hateful, I'll say--
(She rings the gong three times. Pause)
LEAR (In a subdued voice): So that's all it was worth? Just three this time.
CORDELIA: It's what I'd call bad.
LEAR: Just bad this time, but not very bad.
CORDELIA: If that's the way you want to put it.
LEAR: I'll put it any way I like. Do you hear that? Any God-damn way. And I'll tell you something: I've had enough of you. Do you hear that? I've had enough of you and that man.
(CORDELIA rings gong twice. Pause. LEAR speaks subdued)
Two this time.
(Long pause, then LEAR suddenly shouts at her)
You're a trollop! You hear that? You're a trollop and I wish you were dead!
(CORDELIA tosses stick on floor, walks toward him, looks him in the eye, speaks up slowly and sternly)
CORDELIA: I will not have you doing anything unforgivable.
(She walks offstage curtly, LEAR remains motionless as before. After she is out he looks around suspiciously, stamps his foot to see if she can hear, gets no response, whistles, gets no response, sticks out his tongue and makes an obscene noise, looks around, runs quickly up to gong, picks up stick, strikes gong wildly five times, laughs exultantly. Black-out)
(Back to list of Variations)

WIND-MACHINE
(A high gate with spears across the top separates two parts of the stage. Before lights go on, audience is aware of something being wheeled around. As lights go on, it sees a canvas-covered contraption about four feet square on rollers. The contraption is being wheeled from left to right behind the gate by two ATTENDANTS. A third ATTENDANT, to be designated as DOCTOR ATTENDANT, comes up from behind, moves ahead of them as though looking for a spot to have them park the contraption. During the dialogue below DOCTOR ATTENDANT finds a place for it at far right. At the same time he is looking suspiciously toward offstage left. All this while, CORDELIA has been sitting on platform on top of stairway. She holds a spy-glass which, during the first part of scene, before LEAR has come onstage, she picks up several times to see if anyone is near gate.)
FIRST ATTENDANT (To DOCTOR ATTENDANT): Think we'll have to use the machine this time?
DOCTOR ATTENDANT: It's one of his bad days.
SECOND ATTENDANT: Is he likely to scale the gate again?
DOCTOR ATTENDANT: Have the net ready in any case, but remember, you're never to use force on him.
FIRST ATTENDANT: Where do we hide?
DOCTOR ATTENDANT (Peering toward offstage left): Get behind the machine fast. I'll be up with the queen if you need me.
(First two ATTENDANTS disappear behind machine, DOCTOR ATTENDANT rushes upstage to join CORDELIA. During following scene they exchange the spy-glass several times to watch gate; whisper to one another. Soon after ATTENDANTS have all left the main stage area, LEAR enters slowly from left, as though out for a leisurely stroll. He does not yet notice gate. He keeps his eyes mainly on the ground, walks about in a somewhat zig-zag fashion. He sees a flower, stoops down, picks it, walks about for a few moments smelling it, then crushes it. He looks about, notices gate, quickly walks up to it. turns handle. At this point CORDELIA stands up apprehensively. She and DOCTOR ATTENDANT continue passing spy-glass to one another. When gate fails to open, LEAR looks up to see how high it is, then looks back and forth horizontally to see how far gate extends. He shakes his head. Then he turns handle several times. He pulls from pocket a ring with two large old-fashioned keys on it. He tries one, shakes his head, then tries next one, shakes head again. Then he lets the keys drop. He tries handle again, this time shaking it violently. Then he shakes gate, first somewhat gently, then with increasing violence. He looks around, sees nobody, then slowly starts to climb the gate. CORDELIA tries to start down the stairs, but DOCTOR ATTENDANT holds her back at first. As soon as LEAR starts climbing, the two ATTENDANTS quietly come out from behind machine holding a net between them. They get into position directly under LEAR and hold net beneath him in preparation for a fall. LEAR meanwhile has climbed to top, touched spikes to see how sharp they are, shaken his head. He looks down again, suddenly notices ATTENDANTS, freezes into the position he was in when he noticed them, remains motionless. As soon as LEAR has noticed them, FIRST ATTENDANT puts two fingers in his mouth and sends a loud, piercing whistle to CORDELIA and DOCTOR ATTENDANT. Both at this point are already part way downstairs)
DOCTOR ATTENDANT: We're on our way. Don't move.
(LEAR keeps his eyes on attendants until CORDELIA, quite out of breath, arrives running. DOCTOR ATTENDANT runs straight from bottom of stairway to machine, gets behind it when LEAR is not looking in his direction. During following dialogue audience should be aware of DOCTOR ATTENDANT constantly peering out from behind machine to see what is going on)
LEAR (Desperately, to CORDELIA): Cordelia, you've got to save me from these men.
CORDELIA: These men are your friends, dear. They're here to break your fall.
LEAR: Who says I'm going to fall?
CORDELIA: You've never yet made it down from there by yourself.
LEAR: If you don't tell them to go away, I'll have France called.
CORDELIA: France is very busy this time of day.
LEAR: (Raising his voice) What's he so busy with he can't see his own family?
CORDELIA: France is busy ruling.
LEAR: That's just an excuse. You know good and well who does the ruling around here.
CORDELIA: Now I don't want to get going on that game again, Father.
(Short pause)
I think it's time we started thinking about coming down.
LEAR: I wouldn't have to be up here at all if you weren't always changing locks on me.
CORDELIA: But you must understand, Father, we can't have you getting lost on that heath again.
LEAR: (Raising voice): If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times. I never got lost at all. It's you who decided I was lost.
CORDELIA: I know you're very proud, Father, but I don't want to have to go through this again, especially while you're perched so precariously up there. Now, shall we start thinking about coming down, dear?
LEAR (Roaring): I told you I won't come down until you send those men away.
CORDELIA (Beckoning DOCTOR ATTENDANT): I think it's time.
(DOCTOR ATTENDANT starts wheeling machine toward gate. CORDELIA tries to keep LEAR from noticing it right away)
Now I want you to understand, Father, as long as you're staying in our castle we can't take any chances on your falling. Bones get very brittle, you know, when a person reaches an age--
LEAR (Interrupting, as he notices machine): Don't let them put me in the machine. Don't let them--
CORDELIA: You always like it once you're in it, dear.
LEAR: I won't go in. I won't go in.
CORDELIA: It gives you everything you ever wanted on the heath. You said so yourself, Father.
LEAR: I want the real wind on the real heath. Don't let them--
(By this time DOCTOR ATTENDANT has arrived at gate with machine. He stands by it quietly, leaving the cover of it on)
CORDELIA: We never force you, Father. We always wait till you give the word.
LEAR: I'll never give my word.
CORDELIA: I'm not even asking you to, dear. I just want you to think back and try to remember how sick you were after that night you ran out on the heath.
(She turns to DOCTOR ATTENDANT, who quickly pulls small piece of paper out of his pocket from which he reads his succeeding speeches as inconspicuously as he can)
Remember how sick he was?
DOCTOR ATTENDANT: I certainly do. He was about as sick as anyone can be and still survive at his age.
CORDELIA (To LEAR): You see, Father?
(To DOCTOR ATTENDANT)
And remember all those hours when we hadn't the slightest idea where he'd run off to?
LEAR: Stop it, I know exactly what you're trying to do.
CORDELIA (Paying no attention to LEAR's interruption): I told you to give the King a sedative since it was no use the two of us having to suffer that way all night.
DOCTOR ATTENDANT (Stumbling a bit over the text he is reading from) He thought it'd be too much for you holding your vigil alone.
CORDELIA: But it was much better that way, don't you agree, since I really didn't trust myself not to get hysterical--
LEAR (Trying in vain to interrupt): Stop it!
CORDELIA: --After all, the last thing I wanted was for the King to have to nurse me along. No, I never really trusted myself--I might as well admit it now--but then, as it turned out. I never broke down either. I didn't want to eat, of course, but one meal more or less isn't going to make a whole lot of difference.
LEAR: Stop it!
DOCTOR ATTENDANT: You held up very well, all things considered.
LEAR: He's reading it. I caught him! He always reads his part.
CORDELIA (Paying no attention to LEAR's interruption): You told me I was being very good, but I never let any of you know how I really felt inside. This way I could insist you keep me informed exactly how the search was going. "Don't spare me a single detail," I told you, "even if you think it'll make me unhappy."
DOCTOR ATTENDANT: It was only my duty.
LEAR: Stop it!
CORDELIA: And remember what I vowed to do if we got him back safely? I vowed I'd never let him out of my sight again, even if it meant casting everything else out of my life during the few years he had left--
LEAR: Stop it!
CORDELIA (Paying no attention): And when you carried him in the next day he was already half a corpse from all that exposure to the wind and the rain, but I begged you under no condition to reproach him until you had him fully recovered--
LEAR: Stop it, stop it, stop it, stop it! I don't want to have to hear this any more.
CORDELIA (To LEAR): Do you want to go in the machine now?
(DOCTOR ATTENDANT starts removing cover from the machine)
LEAR (Roaring): I don't want to go anywhere!
CORDELIA (To DOCTOR ATTENDANT): It's then I knew I should have been a better daughter all along. I reproached myself constantly for being selfish enough not to foresee these dangers but you kept re-assuring me that there's only so much--
LEAR (Louder than before): Stop it, stop it, stop it, stop--
CORDELIA (Interrupting, has to raise her voice loud enough so that he will hear her): Don't you think you'd like to now?
(Pause. DOCTOR ATTENDANT starts turning a lever on the machine. and the sound of wind comes out as long as he is manipulating lever)
CORDELIA: You're sure you're not ready for it? You're absolutely sure?
LEAR: Let me in the machine.
(He lets himself fall into net. ATTENDANTS set him down and carry him into machine.)
CORDELIA (Clapping her hands in time to her words while ATTENDANTS are lifting him in):
Blow wind blow
Blow wind blow
Blow wind blow
(She speaks the following words without clapping)
You're always so happy once you're in it.
(Meanwhile, all three ATTENDANTS have helped install him in the machine. The machine has a crude, home-built look and consists largely of a frame of wooden board with some bellows and levers inside. ATTENDANTS place his arms and legs on levers and help him at first to start working the levers. As he pushes them the sound of wind comes out, though the actual sound will likely have to come from offstage. As soon as LEAR is working all the levers with his hands and feet, DOCTOR ATTENDANT slips into his mouth a pipe attached to the machine. Sound of wind immediately gets louder)
CORDELIA (Clapping her hands and singing as though to structure the rhythm with which LEAR works the machine):
Blow wind blow
Father's all aglow
Blow wind blow
Blow wind blow
Cordelia's deep in woe
Father's all aglow
France is in the snow
Hee haw ho
Blow wind blow, etc.
(All three ATTENDANTS collaborate in wheeling machine back and forth a few times, then move slowly offstage left with it, and the sound of the wind gradually decreases. CORDELIA, still clapping hands, but now singing only under her breath, starts up the stairs.)
(Back to list of Variations)

APOLOGIA

(Just before lights go on MUSIC ATTENDANT starts a sennet which will go on for a while with a number of variations. At the time the lights go on, CORDELIA is walking down the stairs. She heads toward her throne, but at the same time tries to catch the attention of MUSIC ATTENDANT to get him to stop.)
CORDELIA (To MUSIC ATTENDANT, and in a very friendly way): That's enough now, that's enough.
(He stops, and she sits down on throne, addresses next couple of lines to MUSIC ATTENDANT)
We don't always have to make such a big thing of it. I just came down here to have a little chat with the audience.
(Pause, as she turns to audience, tries to make herself look informal by crossing her legs)
I feel a little self-conscious having to take this matter up with you directly, but I want to be sure there aren't any misunderstandings between you and me. Actually, I'm certain that all of you are more than willing to understand what I have to say to you regarding my relationship with my father.
(While she speaks she unobtrusively removes her crown, which she then sets on her lap. Occasionally she will play with it)
My only reason for facing you this directly is that I know there's never any harm in being absolutely honest and open about these things. First of all, I'm not going to pass judgment on my sisters. From what little I know about the situation I obviously disapprove of their conduct. Any normal person would have to disapprove of it if what's said about them is true. But I'm also aware that when things go wrong between people their judgment of each other often becomes badly twisted in the heat of all the bad feelings that get generated on both sides. So, as I say, it's not up to any of us to pass judgment.
(She gets up and, carrying crown under her arm, gradually goes down to audience, moving back and forth along the first row)
To complicate matters, my father, let's face it, is a very difficult man. I have no idea what he was like when he was young. I was his last child and by the time I was old enough to have much of a sense of him he was every bit as stubborn and unpredictable as he is now. For all I know he may have been a totally reasonable and responsible person in his time. That's for others to judge, not me. But I do know one thing for sure. I'm no longer the silly girl I was at the time the two of us had that famous collision of ours which Shakespeare has described so well. There are some mistakes, you know, that a person only makes once, and I've learned from mine. Things have changed a lot for me, in fact. I've had my own responsibilities having to keep things under control in this castle. And, I might add, there's no surer way of learning these responsibilities than when you're on your own. So I knew pretty well almost as soon as father arrived here that if we let him have the run of the place he'd have us all in an uproar a good ninety per cent of the time. You give in to a single one of his demands and next time, you know, he'll run your whole castle for you and he'll have you all upset--you, your husband, your servants, and not least of all himself. And don't think for a moment he'd enjoy having the run of the place. The more freedom you give him the more miserable he gets. It's every bit as hard for him to take as it is for any of the rest of us.
(She starts moving back to stage)
And believe me, when I'm his age I just hope there's somebody around to do the same for me that I'm doing for him right now. I really mean that. I don't want to be a burden on anybody, least of all those I feel closest to, and the last thing in the world I'd want is people giving in to my whims and fearing my every move.
(She sits down again on throne. A moment later, in the middle of her next sentence, LEAR appears at top of stairway. He is about to go down, but suddenly becomes aware of CORDELIA's voice, sits down on top stair to listen to what she says)
So, as I've said, there's no reason one can't learn to handle Father and keep him happy at the same time. There's nothing in the world wrong with anticipating a problem before it develops and taking the proper precautions before things get totally out of hand. And there are ways of dealing with people so skillfully they don't have the faintest idea what you're up to. The strange thing is, they end up being much happier and much more grateful to you that way.
(During following lines she turns the crown around several times in her lap, then, as unobtrusively as she had taken it off, puts it back on her head again)
Then there's another thing I've learned: you can be a completely decent and honorable person and still manage to look out for yourself once in a while. There are, of course, people who refuse to understand the sorts of things I've been trying to explain to you. They'll insist on telling you what it's your solemn duty to do no matter how tangled and complicated the individual situation might be. They'll tell you a father and his daughter are supposed to act in such and such a way even if they both end up being perfectly miserable.
(She stands up, speaks following lines pacing back and forth in front of throne)
My only answer is that you can't set up rules in the abstract and expect all the people around you to conform to these rules. It simply isn't human nature. And I can assure you of one thing: I've had more than my share of watching human nature in action. I haven't always liked what I've seen, but I also know there's only so much I can do about it. Well, that's enough for now.
(She starts turning toward stairway, but still has her eye on the audience. LEAR quickly stands up, pretends he has only now entered)
I've taken considerable advantage of your time and your good will, but I'm sure you'll understand.
(CORDELIA notices LEAR, but seems to have the impression he has only now entered. She starts up the stairs and at the same time LEAR starts down. Both turn their faces away from one another. When they reach the same stair, LEAR suddenly turns to her and grabs her arm long enough to make her stop)
LEAR: Do you want to know something?
CORDELIA (Coolly) Yes?
LEAR: You were a mistake.
CORDELIA (Uncomprehending): Mistake? What do you mean by that?
LEAR Your sisters wore planned for, but you were a mistake.
CORDELIA (Softly and martyred) I see.
(CORDELIA continues up the stairs with martyred dignity, LEAR hurries down. Black-out)
(Back to list of Variations)

DEATH-BED
(The tableau should be somehow reminiscent of Renaissance pictures depicting the death of the Virgin. At top of stairway a cot on which CORDELIA lies, the crown as always on her head. On the highest step is the DOCTOR ATTENDANT, who ministers to CORDELIA throughout the scene. On the step below DOCTOR ATTENDANT is FRANCE, on the next step is an ATTENDANT who will be referred to as LEAR's ATTENDANT since it is his duty to maintain control of LEAR, who occupies the lowest step. Only the DOCTOR ATTENDANT is allowed to communicate with CORDELIA directly. Messages from the DOCTOR ATTENDANT to LEAR are relayed down the line. As lights go on, it is evident that LEAR's ATTENDANT, who maintains a firm grip on LEAR, has all he can do to keep LEAR from running up to CORDELIA's bedside.)
LEAR (Quietly): How serious is it?
DOCTOR ATTENDANT (Whispering almost inaudibly to FRANCE, who relays whisper to LEAR's ATTENDANT): Shhl Shh!
LEAR'S ATTENDANT (Very audibly): Shh! Shhl
LEAR (Raising his voice): I said, how serious is it?
DOCTOR ATTENDANT (Whispering to FRANCE, who relays message down the line): Tell him he's making it worse for her by talking.
LEAR'S ATTENDANT: He says you're making it worse for her by talking.
LEAR (Loudly): She's my daughter. I have a right to know.
(Pause. DOCTOR ATTENDANT and FRANCE both look at him disapprovingly)
Is it serious, or is it not?
DOCTOR ATTENDANT (Whispering to FRANCE, who relays message down the line): Tell him it's very serious, but every word he shouts will make it worse.
LEAR'S ATTENDANT (Softly to LEAR): It's very serious, but every word you shout will make it worse.
(LEAR'S ATTENDANT tightens hold on LEAR as LEAR tries to rush up the stairs. Pause. CORDELIA makes an incoherent sound. DOCTOR ATTENDANT holds her wrist, puts other hand on her forehead, FRANCE gazes at her longingly, shakes his head in despair, then another incoherent sound from CORDELIA)
DOCTOR ATTENDANT (Whispering to FRANCE, who relays the message): Tell him she's trying to say something.
LEAR'S ATTENDANT (Softly to LEAR): She's trying to say something.
(All wait with anticipation)
CORDELIA (After uttering more incoherent sounds): My . . . my father always meant well. My father was good to me. I have nothing to regret. (Her voice fails. DOCTOR ATTENDANT bends over to breathe into her mouth, he breathes hard, then stands away for a moment, looks at her intently)
DOCTOR ATTENDANT (Whispering to FRANCE, who relays message): Tell him this is the crisis. Tell him it can go either way.
(DOCTOR ATTENDANT breathes into her mouth again while message goes down the line)
LEAR'S ATTENDANT (Softly to LEAR): This is the crisis. It can go either way.
LEAR (Trying vainly to break out of ATTENDANT's grip, shouts loudly): Help her! Help her!
(FRANCE quickly whispers to LEAR's ATTENDANT, who puts his hand over LEAR's mouth while trying to hold him back with the other hand. FRANCE has to help in holding LEAR back. DOCTOR ATTENDANT continues breathing into CORDELIA, then stands back to look, holds her pulse, bends over, listens to her heart beat, stands back)
DOCTOR ATTENDANT (Whispering to FRANCE, who relays message): Tell him she's rallying.
LEAR'S ATTENDANT (Softly to LEAR while still holding his hand over LEAR's mouth): She's rallying.
FRANCE (Sighing in relief, then softly): Thank God!
(LEAR tries to utter a sound, which is stifled behind ATTENDANT's hand, LEAR makes a violent attempt to move, is still held back by ATTENDANT and FRANCE)
DOCTOR ATTENDANT (Whispering to FRANCE, who relays message): Tell him she'll make it.
LEAR'S ATTENDANT (Softly to LEAR): She'll make it.
(Another stifled but also louder sound from LEAR as lights quickly fade out.)
(Back to list of Variations)

HOME-MOVIE
(A sheet hung against wall serves as a movie screen. CORDELIA sits alongside a projector. LEAR sits in a chair placed at an angle somewhere between projector and screen. The movie (or video) being shown is without sound track. It is an obviously amateur attempt at moviemaking, showing mainly close-ups of LEAR and CORDELIA in tragic poses. The real CORDELIA comments on the movie at various points.)
(FIRST SECTION OF MOVIE: LEAR in long embrace with CORDELIA, then a more distant shot in which CORDELIA bends down and LEAR gives her a fatherly benediction.)
CORDELIA (Commenting at strategic intervals): They've just been re-united and he's only now recognized who she is. . . . He's not seen her in all this time. . . . It's obviously too much for him. . . . For her too. . . . They vow they're never going to be parted again, never again.
(SECOND SECTION OF MOVIE: Sharp interruption of soldiers crossing, close-ups of spears, sadistic faces of soldiers, confusion.)
CORDELIA: We see vast battles all around them. . . . Menacing forces everywhere. . . . Soldiers breaking in on them. . . . All the marvelous things the two of them had planned for each other are quickly forgotten. . . . It was not to be. . . .
(THIRD AND LONGEST SECTION OF MOVIE: LEAR and CORDELIA are shown behind prison bars. She sits on a cot strumming a lute. He lies on the cot, his head resting on her lap. Occasionally she stops, looks at him, strokes his hair.)
CORDELIA: They've been captured by the troops, placed in the narrowest of cells. . . . In distant chambers the death sentence has been pronounced on her. . . .
(LEAR quietly gets up from his chair, circles chair from behind, sits down again. CORDELIA pays no attention to him)
CORDELIA: She knows inside what's in store for her, but her first thought is to keep it from him as long as she possibly can. . . .
(LEAR extends an arm in the path of the projector. It appears on the screen. He quickly removes his arm, waits a moment, then extends it again and lets his fingers move against each other to cast animal shadows on the screen. CORDELIA goes on as though nothing has happened)
She sings to him, tells him quaint stories, keeps his mind occupied with happy trivial things. . . . She knows that soon the executioner will come for her, but first they will let him, the one who's foremost in her mind, go free. . . . He will wait for her, certain that once again they will be reunited. . . . She knows inside the time will come when he must learn what they have done to her, but she will protect him for now. . . .
(LEAR removes arm, sits quietly watching as at start of scene)
She has learned to dissemble and has discovered a multitude of ways to re-assure him that all is going well. . . . The impending tragedy must be held back from him as long as is humanly possible, and so she sings him one last song. . . . Yet there is one thing she has refused to recognize inside, and this is that he too fears the worst. Both, in fact, have learned to hide their deepest fears from one another, for each of them wants to protect the other more than either cares to protect himself. The truth is obviously too much for them to contemplate, too painful, too terrifying in every way. And so she sings him one last song. . . . Still, there are moments when, try as she will, she cannot prevent a sob from breaking through--
(CORDELIA herself suppresses a sob or two at this point)
So she pretends it is all a part of the song, nothing personal, of course, but something that the performance simply demands. She smoothes it over with a smile. . . .
(During the last few moments LEAR has quietly got up, walked over to the screen and yanked it off the wall. Movie, however, continues showing on the wall behind the screen. When LEAR notices this, he plants himself squarely in the path of the projector and arches his back provocatively so that the movie is projected against his rear end. CORDELIA goes on narrating as though trying to ignore what has happened, but more and more sobs appear as she speaks)
Yet there is only so much a person can hide, try as she will. She can hide her sobs in her singing, but she fears she will lose all control of herself when they come to fetch her for the execution. She will try to bite her lips . . . by dint of sheer will, force out a loving smile. . . .
(CORDELIA is overcome by sobs. She quickly gets up and runs out the theater aisle sobbing. LEAR remains motionless as the movie continues on the back of his gown. Projector suddenly stops, leaving stage dark.)
(Back to list of Variations)

MASKED-BALL
(Before lights go on MUSIC ATTENDANT starts playing a familiar Strauss or Lehar waltz tune. Throughout the scene, whenever no dialogue is going on for an extended period, he turns the volume up. Just before conversations begin, he turns the volume down. When lights go on we see at least four couples--ATTENDANTS plus CORDELIA and FRANCE--waltzing. Several small benches to which the dancers periodically retire are set in various parts of stage. All the dancers wear masks. They also should wear something to symbolize a special ball costume--for instance a stripe of crepe paper extending from shoulder to hip. Since the ATTENDANTS wear similar gowns, women ATTENDANTS are distinguished in this scene by the fact that they carry fans. The audience will be able to distinguish LEAR, CORDELIA, and FRANCE from each other and from the ATTENDANTS through the fact that all are wearing their usual gowns. This is the one scene, however, in which none of the royal characters wears a crown. Throughout the scene the audience should be aware of a mildly erotic atmosphere among the dancers: occasionally they are seen stealing kisses from one another or surreptitiously handing billet-doux to somebody else's partner. During the dancing there should always be one couple sitting on a bench, though they should not remain there for a great length of time. Partners should be exchanged frequently. Throughout the scene BUTLER ATTENDANT stands stiffly at attention at head of stairs, as though guarding entrance. Soon after lights have gone on and audience has sized up what is going on, LEAR, masked, enters stage at head of stairs. He walks pompously, looks down at dancers, then is stopped abruptly by BUTLER ATTENDANT as he starts to descend stairs.)
BUTLER ATTENDANT (To LEAR, as he holds him back): Do you have an invitation to this ball, sir?
LEAR: No, but I have an account to settle here.
BUTLER ATTENDANT: You'll never get in unless you settle accounts with me first.
(LEAR pulls a wad of paper money out of his sleeve, puts it into BUTLER ATTENDANT's hand. BUTLER ATTENDANT pockets it in a conspicuously inconspicuous way)
LEAR (Looking down again at dancers): Which one is the Queen?
BUTLER ATTENDANT: We never give out that sort of information at our masked-balls.
LEAR (Pulling another wad of money out of his sleeve): Let me ask you again: which one is the Queen?
BUTLER ATTENDANT (Pocketing money as before, speaks without having to look down to observe): She's the lady with the red stripe.
(LEAR promptly tries to start downstairs, is stopped again by BUTLER ATTENDANT. Before BUTLER ATTENDANT is able to say anything, LEAR has pulled another wad of money out, tried to hand it to BUTLER ATTENDANT)
LEAR: Will this do?
BUTLER ATTENDANT (Moralistically disdaining the money): Really, sir, I was merely going to remind you it's the custom here to announce the role you are assuming for the ball.
LEAR (Thinks for a moment) You may call me the Mystery King.
BUTLER ATTENDANT (Stepping forward to address dancers): Hear ye! Hear ye!
(Music and dancing stop, everybody looks up expectantly. LEAR stands still while he is being introduced)
Lords and ladies, I beg to announce the arrival of the Mystery King.
(LEAR descends the stairs resolutely. Ladies, including CORDELIA, wave their fans, whisper such things as "I wonder if he's someone we know," "Where could he ever be from?" "Isn't that an impressive stride?" "I hope he asks me for a dance." Music starts again, couples start dancing, everybody glances frequently at LEAR to see whom he is going to dance with. LEAR walks back and forth among the dancers looking them over, stops when he finds FRANCE and CORDELIA, pokes FRANCE in the back. FRANCE and CORDELIA stop)
LEAR (To FRANCE): May I?
CORDELIA (Coquettishly, waving fan): Oo! The Mystery King!
FRANCE (Bowing): Your Highness!
CORDELIA (Still coquettishly, still waving fan): I never dreamt I'd be so honored.
(LEAR grabs her forcefully, moves her quickly away from FRANCE and starts to dance. Throughout following conversation they dance close to front of stage. Music must be soft enough so that they may be easily heard. FRANCE, meanwhile, starts keeping time to the music with one hand, then is captured by a flirtatious ATTENDANT who forces him to dance. While he dances he constantly tries to keep an eye on LEAR and CORDELIA)
LEAR (Solemnly, while dancing): I have a thing or two to say to you.
CORDELIA (Coquettishly, as throughout the following dialogue): You'll say it with style, I hope.
LEAR: I'm rather old for that, I suspect.
CORDELIA: I've always admired older men.
LEAR: What if they're over fifty?
CORDELIA: That's when their charm begins.
LEAR: And over sixty?
CORDELIA: There's a fine mellowness that sets in at sixty.
LEAR: And over seventy?
CORDELIA: Grey hair becomes a man.
LEAR: I'm afraid I'm too wrinkled for a young woman like you.
CORDELIA: A man doesn't begin to be interesting until he shows those little lines of maturity.
LEAR (Showing signs of fatigue, draws her to a bench near front of stage): I get out of breath pretty fast these days.
CORDELIA (Sitting down with him, starts to wave fan): That's only because you've come a long way today.
LEAR: Not as long as you might think.
CORDELIA (Turning face as though expecting him to steal a kiss): You've not yet told me where you're from.
LEAR (Ignoring her play for a kiss): I'm the Mystery King, remember.
CORDELIA (Trying again for a kiss): That doesn't excuse you from giving me at least a hint.
LEAR (Still trying to ignore her play for a kiss): Let's say I'm from--
(Pause, then he gives her a perfunctory kiss to get it over with)
Let's say I'm from Mysteryland.
CORDELIA (A little sourly): I can see that men are none too courtly in Mysteryland.
LEAR: We do our best.
CORDELIA (Coyly, waving fan): Do you ever offer personal tours of Mysteryland to--
(Pause)
--to foreign visitors?
LEAR: I haven't up to now--never had the time, in fact.
CORDELIA (Still waving fan, looks him eagerly in the eye): Any chance you might make an exception?
LEAR: As a matter of fact, now that I'm alone I might be able to fit in a tour or two here and there.
CORDELIA (With tact): You're alone then? I mean, you have no immediate family?
LEAR: Not anymore. They've all gone their own ways, you might say.
CORDELIA (With sympathy): If it makes you feel better to talk about them, I'll be happy to listen.
LEAR: As a matter of fact, it makes me feel worse.
CORDELIA (With resignation): Anything you say.
(Pause, while he looks away)
Wasn't there something you were going to say to me?
LEAR: Maybe I ought to leave it for some other time.
CORDELIA (Coquettishly again): The time may never come again for us.
LEAR: I think I'd better say it in private.
CORDELIA: I know your type.
(Pause, while she looks around, then points toward stairs, whispers to him)
Maybe we could step over there a moment.
(She grabs his hand, leads him to stairs. Music volume increases temporarily during this interval. FRANCE drags his partner to try to get closer to LEAR and CORDELIA and see what is going on, but his partner quickly pulls him back and forces him to start dancing again. During following dialogue LEAR and CORDELIA slowly move up the stairs, one stair at a time, between snatches of conversation. BUTLER ATTENDANT, as motionless as ever, remains standing at top. Music volume is turned down before LEAR and CORDELIA start talking. CORDELIA waves fan as she talks)
I shouldn't be doing this, I know I shouldn't.
(She goes down a step)
I think I really ought to go back.
LEAR: Just give me a moment.
CORDELIA: A lot can happen in a moment.
LEAR: I'll make it quick.
CORDELIA: All right then.
(She moves up a stair)
Now tell me what you wanted to say.
LEAR (Drawing her up another stair): Come be my queen in Mysteryland.
CORDELIA (Coyly): Oo la la! But you don't even know if I'm free.
LEAR (Drawing her up another stair): If you're not free, you shouldn't be leading me on this way.
CORDELIA (Innocently): Why, I've never led anyone on in my life.
LEAR: Then come be my queen in Mysteryland.
CORDELIA: You manage to come on rather strong, sir.
LEAR: At least tell me what you think my chances are.
CORDELIA: Well, it's a bit hard to say at this point.
(Pause, as she waves her fan in contemplation)
On the other hand, I wouldn't completely rule things out.
LEAR (Drawing her up another stair): Is there anything I could do to better my chances?
CORDELIA: Well . . .
(She contemplates for a moment, waves fan)
I'd like to know a little more about you first--your background, your ambitions, your way of living, that sort of thing.
LEAR: You want me to show you something?
CORDELIA (Eagerly) What could it be?
LEAR: Look, you little vamp!
(He lifts his mask)
CORDELIA (Turning away In surprise): Oo!
(LEAR remains motionless, keeps mask lifted up with his hand. CORDELIA remains looking away at first, then slowly turns toward him again to make sure that what she saw was true. After she looks him in the face again she quickly turns away once more, speaks in a horrified tone of voice)
Oh my Godl
(Pause. LEAR fastens his mask back on, laughs softly to himself. Then CORDELIA turns toward him abruptly, speaks coldly as never before in this scene)
Don't you know you're supposed to have been in bed hours ago?
LEAR (Defiantly): Ha!
CORDELIA: The servants will ring the kidnap-alarm the moment they see that your bed's empty.
LEAR: Ha!
CORDELIA (Exasperated): Whatever gave you the notion to come down here this way?
LEAR (Quietly, firmly): I came to expose you in front of your guests.
CORDELIA: Expose . . . me?
(Pause, while she opens her fan again, briefly waves it)
You might as well know that flirting's the most natural thing in the world when we have our masked-balls.
LEAR: That's not what I meant.
(Suddenly with bitterness)
I came here to expose you for all the other things you've been doing to me.
(He turns to dancers, starts running up the rest of the stairs, speaks while running up)
Look up here, all of you--
(Music stops, dancers look up, whisper things like "I never expected a special show," "What could he be trying to do?")
Look up and see for yourselves what--
CORDELIA (Removing her mask, interrupting LEAR before he can go on with his speech): Ninny, why it's Ninny!
(She calls out below)
France, France, look who's here! It's our old jester Ninny, after all these years away from us.
LEAR: No, it isn't and don't you try to interrupt--
CORDELIA: And guess whom he's impersonating tonight, France? Guess whom? Won't you say hello to the King, Ninny?
LEAR: I will not, and I'm not Ninny either.
(LEAR tears off his mask, throws it violently toward dancers below)
CORDELIA: That's right, take off your mask, Ninny, and show us how well you can play the King-Father.
LEAR: I'm not playing the King-Father, I am the King-Father.
CORDELIA: Of course you're the King-Father and you're playing him gorgeously, Ninny.
(LEAR glowers at her in impotent anger)
Bravo, Ninnyl I see you're doing him angry tonight. Come show us how he clenches his fists.
(Pause, while LEAR tries to vent his anger first by shaking his head, then his body, ends up clenching his fists. Dancers laugh, one or two start clapping their hands)
How I wish the King-Father were here to see you, Ninny!
(She turns to dancers)
There's nobody but his old fool Ninny that he ever suffered to mimic him.
(LEAR roars at her like a lion. Dancers laugh and clap their hands. CORDELIA addresses dancers)
Poor Father, he'll be downcast all morning when he finds out we never woke him to watch Ninny play the old king.
LEAR: I'm Lear, I'll have you know, I'm King Lear.
(Dancers laugh and applaud)
CORDELIA: Play it old, Ninny, play it old. Remember, the King-Father's very infirm these days.
(LEAR takes deep breaths, as though in agony)
Breathe hard, Ninny, be old and infirm!
(To dancers)
How I wish my father were here now! There's no one he loves more than Ninny, not even me!
(LEAR attempts to speak, though at first he is able to utter only inarticulate sounds)
Speak up, Ninny, and remember to breathe hard. We want you to say something memorable.
LEAR: I . . . I
(His voice dies out. He holds the palm of his left hand against his left chest, holds right hand out to dancers. Then he brings palm of right hand to right chest, then slowly moves both hands outward, raises them in air. He sputters at first, begins to talk once he has his hands high in air)
I . . . I . . . can't . . . stand this anymore!
(He collapses. Dancers laugh, applaud wildly, yell "Bravo, Ninny!" as does CORDELIA. BUTLER ATTENDANT, who has stood stiffly in his customary position throughout scene, betrays a disdainful look at the collapsed body. Black-out.)
(Back to list of Variations)

AUCTION

(LEAR presides at auction before an audience of ATTENDANTS who are sitting on floor before him. A drawn curtain hides the item he is about to sell. An ATTENDANT stands nearby to pull curtain. Before lights go on we hear ATTENDANTS whisper things like "What could he be up to now?" "He's been holding something back all along," "There's something tricky about this man." Whispering is interrupted by the sharp pounding of LEAR's gavel. Lights go on as he is still pounding and as the ATTENDANTS start to quiet down.)
LEAR: Don't go yet, gentlemen, we have one more item up for sale today. And I can tell you frankly, gentlemen, there was a time when I'd not for the world have parted with this item. But times have changed, and, as it turns out, I have no use for it anymore, no use at all, and now, you see, I've decided to put it on the block. I shall hold you in suspense no longer, gentlemen: I want you to give this item a good look and judge for yourselves.
(To ATTENDANT near curtain)
You can pull the curtain now.
(Great gasp of admiration as soon as curtain is drawn, for it reveals CORDELIA, veiled, stooped in a bird cage. She remains motionless. Several ATTENDANTS scream in horror. One male ATTENDANT screams in falsetto voice, "This is the height of callousness!" then runs out left. Some ATTENDANTS, obviously approving, point at her and whisper things like "Her plumage isn't bad at all!" "It's a shame he has to sell her," "The bidding'll go beyond what I can afford." Others, obviously disapproving, whisper things like "He knows no shame," "How could he do a thing like that?" "If I had a bird like that, I'd starve before I sold her." LEAR looks at CORDELIA a moment after curtain is drawn, then abruptly turns away. Quite suddenly the bidding begins)
FIRST ATTENDANT (In a vulgar tone): Six hundred.
SECOND ATTENDANT (Directly thereafter): Seven hundred fifty.
THIRD ATTENDANT (Just as quickly thereafter) Nine hundred fifty.
LEAR (Pounding gavel): Hold it, gentlemen. I never said the bidding was supposed to begin yet. I want to be absolutely fair with you. Before we even start the bidding, I want you to find out for yourselves what you'll be getting in this bird here. I had three such birds once, I'll have you know, and this one was by far the best of them, but she still left a good bit to be desired. As it turns out, she's outlived her welcome with me, or, to put it more simply, I don't like her any more. This doesn't of course mean she might not suit another master. I can assure you, for one thing, that she comes from a very rare species and has the best of pedigrees. For all I know, gentlemen, she might not be the same nasty bird in somebody else's house that she was in mine.
(He turns to CORDELIA)
Now I want you to show the gentlemen your claw, Cordelia. I want them to see for themselves what a powerful claw you have. Hold out your claw, Cordelia.
(Pause. CORDELIA slowly extends a hand in LEAR's direction. She waves the hand repeatedly in a graceful and pleading way)
I said show it to the gentlemen, not to me.
(He looks conspicuously away from CORDELIA)
If you keep on doing that, Cordelia, I shall have to start your price very high and nobody will want you.
FIRST ATTENDANT: I offer two thousand.
SECOND ATTENDANT (Quickly thereafter): Two thousand five hundred.
THIRD ATTENDANT (Quickly thereafter): Three thousand one hundred.
LEAR (Pounding gavel):Hold it a moment, hold it, gentlemen.
(ATTENDANTS quiet down. During next speech ATTENDANT who had run out irately slinks back in, sits down, later joins in bidding)
I haven't even announced the starting price yet and you're taking it upon yourselves to tell me what this bird is worth. I won't have you bid till you really know what you're getting.
(He turns to CORDELIA)
Now I want you to show the gentlemen your beak, Cordelia. Show them what a sharp little beak you have.
(Pause. CORDELIA slowly draws back her veil, brings her hand to her mouth, throws LEAR a series of kisses. LEAR quickly turns his head away from her)
I didn't want you doing that, Cordelia. That isn't what I asked you to do at all.
(He looks at her again, sees she is still sending him kisses, turns away abruptly)
If you keep on doing that I'll simply have to take you off the market.
FIRST ATTENDANT: Five thousand for that bird.
SECOND ATTENDANT (Quickly thereafter): Six thousand five hundred.
THIRD ATTENDANT (Quickly thereafter): Nine thousand.
FOURTH. ATTENDANT (Quickly thereafter): Eleven thousand eight hundred.
LEAR (Pounding gavel): I want order around here, gentlemen. If you can't maintain a modicum of order this sale will never be able to take place. And I won't have this bird leaving the auction block until she's shown you she can behave herself. Now I want you to show the gentlemen how you can sing, Cordelia.
(He turns to CORDELIA)
I want you to show them what a piercing tone you command. Chirp, chirp, Cordelia, chirp!
(Pause. CORDELIA slowly pulls back her veil, turns to LEAR and, in a soft voice, slowly repeats the word "Father" over and over again throughout the following speeches. LEAR quickly turns away, then speaks after CORDELIA has said "Father" two or three times)
Don't do that to me, Cordelia. That wasn't what I asked for at all.
FIRST ATTENDANT: Fifteen thousand.
SECOND ATTENDANT: Nineteen thousand.
THIRD ATTENDANT: Twenty-three thousand five hundred.
FOURTH ATTENDANT: Thirty thousand.
FIFTH ATTENDANT: Thirty-nine thousand.
LEAR (Pounding gavel as bidding goes on, outshouts bidders): She's not for sale, gentlemen! I want order, please. Can't you hear, I've said she's not for sale, I've taken her off the market.
SIXTH ATTENDANT: Fifty thousand.
SEVENTH ATTENDANT: Sixty-eight thousand five hundred.
EIGHTH ATTENDANT: (Very loudly) One hundred thousand.
LEAR (Shouting at ATTENDANT near curtain): Draw the curtain, you! Didn't you hear me say I've taken her off the market?
(ATTENDANT draws curtain; CORDELIA's voice stops saying "Father" at this point. ATTENDANTS, who have become increasingly restless, start rushing up toward curtain. LEAR rushes to beat them to curtain and, with the help of the ATTENDANT drawing curtain, manages to ward them off. ATTENDANTS are now bidding fees like "Five hundred thousand," "Two million," "Five million" while fighting to get to cage. LEAR shouts while warding off onslaught of ATTENDANTS)
Don't let them take my bird! Don't let them! She's mine. Can't you see she's mine? Don't let them!
(Lights go out in middle of uproar. MUSIC ATTENDANT starts music for next scene immediately after and quickly drowns out the noise.)
(Back to list of Variations)

IMPROVISATION

(Showy organ music of a César Franck-like sort. Slow procession of ATTENDANTS crosses stage from left to right. ATTENDANTS come out in twos, with hands folded, faces pious and motionless. As each couple reaches stage center, it turns downstage briefly and genuflects, then continues procession towards right. By the time the third or fourth couple has crossed, CORDELIA enters alone. She marches in the same slow rhythm as the couples before her. In one hand she carries a prayer-book, in the other a long rope which extends behind her offstage. Before she can reach the center LEAR enters. He is crawling on all fours, and the end of the rope which CORDELIA leads is looped around his waist. As soon as the audience has had a good look at him DIRECTOR's voice is heard from audience.)
DIRECTOR (Getting up abruptly): OK, I've had enough of this for now. You can cut it.
(He walks briskly toward stage. MUSIC ATTENDANT stops music as soon as he has spoken. For the first moment or two CORDELIA and LEAR continue as before)
Did you hear me? I said cut it.
(More loudly)
Cut it!
(CORDELIA and LEAR finally stop dead in their tracks. They look bewildered. During following speech DIRECTOR takes a knife out of his pocket, cuts LEAR's leash, addresses LEAR)
I think it's time you cut out that outrageous pose and stood up like a man.
(LEAR slowly stands up. DIRECTOR now addresses both of them)
You've indulged yourselves more than enough for a single evening. I was perfectly willing to go along with this business for a while--
(He points disdainfully at rope, walks over to tear CORDELIA's prayer-book out of her hand)
--but this is more than anybody--and I know I'm speaking for the whole audience--is willing to accept. I'll put up with absurdity--to a point, of course--and I'll allow you to steal unashamedly from every other contemporary play, and, for that matter, I'm even willing to put up with prayer-books and Christian ritual in a strictly pagan work, but I'll tell you one thing for sure, I won't put up with all this repetitiousness and gimmickiness. I gave you free rein to do what you wanted, and now you've reduced what might have been a beautiful play to the sheer mechanicalness of a formula.
(At first LEAR and CORDELIA look stunned, then they gradually show signs of anger and CORDELIA waits for her first chance to interrupt)
Why, there isn't a person in this whole house--
(He extends his arm to encompass audience)
--who couldn't pick up from here and start repeating those tired old routines of yours exactly where you left off--
CORDELIA (Showing anger): What in God's name are you trying to use us for?
(Then sarcastically)
Or are you staging another one of your famous object-lessons?
DIRECTOR: I'm not staging anything. I'm simply telling you there's nothing in the least original, or entertaining, or even provocative in these routines you've been dishing up, and I'm convinced that almost any person in this theatre--
(He extends his arm to audience once again)
--could continue this play from here--
CORDELIA (Exploding): Well then I think it's high time some of them gave it a try!
(She precipitously tears off her gown, revealing tights underneath. She takes off her crown, coldly hands gown and crown to DIRECTOR, then looks at LEAR, addressing him by the actor's first name)
And you, too! Do you think I'm going to subject myself to this humiliation alone?
(LEAR grudgingly and passively follows suit, also revealing tights underneath. CORDELIA addresses DIRECTOR coldly)
Might I ask what you expect us to do at this point?
DIRECTOR: Sit down somewhere and make yourselves scarce. You've begun to pall on me.
(DIRECTOR, holding their costumes, maintains an imperious stance toward them. They look at him closely, testing his seriousness)
CORDELIA (With quiet sarcasm): Any particular place you want us to sit?
DIRECTOR I think I'll simply have you trade with your successors.
LEAR: "Successors," no less.
DIRECTOR (To audience): All right now, I think I can prove my point with a minimum of fuss. Somewhere in this audience there're at least two dozen people who, I know, are dying to pick up from where our late stars left off. Do I have some volunteers?
(Nervous giggles from audience. DIRECTOR surveys audience. While he is waiting for a response, LEAR and CORDELIA whisper such things as "He's got some plants out there, take my word for it," "This's going to have all the spontaneity of a military funeral," "Wait till after the performance--he'll never be able to plant the same people a second time")
There's a young lady who's just rearing to try her hand at Cordelia.
(He beckons a WOMAN from the third row who had hesitantly raised her hand. WOMAN walks slowly to stage. Meanwhile, without looking around for male volunteers, DIRECTOR simply grabs the arm of a MAN in front row and cajoles him to stage. As soon as WOMAN has got up from her seat CORDELIA whispers catty remarks about her features to LEAR. She must emphasize whatever is conspicuous about the woman, for instance, "She shows a notable lack of natural resources," and "Look at that frightful dress she has on. The hemline's exactly where it was when she bought it ten years ago." DIRECTOR turns to LEAR and CORDELIA as soon as he gets his PLANTS onstage)
Are you still here? Get down there where you'll be less visible to me.
(LEAR and CORDELIA walk down speaking in loud stage whispers: "I think that's a girl I knew in school. She must have had her nose straightened," "Wait till you hear her try to place her voice," "He wouldn't know the difference between King Lear and Edward Lear," "She's what you'd call the Sarah Bernhardt of--"
(Names a provincial small town or run-down suburb in vicinity of theatre. CORDELIA sits in front row in MAN's seat, LEAR in third row in WOMAN's seat. Throughout succeeding scene CORDELIA turns around at indicated intervals to stage-whisper a remark to LEAR. During this period DIRECTOR has been working quietly with his PLANTS. He has had a hard time persuading the MAN onto the stage, occasionally saying things like "Come on now, give it a try," "You won't feel at all nervous once you're up there talking." DIRECTOR puts LEAR's robe over MAN, hands CORDELIA's robe to WOMAN, who puts it on quite ceremoniously, DIRECTOR places crown on each of his PLANTS, then prepares to leave)
I'll leave you to your own devices.
(DIRECTOR hurries offstage right)
MAN (Adjusting his gown with WOMAN's help): I never felt so silly in my life.
(Both PLANTS seem a bit awkward at first, walk about the stage a moment or two)
CORDELIA (To LEAR, who sits two rows behind her): Look at the way she walks. She obviously wasn't the star of her modern dance class.
(PLANTS pass each other by a time or two, then WOMAN suddenly confronts MAN and both quickly fall into their roles)
WOMAN (Sweetly): There's a little matter I've been meaning to take up with you for some time now, Father.
MAN: I wish you wouldn't always force those long prefaces on me.
WOMAN: I've never forced a thing on anybody. I merely wanted to mention that little friend of yours you've had visiting you.
MAN: He's not in the least little. You know good and well he's bigger than I am.
WOMAN: I meant it figuratively, but I'll try to be more careful with my adjectives from here on.
CORDELIA (To LEAR, during WOMAN's last speech): They're fishing desperately for something to say.
(During preceding exchange, the DIRECTOR has entered from right wheeling in a table. On the table standing upright in a holder is a primeval-looking club. As soon as he enters, the word CLUB is projected beneath the word IMPROVISATION. DIRECTOR sets table between PLANTS, quickly disappears to some part of stage from which he cannot readily be seen by PLANTS, but he remains constantly in view of audience. He watches the succeeding scene with a smug air)
MAN: I think we ought to treat him with all due respect--
(He suddenly notices table with club, quickly starts fingering club as though about to lift it out)
What do you think this is for?
WOMAN (Stepping out of role as soon as she notices club, speaks firmly): Let's not have to use that thing.
MAN (Lifting it experimentally): You never know. it might provide a good deal of fun.
(He swings it in the air)
WOMAN: (With a touch of desperation): I said please let's not use it.
CORDELIA (Interrupting, to LEAR): She seems to think expressiveness is all in the hips.
WOMAN (Obviously irritated by CORDELIA's interruption): I honestly don't want to have to use it. The play's already been much too full of objects and contraptions and stuff like that.
(She fishes for words, obviously nervous)
Those people had the most obsessive need for objects to get themselves worked up. So . . . won't you please just take the hint and forget the whole thing?
(MAN looks at her a bit confused, sets the club back on table. She quickly steps back into her role)
Now, to get back to your friend Xyphrax--
MAN: It's King Xyphrax. Don't forget he was a king once too.
WOMAN: So we'll call him King Xyphrax, Emperor Xyphrax, King-Father Xyphrax--anything you want, in fact. But it's high time someone told him that a title in itself doesn't mean any too much. It's the aura of respect a man can create around himself that makes all the difference.
MAN: Don't be too hard on him please. He's been feeling pretty rotten lately. You know, he's also had his share of daughter trouble.
WOMAN: You must tell your friend that if he looks around hard enough he may find there's a nice daughter waiting for him somewhere.
MAN: (Sarcastically): Someone like you, for instance?
CORDELIA (Interrupting, very audibly, to LEAR): She is a plant. You can always tell that -------- Drama School accent
(She names drama school or college where WOMAN was evidently a student)
WOMAN (Irritated by the interruption, tries all the more earnestly to assume her role): Now to get back to your friend Xyphrax. I wish you'd tell him--though in the most tactful way, of course--to be just a little more considerate the way he uses the bathroom.
MAN: I think it'd only be fair to Xyphrax if you got more specific.
WOMAN: It's not that I'm objecting on my own account--after all, France and I never have occasion to go see for ourselves--but we just can't ignore it when our servants start complaining to us day in and day out.
MAN: You're still not being very specific.
WOMAN: I thought for sure I'd simply have to say the word "bathroom" and you'd . . . take it from there.
CORDELIA: (Interrupting, to LEAR) Just wait, she's going to spell it out for sure.
LEAR (To CORDELIA): Shh!
WOMAN (Noticeably irritated by CORDELIA's interruption): After all, the two of you have been sharing the same bathroom for two months now.
MAN: As a matter of fact, I can assure you Xyphrax has never used the bathroom.
WOMAN: That's a little hard to believe, since the bathtub's an absolute horror at least every other day.
MAN: I swear up and down he vowed never to take a bath ever since his exile began.
WOMAN: Well, I hardly know what to say in that case, though it's by no means just the bathtub that gets all these complaints.
MAN (With lurking anger): Make yourself more clear. I'm not the sort of man who likes all this beating around the bush.
WOMAN: Well, if you insist--
CORDELIA (Interrupting, to LEAR): She'll never be able to let well enough alone.
LEAR (To CORDELIA): Shh!
WOMAN: --if you insist, but it's hardly necessary to go into detail for a grown man like you, Father--
LEAR (Before CORDELIA can say a word) Shh! Shh!
WOMAN: --no. I can assure you I'm not going to let you force me to name it, but there's one thing I will say, there are all sorts of things you can do nowadays to make it more appetizing!
(Pause, during which LEAR says "Shh!" and MAN, at first bewildered, gradually gets her meaning)
MAN: You want to know something? I think you're trying awfully hard to use Xyphrax as a way of getting at me. And you want to know something else, I don't at all like that dirty little mind of yours prying into my bodily functions!
LEAR: (More quietly than before) Shh!
WOMAN: If I'd known you'd ever speak to me in this way--
MAN: And you want to know something still more--
(He starts reaching for club)
--I just hate Xyphrax and I hate what you're doing to me through him.
(He aims club at her and LEAR is heard gasping)
WOMAN (Coldly): I told you not to touch that thing.
MAN (Swinging club and moving forward while WOMAN moves backward): And who do you think you are telling me--
WOMAN (In a somewhat sinister tone): If you don't set that thing down this very second, I'll get you where it really hurts.
(Pause. Then MAN begins to look at her longingly)
MAN: You really will?
(He hands her the club, speaks with gleeful anticipation)
Please use it.
(She accepts club hesitatingly at first, weighs it with both hands a moment, assumes a gradually fiercer look, starts to practice a swing aimed at him, then, just as audience expects her to come through with a blow, she suddenly drops club to floor)
WOMAN (Almost in tears): I don't want to have to go through this again. I don't want to do this ever again.
MAN (Bending down to pick up club): Oh come on now. I really want you to.
(He tries to hand club to her, she holds her hands against her body in order not to have to accept it, moves away from him as he moves toward her)
Please use it.
CORDELIA (To LEAR, loudly): How perverse!
WOMAN (More desperate than before, still refuses club): Don't make me do it, David. Please, David, don't force me to, don't.
MAN (Stopped short a moment) Who the hell is David? You don't even know my name.
(He tries to force club on her again, she moves back)
But don't let that stop you!
WOMAN (Starting to run) Don't force me, don't!
CORDELIA (To LEAR, but very loud): You'd think she'd have the good taste to keep her private life out of this.
WOMAN (Hysterical now): Don't, don't. I'll kill myself if I ever have to do this again.
MAN (Chasing her, still trying to force club into her hands): Please use it!
(WOMAN screams, MAN stops for a moment, she looks around in desperation, suddenly sees DIRECTOR, runs over to him, throws her arms around him. He is taken by surprise and before he can get his hands on her to support her she has collapsed in front of him. She lies flat on the floor without making a sound. MAN quietly lets the club fall on floor. Long pause, broken only by a loud sigh from CORDELIA, which is quickly followed by one from LEAR. The word CLUB goes off the projection during the pause, but the word IMPROVISATION remains until end of scene)
CORDELIA (In full voice to LEAR while she is getting up from seat): I can see we're needed up there. Better hurry!
LEAR (Working his way toward aisle): I'm coming, don't rush me!
(He follows her up to stage)
MAN (To DIRECTOR, while LEAR is speaking his line above) Can I help?
DIRECTOR (As LEAR and CORDELIA are walking up to stage): The first thing to do is get her out of here.
(He calls offstage)
Attendants! Stretcher! Stretcher! Attendants!
(Two ATTENDANTS carrying a stretcher enter immediately)
CORDELIA (To DIRECTOR): You're going to have to be very careful with her. My own guess is she's an epileptic.
DIRECTOR (To CORDELIA): I think you'd better let me handle this--
(About this point ATTENDANTS and MAN all converge on DIRECTOR, and pretty soon everybody converges on everybody else. During the following dialogue the confusion gradually builds to a higher and higher pitch. The audience is not expected to hear anything clearly, but simply to catch various phrases here and there. The speeches are presented in the text according to who is speaking and not in the order that they would be spoken onstage)
LEAR (To MAN): Can't you see you should have let well enough alone? No wonder she got all roused up.
(To DIRECTOR)
I know you're busy, but can't you help us get our robes back?
(To CORDELIA)
Tell him to help us get our robes back.
(To each ATTENDANT, though separately if he can't catch them together)
Go easy on that stretcher. If it's the same one I was on, I think it's about to fall apart in the middle.
CORDELIA (To DIRECTOR): See what you've done now? You should have known better than to take a chance like that with a stranger.
(To MAN)
I think it's only fair to tell you I found your behavior abominable.
(To FIRST ATTENDANT)
I told the Director she's very likely an epileptic, but he refuses to listen.
(To SECOND ATTENDANT)
Don't give her any first aid until a doctor comes. You never know what might happen.
(To LEAR, after his question to her)
It's just like you worrying about your clothes at a time like this.
MAN (To ATTENDANTS and DIRECTOR, though separately): Can I help? Can I help?
(To CORDELIA, after her statement to him)
What have I ever done to you?
(To LEAR, after the latter's statement to him)
I'll ask you please not to make me feel any worse than I already do.
FIRST ATTENDANT (To MAN): Stop pestering, will you?
(To DIRECTOR)
You want us to leave the crown on when we take her out?
(To LEAR and CORDELIA, though separately):
I'm taking all my advice from the Director, thank you.
(To SECOND ATTENDANT)
Have you ever seen such a madhouse while somebody's in a state of suffering?
SECOND ATTENDANT (To MAN): You'd make things a lot easier for us if you just went away.
(To DIRECTOR)
Exactly where is it you want us to take her?
(To LEAR and CORDELIA, though separately)
We can't take advice from all of you at once.
(To FIRST ATTENDANT)
I wish he'd find us another play.
DIRECTOR (In reply to each person who approaches him): How do you expect me to hear you when everybody's talking to me at once?
(After the confusion has reached a relatively high pitch DIRECTOR suddenly throws his hands in the air and outshouts everybody)
Shut up, all of youl You're driving me crazy!
(Pause, with everybody suddenly frozen. Then everybody on stage turns to look at WOMAN, who is as immobile as ever)
CORDELIA (Accusingly to DIRECTOR, while she points to WOMAN): Well, are you or aren't you going to do something about her?
DIRECTOR (Abruptly turning on LEAR and CORDELIA): You know what I want you to do? I want you to disappear out there--
(He waves in the direction of the audience)
--out there, anywhere, and I don't want to hear from you ever again.
(At this point ATTENDANTS have quietly begun to lift WOMAN onto stretcher)
CORDELIA (Turning away from DIRECTOR brusquely): Well!
LEAR (Starting to accompany her into audience and thence up the main aisle) And here you were only trying to be helpful!
DIRECTOR (To ATTENDANTS, who are about to carry WOMAN out on stretcher): I don't care where you put her, but I want you to get her off the premises before she sues the pants off of us.
MAN (Following ATTENDANTS off): Can I help? Can I help?
CORDELIA (From top of aisle, shouts to ATTENDANTS): There's a very good hospital down the road you can take her to. They have psycho-drama sessions Mondays and Thursdays, I've heard.
(Attendants go off left. MAN follows after them)
DIRECTOR (Coming forward to address audience): As you've seen for yourselves, ladies and gentlemen--
(He suddenly notices that LEAR and CORDELIA are still standing conspicuously at top of aisle, points at them, addresses them in a voice very different from the one he used to address audience)
--I really meant it when I said disappear--
(LEAR and CORDELIA quickly move into lobby, swinging door as noisily as they can. DIRECTOR addresses audience again)
As you've seen for yourselves, everything has pretty much gone to hell around here, so I'll ask you to go take your intermission now and I'll do all I can in the next fifteen minutes to put a few pieces back together again. In any case, I don't want you to disappear. Is that clear? Don't go home yet. Don't . . . go . . . home!
(As soon as DIRECTOR finishes speaking, projection changes to read INTERMISSION. MUSIC ATTENDANT starts playing a record of brisk Renaissance instrumental music. DIRECTOR moves about the stage fussing with the furniture and props. Lights go on to encourage audience to go to lobby. ATTENDANTS come onstage and work throughout intermission setting up next scene.)
(Back to list of Variations)

INTERMISSION

(By the time audience enters lobby, LEAR and CORDELIA, still in tights, are busy serving refreshments. If the DIRECTOR prefers them not to stay in tights throughout intermission, he can have the MAN and the WOMAN return their gowns and crowns to them in the lobby with such words as "Here, I think you need these more than I do." If possible, LEAR and CORDELIA should each have his own refreshment table, though the tables should be within easy shouting distance of one another. At least five members of the company--LEAR, CORDELIA, the MAN and WOMAN, and the DIRECTOR, as well as the AUTHOR, if he is present at a performance--are busy throughout the intermission circulating among audience and speaking and improvising lines. Each has a special function that is defined by the nature of the lines he or she speaks and the segment of the audience being sought out. In improvising, each actor should attempt to extrapolate from the lines assigned below.)
AUTHOR
(If the AUTHOR is present he should seek out the stuffiest-looking members of the audience and speak the following line:
By the way, I happen to be the author of this play and I want you to know, this is the most autobiographical thing ever written.
Before his listener has had a chance to reply, the
AUTHOR should hurry off to seek out another stuffy-looking person. If, however, the AUTHOR finds himself forced to add a few lines to the one above, he should go on as follows:
I wrote that line into the script for myself whenever I attend a performance, so now I'm stuck with it. I can assure you this is the last performance I'll ever attend.)
DIRECTOR
(The DIRECTOR should confine his activities to the auditorium. As the intermission begins, he is onstage supervising ATTENDANTS, who are moving furniture and props. Within a minute or two he should leave stage and circulate among those members of the audience who have chosen not to move into lobby. His lines are as follows:
We're not above re-writing passages if we're convinced this'd help things along. Have you any suggestions for subsequent performances? You like our play? Does it disturb you, amuse you, pique you? Does it upset your notions of what a play should be? You think we ought to try it some more? I want to know these things so I can have some concrete evidence to take back to the board [or whatever the governing body of the theater].)
MAN and WOMAN
(The MAN and the WOMAN are back in their street clothes by the time the audience sees them again. Since LEAR and CORDELIA are pretty much tied to the general area around the refreshment tables, it is up to the MAN and WOMAN to chase down members of the audience who may not have had a chance to converse with LEAR and CORDELIA. They must, in fact, attempt to hound people down mercilessly and should see to it that they spend at least part of the intermission in the rest rooms. If large numbers of people have stayed in their seats, one or both of them should supplement the DIRECTOR inside the auditorium. Their lines are as follows:
Remember me? I'm sure you don't remember me the way I'm dressed right now. But I can assure you I'm written right into the script. If you'll look at this script sometime, you'll see there're parts prescribed for two characters called MAN and WOMAN. Whoever was sitting next to me's going to find an empty seat next to them. You can be sure I didn't come here just to see this play. Don't get the idea I'm thinking this stuff out as I go along. Everything you hear me say right now is straight out of the script. Part of the game is that nobody wants to take the blame. The actors are supposed to blame the director, the director blames the actors, and everybody pretends there's no such thing as the author. You can guess where the real blame lies.
WOMAN should say the following, especially when she is near CORDELIA in lobby:
I don't know why they felt they had to give Cordelia to [name of actress playing CORDELIA]. I'm much more the great archetypal mother than she is.
MAN should try out the following routine if the lobby has doors leading to closets or box office or unused areas. He goes from one door to another, opens each, calls inside:
Xyphrax, where are you, Xyphrax? Why don't you want to come out, Xyphrax? I don't think you've been behaving yourself, Xyphrax [and the like].)
LEAR and CORDELIA
(Although they are supposed to start the intermission by serving refreshments, they should feel free to wander about the lobby if they wish. The important thing is for them to have a few persons around them at all times. Their lines are as follows:
Don't let us deter you. Our being here's a part of the plan. Come have some coffee. Don't judge this thing by the way things went tonight. I wouldn't have consented to act this part if I hadn't thought the play had real possibilities. It's just that it hasn't quite realized these possibilities and you're really aware of this on a bad night. The author subtitled it 'Theme and Variations,' as you may have noticed in the program, and that gives him an official excuse not to have to write a real play.
Question directed to one member of audience, though in the presence of others:
"Which of the scenes appealed to you the most?"
Member of audience refers to some particular scene, and if he is slow in answering, the questioner directs question to another member of group.
LEAR or CORDELIA's reply after member of audience has named a scene:
That's not a bad one, I don't think either. In fact, that's the one that more or less sold me on the script. Did you like that scene about the Unforgivable? That's what we call it by the way, the Unforgivable. I know it has an official name, but we never notice those projections up there. Anyway, that scene's great fun to act. It sort of reminds me of something I can't quite put my finger on. If you can make it work it really comes off and I only wish I could say that of all of them. You can only go on with those routines for so long. Pretty soon the audience catches on, and boy the moment they've caught on you're sunk. You just hope it isn't too early in the play. One tries to be spontaneous, but the way it's written you hardly have a chance to be. Everything here is planned, even when they pretend it isn't. Just like now!
(CORDELIA only)
I just love doing that monologue scene where I talk to the audience directly. I wish the whole part'd been conceived that way, but then who am I to tell him what to write? You can't imagine what a taxing thing this role is. The author's made Cordelia a different sort of person in almost every scene. I'll admit he gives you a challenge that way, though I can't see where this makes the play any better. Anyway, he wrote the director that this was all a part of the plan and that the only thing that's supposed to be constant in the play is the father-daughter relationship, whatever he means by that. My own suspicion is he never had it in him to develop a character with any consistency, either through a lack of technical means or his own shallowness as a human being.
The following routine should be done after
LEAR and CORDELIA have been engaged in separate conversations with people, but when they are still within easy shouting distance of one another. It should attempt to engage as many people in the lobby as possible:
LEAR (Using actress's real name): [----], do you still have that set of clippings on you?
CORDELIA: What set of what?
LEAR: That stuff you had about the play. There's a lady here who's asked me to explain what the play's all about.
CORDELIA (Pulling out a group of well-worn newspaper clippings from pocket): You don't want me to read them all, do you?
LEAR: Read the parts that [he uses DIRECTOR's real name] underlined for us.
CORDELIA (Reading): "Choosing, as it does, to exploit an area of experience that was only implicit in its great predecessor, Lear and Cordelia at Home surely yet subtly explores the difficulties of loving--"
LEAR: Are you sure that wasn't a misprint for "living"?
CORDELIA: I'm sure it wouldn't make much of a difference. Here's another one: "... one could call it one of the most nakedly Oedipal statements ever made on the stage."
LEAR: Some people manage to find Oedipal everywhere.
CORDELIA (Reading from another): "With an uncompromising grasp it exposes both the frailty and the spuriousness of the tragic mode."
LEAR: My, this really is a profound play we're doing, isn't it?
CORDELIA: Listen to this: ". . .as such, it concerns itself almost obsessively with techniques of oppression--techniques, moreover, whose ramifications manage to run the gamut from the private sensibility to the theological domain."
LEAR: I think you've answered the lady's question, don't you?
CORDELIA: Just let me read this one: "In all my 73 years as critic for this newspaper I must confess I have never slept so hard nor for so long a stretch in a theater seat. I should doubtless have had to be carried out of the theater in my soporific state if the author had not seen fit to introduce an explosion of firecrackers near the end. Whether or not this explosion was adequately motivated by the plot--"
LEAR: Stop it, you're giving away the next scene.)
(As lights blink to signal end of intermission, LEAR and CORDELIA and both PLANTS move around the lobby with remarks built around the following:
You're really expected to go back. They're trying to pull things together now. It's not going to be the same sort of repetition as before. The ending's not bad at all, and you can really call it an ending, even if the play has no real middle.)
(Back to list of Variations)

TRIAL
(LEAR and CORDELIA must not walk through theater to get from lobby to stage, but at end of intermission should find their way backstage by some other route. As audience is returning from intermission, two ATTENDANTS are moving furniture about the stage. Well before this, while most of the audience was still out, the music had stopped and the projection sign changed from INTERMISSION to TRIAL. ATTENDANTS bring out a number of chairs, plus two tables to create a kind of courtroom. The tables and chairs will serve as judge's bench and scribe's table. ATTENDANTS act much busier than they really need to be for what little moving has to be done, but they must give the illusion of busyness even if this means trying out various places for the same pieces of furniture. The audience should be made aware of an important event in the offing. As they work, the ATTENDANTS are talking to each other, though only the persons in the first rows would be able to catch anything that they say. The conversation is to be improvised around the process of moving furniture, after the following model:
FIRST ATTENDANT: He said to put them up so they face the judge's bench.
SECOND ATTENDANT: Not this many, though. I'm sure he didn't mean for us to bring this many.
FIRST ATTENDANT: You know good and well what he meant and now you're even putting them in the wrong direction.
SECOND ATTENDANT: They're always changing their minds the way they want things put. I'm never going to understand things around here.
It is important that the ATTENDANTS do not discuss anything beyond the furniture situation at this point, though their psychological relationship to each other should be evident from the start. Once the audience has just about returned, the DIRECTOR gets up from his seat and shouts, "Quiet! Can't you see there's a play going on?" The audience will presumably quiet down, and from here on the ATTENDANTS' conversation must be heard clearly.)
FIRST ATTENDANT: I still say we've not got enough chairs out.
SECOND ATTENDANT: I wish they'd tell us what all this is for. How do they expect us to get things right if they don't explain what it's all about?
FIRST ATTENDANT: If there's any one thing I've learned in all these years, it's not to try and find out more than they want you to know.
SECOND ATTENDANT: I'll tell you one thing though. Something very strange's been happening around here. I knew something was up the moment they closed the East Wing off.
FIRST ATTENDANT (Prissily): As far as I'm concerned, nothing's been changed at all, nothing at all.
SECOND ATTENDANT: You're running around with your eyes closed. Why, the Queen's been in hiding for two days now. It's the first time in months she hasn't walked on the heath. And you know what I think?
(He hesitates a moment)
I think the King-Father has died maybe.
FIRST ATTENDANT (Reprimandingly) You should know better than to think those things.
SECOND ATTENDANT: I didn't say I wanted anything like that to happen.
FIRST ATTENDANT: Thinking it is half-way to wishing it, and saying it is even worse.
SECOND ATTENDANT: I'm honestly not wishing it at all and if he died I'd be terribly sad, but I still wouldn't be as sad as though he'd died ten years ago when he wasn't so old and, well, you know what I mean, I'm sure he just isn't the man he once was.
FIRST ATTENDANT: If I hear you say one more word like--
(He notices another ATTENDANT who has just come in with a stack of heavy volumes which he places on the scribe's table. He is followed directly by another ATTENDANT carrying a thick writing tablet and a huge quill pen, both of which he sets on the same table. Meanwhile the first two ATTENDANTS keep their eyes on what is going on and continue speaking)
FIRST ATTENDANT (Smugly): This ought to finally satisfy that curiosity of yours.
SECOND ATTENDANT (With awe): Don't tell me this is . . . Law-Court? Why, they've never had Law-Court in all the time I've been here!
FIRST ATTENDANT (Knowingly): We haven't had to have Law-Court in over twenty years.
SECOND ATTENDANT: Do they let us stay inside when it's going on?
FIRST ATTENDANT: Law-Court is never held around here without the whole community on hand.
(Another ATTENDANT, dressed as a scribe, enters and rather officiously takes his place behind table with books and writing equipment)
SCRIBE ATTENDANT (Pedantically): It's time to be seated, men. The royal party's about to come in.
(As he speaks, three or four more ATTENDANTS come in)
Be seated, be seated. You must be seated before--
(MUSIC ATTENDANT interrupts with a sennet. FRANCE enters briskly, takes his place at judge's bench. Another sennet and CORDELIA comes in. She walks slowly and grimly, stands before FRANCE's bench, bows her head slightly, then sits down in a chair half facing audience. Another sennet. this one in a conspicuously minor key, and LEAR enters. Though still crowned, he is in hand-cuffs, with ATTENDANTS on either side leading him by the arms. ATTENDANTS in courtroom audience gasp as he comes in; they whisper things
like
"This is unbelievable!" "Not the King-Father, oh no!" LEAR is brought to a chair near CORDELIA's, he looks at her, but she tries not to look at him. Throughout the rest of the scene he is facing the theater audience, tries not to show any response to what goes on in courtroom. His expressions alternate between boredom and glumness, but these expressions never seem directly related to the action going on around him. At times he yawns, at other times he lets his head slump forward. His movements become increasingly frequent in the course of the scene. Throughout the scene SCRIBE ATTENDANT writes down the proceedings with his quill pen)
FRANCE (Somewhat hesitantly): I think we can get started now.
(He turns to SCRIBE ATTENDANT)
Is everybody here so we can get started?
SCRIBE ATTENDANT (Looking around): Everybody's here. Your Majesty.
FRANCE (Still hesitantly): Then we'll have to get started, yes, we'll get things underway. Is there somebody on hand to take over as Counsel for the Defense?
(He looks around, and CORDELIA steps forward)
CORDELIA (Quietly): I shall take over.
FRANCE (Taken by surprise): You? The Queen?
CORDELIA (Nobly): I will plead for my father. I will be my father's advocate.
(ATTENDANTS whisper things like "She's the most loyal daughter anybody could wish for!" "I always knew she'd stand by him.")
FRANCE (To SCRIBE ATTENDANT): Is there any law to prevent the Queen from being Counsel for the Defense?
SCRIBE ATTENDANT: None that I know of, Your Majesty.
FRANCE: The Queen is hereby appointed Counsel for the Defense. I shall now ask the Scribe to read the charge against the Defendant,
CORDELIA (Standing up): I beg to interrupt, Your Honor. I must object strenuously to the reading of the charge.
FRANCE: But every defendant surely has the right to know the charge against him.
CORDELIA: Under normal conditions I should concur, Your Honor. But my father is old and sick and, as all the world well knows, he has undergone the most outrageous sufferings in his time. Under these circumstances it seems to me both brutal and inhumane to subject him to the indignities to which a reading of the charge would expose him.
FRANCE: The defense request is granted.
(To SCRIBE ATTENDANT)
There will be no reading of the charge.
(CORDELIA sits down)
We come now to the next order of business--
(He gets confused)
--next order--
(He turns to SCRIBE ATTENDANT)
I hope you remember the next order of business on the agenda.
SCRIBE ATTENDANT: The next order is to bring the witness in.
FRANCE: (To one of the ATTENDANTS who had accompanied LEAR): Bring the witness in.
(ATTENDANT goes out and CORDELIA gets up)
CORDELIA: I request that the witness be instructed to speak with the utmost circumspection.
FRANCE: When a witness comes to Law-Court he always speaks with circumspection.
CORDELIA: In this instance I must insist that he be specially instructed. It is important that he be sufficiently delicate in his relation to protect the sensibilities of the Defendant.
(ATTENDANTS whisper things like "She thinks of everything," "I'd never want anybody but her to represent me." WITNESS ATTENDANT walks in with ATTENDANT who had gone out for him. At first he looks a bit confused. He looks briefly at LEAR, then turns abruptly away. CORDELIA sits down)
FRANCE (To WITNESS ATTENDANT): You are instructed to be sufficiently delicate in your relation to protect the sensibilities of the Defendant. Now that you have been instructed, you may speak.
WITNESS ATTENDANT (Obviously nervous): There isn't much I have to say, Sir, it was all over so very fast--
FRANCE: Go on with it then.
WITNESS ATTENDANT: Well, here I was planting tulip bulbs out by the East Wing, right under the King-Father's windows it was, 'cause I wanted him to have something pretty to look at when spring came--and then I always thought he was a really nice old gent--
CORDELIA (Standing up): Point of order, Your Honor. The witness should be instructed on no account to make value judgments of the Defendant, but to proceed with the greatest objectivity.
(CORDELIA sits down. ATTENDANTS whisper things like "She'll go down in history as a model daughter" and "I only wish I had a daughter instead of a son.")
FRANCE (To WITNESS ATTENDANT): You are instructed to make no value judgments of the Defendant, but to proceed with the greatest objectivity.
WITNESS ATTENDANT (Confused): So here I was, thinking all the while the King-Father was up there in his room--he always seemed so weak and old--and then, just as I'm out of breath from giving the last bulb a nice deep hole--you can't dig deep enough with the sort of freezes we get around here, especially for those blue-streaked kind of tulips I was planting--that was a prize-winning variety too, and I'd always thought, nothing I could plant was too good for the King-Father--now, where was I now?
FRANCE (To SCRIBE ATTENDANT): Where was he now?
SCRIBE ATTENDANT: He was out of breath.
WITNESS ATTENDANT: Oh yes, so here I was out of breath, and when you dig a hole like that you're bound to be pretty much out of breath--so it's then I lean back on that big old catalpa tree for a minute--
(His narration gradually slows down, gets stuttery)
--and next thing I know there's a cruel and nasty laugh coming over from the East Wing.
(His voice suddenly dies out, long pause, then he picks up with quiet voice)
Your Majesty, I don't think I have it in me to go on. I'm going to have to ask you for your leave.
(ATTENDANTS whisper things like "He looks as though he's going to faint," "Things look worse than I thought," "There's something strange going on.")
FRANCE (To SCRIBE ATTENDANT): What happens, Scribe, if the witness refuses to go on?
SCRIBE ATTENDANT: That would mean the end of the trial, Your Majesty. The Defendant would have to go free.
CORDELIA (Getting up): I must object once more, Your Honor. I cannot consent to let my client go free under such conditions. His good name has been besmirched with the foulest of insinuations, and I will not consent to his release until his record has been wiped fully clean.
(CORDELIA sits down)
FRANCE (To WITNESS ATTENDANT): I'm afraid you'll have to go on, like it or not.
WITNESS ATTENDANT (Hesitantly, with some stuttering): So here I was, out of breath, leaning on the catalpa tree, and then, all of a sudden, I hear that nasty laugh over from the East Wing--so I look to where it's coming from and next thing I see it's the old King-Father standing in front of the archway that separates the East Wing from the rest, and he's all bent over and laying a big piece of cloth out across the muddy path. What's he doing out there, I say to myself--that's no place to dry out your clothes if that's what you're after, and next thing I see is it's no ordinary piece of cloth at all, but it's the flag itself-
CORDELIA (Standing up): Point of order, Your Honor. I want it understood that, in fairness to the Defendant, the Witness be reminded he must never refer to the flag by color, nationality, or design.
(Audience of ATTENDANTS gasps in recognition, whispers things like "I'd never have thought this possible!" "And in our castle too!" "I always was a little suspicious of that old man!" CORDELIA meanwhile sits down)
FRANCE (To WITNESS ATTENDANT): You are never to refer to the flag by color, nationality, or design. You may go on now.
WITNESS ATTENDANT: So here I was, still under the catalpa tree, trying to look away from him as best I could till all at once I hear him start that nasty laugh again and I tell myself it won't hurt to take just another peek out there over to the archway--
(LEAR, despite the difficulty of handcuffs, starts trying to pull something out of one of his pockets. No one notices him at first, since all eyes are on the WITNESS ATTENDANT)
--so I go take another peek and there he is, standing up straight this time, smack in the middle of the archway, our old King-Father himself, that is, and laughing the most wicked laugh in creation with the flag right down there under him--
(Stunned silence)
--yes, there he is, opening his robe as wide as it would go and spraying out every bit he had in him all over the flag!
(Audience of ATTENDANTS gives a huge gasp, everybody looks at LEAR, who is in a somewhat contorted position with his hand-cuffed hands in one of his pockets. One ATTENDANT laughs, spends rest of scene trying to suppress his giggling. All the other ATTENDANTS show outrage, whisper things like "I'm absolutely horrified!" "You never know nowadays!" "They really managed to keep this hushed up.")
FRANCE (Concerned about LEAR's strange position): Was there something the Defendant was trying to say just now?
(LEAR shakes his head violently. FRANCE turns to WITNESS ATTENDANT)
You may go on then.
(Audience turns to WITNESS ATTENDANT, LEAR continues trying to get something out of his pocket and in the course of the next speech he quietly manages to pull out a string of firecrackers, then a book of matches and eventually--at a point marked below--sets the firecrackers off. Stage audience is too pre-occupied with the speakers to notice LEAR during this period, but his movements must be obvious enough to catch the attention of theater audience)
WITNESS ATTENDANT: I was hoping he was over and done with everything he was going to do, but then, as though enough wasn't enough--
(ATTENDANTS whisper things like "They shouldn't ever have let the King-Father out of his room," "If they'd taken adequate precautions this'd never have happened," "They shouldn't have to wash their dirty linen in public like that." Whispering temporarily interrupts WITNESS ATTENDANT in the middle of his sentence)
FRANCE (Interrupting whispering of ATTENDANTS): I must ask for order in the court. Please let the witness go on.
WITNESS ATTENDANT (After whispering has calmed down): Well, then, as though enough still wasn't enough, he--the old King-Father, I mean--he stoops down and he picks it up out of the mud and he waves it in the air, this way and that way, and I hate to have to say this, but behind all that mess you could still see it was the red, white, and blue flag of France--
CORDELIA (Jumping up angrily): I demand that this statement be stricken from the record. The witness has willfully defied all orders to abstain from naming color and nationality.
FRANCE (To SCRIBE ATTENDANT): Strike the last sentence from the record.
(He turns to WITNESS ATTENDANT)
You may go on.
CORDELIA (Before WITNESS ATTENDANT can resume): Your Honor, I have not yet finished with my objection. I further demand a mistrial on grounds that a new and totally irrelevant factor has been introduced into these proceedings. The Defendant has, in effect, been accused of a crime that goes substantially beyond the one contained in the charge against him. It is a serious enough matter, you will agree, to accuse the Defendant of unwillingness to exercise adequate control over his excretory functions, though in this respect I might remind you that, as many enlightened persons acknowledge these days, there is nothing intrinsically abnormal about such behavior when it occurs at the Defendant's age. But to go substantially beyond this charge, as the witness has just done, to accuse the Defendant, in effect, of high treason, this, Your Honor, is more than I or any decent-minded--
(At this point, or as close to it as is physically possible, the string of firecrackers goes off. A screen of smoke should accompany the noise. The string that LEAR himself sets off can be embellished with more firecrackers from backstage. The electrical system becomes unstable, lights go on and off in unexpected ways. In the confusion LEAR manages to rush past CORDELIA, FRANCE, the WITNESS ATTENDANT, and all the other ATTENDANTS to make a getaway offstage. CORDELIA is heard saying "This is an outrage" and the word "Outrage" is echoed by FRANCE, the SCRIBE ATTENDANT and the others. A few voices are heard shouting "After him!" several times. Before the noise has fully died down, stage has been left in total black-out and actors have disappeared, clearing stage of tables and chairs as they go offstage. During the noise MUSIC ATTENDANT begins beating metal, as at the start of the play. As the other noise dies down, the sound of the metal being beaten becomes gradually more discernible, and eventually it becomes the only sound the audience hears. LEAR's groaning soon begins to accompany sound of metal. The audience must recognize that these sounds are the same as those it heard when the play opened.)
(Back to list of Variations)

AGONY II
(When the lights go on, the furniture of the preceding scene has disappeared and LEAR is alone on-stage, stretched against a rock, as in opening scene. He is still hand-cuffed. His groans are still audible between sounds of metal being beaten. Gradually he is able to vocalize the word "Director." Once the word seems clear to everybody, DIRECTOR quickly gets up from seat in audience and hurries to stage.)
DIRECTOR: Here I am! Here I am!
(He stands above LEAR a moment, staring at hand-cuffs, shaking his head to show compassion. LEAR looks him weakly in the eye)
LEAR: It's been too much.
DIRECTOR (Bending over): Let me help you up a moment.
(He manages to get LEAR up, starts taking off hand-cuffs)
You shouldn't have to have those miserable things on. I take it somebody's been giving you a hard time.
LEAR (Weakly): I'm afraid so.
(Pause)
Director, you know what I want more than anything else right now?
DIRECTOR (With obvious eagerness to help in any way): What is it you want?
LEAR: I want the tragic ending.
(Short pause)
DIRECTOR: The tragic ending? After all this?
LEAR (In an explosive outburst): Yes!
DIRECTOR: You're really sure this time?
LEAR (Snarling): She has it coming to her.
DIRECTOR (Accepting the plan with enthusiasm): Go to it then! I've always maintained there's nothing like the tragic ending!
(He calls to ATTENDANTS offstage)
Give him the tragic ending!
(He points to stairway, directs LEAR toward it. Lights begin to dim. He speaks to LEAR in a kind, paternal way)
It's all yours up there. Go to it.
(LEAR moves hesitatingly up stairway, gradually begins to regain his strength. MUSIC ATTENDANT starts a drum-roll, as he had at close of opening scene. DIRECTOR hurries to his seat in theater.)
(Back to list of Variations)

CATASTROPHE
(MUSIC ATTENDANT lets drum-roll gradually die out during black-out. Short pause, then he starts a long sennet. When sennet ends, stage is still pitch black. DIRECTOR's voice is then heard loudly from the audience.)
DIRECTOR (With relish): Enter Lear, with Cordelia, dead, in his arms!
(Spotlight immediately catches LEAR holding the dead CORDELIA at top of stairway. MUSIC ATTENDANT beats drum softly. LEAR walks downstairs with slow, measured steps. A group of ATTENDANTS stand at base of stairs and look up at him with awe. As he reaches base, two ATTENDANTS gently take the dead body from him and set it down ceremoniously. Standing above the body LEAR makes a mad tragic gesture that is followed by the sudden stopping of the drum and a total black-out.)
(Back to list of Variations)

EPILOGUE
(Spoken by CORDELIA during curtain call)

Our play is done--there're no more games to play,
Cordelia's dead and Lear can have his way.
Without our bouts a stupid silence reigns;
You can't have laughs without a few sharp pains.
A sprightly farce is all we've meant to be;

The tragic mode is not for queens like me.
Oh, what a nasty world this is--for shame!--
That brands our subtle jests as much too tame!
The comic muse has fall'n on evil days;
Obscenity and sex are now the rage.
Alas for all the good clean fun that's lost
When plays are just emotional exhaust
!
Now--if you found our tiffs a touch acerb,
Our purpose was to humor, not disturb;
And if at times with cruder stuff we've toyed,
Do not blame us, dear friends--blame Sigmund Freud!
(Back to list of Variations)
(Back to HOME PAGE)

 

ALTERNATE VARIATIONS: The following two variations, FENCE and CLUB, were composed as variants, respectively, of WIND-MACHINE and IMPROVISATION for the performances at Principia College cited above:

FENCE
(A high gate separates two parts of the stage. CORDELIA sits on platform at top of stairway throughout first part of scene. She holds a spyglass which, as the lights go on, she aims at a spot considerably distant from the gate. Soon after, DOCTOR ATTENDANT, followed by two ATTENDANTS carrying a large net, enters stage from left.)
DOCTOR (Pointing toward gate): He's heading for the north gate this time.
FIRST ATTENDANT: Where do you want us to hide?
DOCTOR: Anywhere you can find a place quick.
(ATTENDANTS scurry to right, stoop as though hiding behind something. DOCTOR ATTENDANT starts upstairs.)
And be sure to get under him the moment he starts climbing. I'll be up with the Queen if you need me.
(When he reaches CORDELIA's side, DOCTOR ATTENDANT guides her spy-glass toward gate, and in the ensuing scene they pass spy-glass to one another. He whispers such things as "It's the north one this time," "I know this is very painful for you," and "I'll keep my eye on him if you don't want to look," while she whispers such things as "I hope we won't have to go through the whole routine this time," "I can't stand to see him do this," and "Do you think they'll be able to get there in time?" Soon after DOCTOR ATTENDANT has reached CORDELIA, LEAR enters slowly at left. He looks as though he is out for a leisurely stroll. He does not yet notice the gate. He keeps his eyes mainly on the ground, walks about in a somewhat zigzag fashion. He sees a flower, stoops down, picks it, walks about for a few moments smelling it, then crushes it. He looks about, notices gate, quickly walks up to it, turns handle. At this point CORDELIA stands up apprehensively. She and DOCTOR ATTENDANT continue passing spy-glass to one another. When gate fails to open, LEAR looks up to see how high it is, then looks back and forth horizontally to sees how far gate extends. He shakes his head. Then he turns handle several times. He pulls from his pocket a ring with two large keys on it. He tries one, shakes his head, then tries next one, shakes head again. Then he lets the keys drop. He tries handle again, this time shaking it violently. Then he shakes gate, first somewhat gently, then with increasing violence. He looks around, sees nobody, then slowly starts to climb the gate. CORDELIA tries to start down the stairs, but DOCTOR ATTENDANT holds her back at first. As soon as LEAR starts climbing, the two ATTENDANTS quietly move into position under him so as to catch him in the net if he falls. As soon as they are in position, FIRST ATTENDANT puts two fingers in his mouth and sends a loud, piercing whistle to CORDELIA and DOCTOR ATTENDANT. LEAR freezes into a motionless position as soon as he hears whistle. CORDELIA directs DOCTOR ATTENDANT to area where ATTENDANTS were hiding earlier, whispering, "Stay there for now till I call you," then rushes to gate)
CORDELIA (Sweetly): Father! Whatever are you doing up there, Father?
LEAR (Slowly unfreezing, turns around to look at her, speaks quietly but gruffly): I want you to let me out this gate, Cordelia.
CORDELIA (Still sweetly): Why should you ever want to go out when we have all this space behind the fence?
LEAR (Resolutely): I came here to walk on the heath, and I want you to let me out.
CORDELIA: I'm afraid we can't even discuss the matter as long as you're perched up there so precariously.
LEAR: And I won't discuss anything as long as these men are here waiting to pull me down.
CORDELIA: You should know by now that we never use force around here. These men are here to break your fall.
LEAR: Who says I'm going to fall?
CORDELIA: You've never yet made it down from there by yourself.
LEAR (Getting impatient): If you don't get these men away, I'll have France called.

CORDELIA: You should know by now that France is very busy this time of day.
LEAR: What's he so busy with he can't see his own family?
CORDELIA: France is busy ruling.
LEAR: That's just an excuse. You know good and well who does the ruling around here.
CORDELIA: Now I don't want to get going on that game again, Father.
(Short pause, after which CORDELIA shifts to a softer tone)
I think we'll have to start again from scratch, dear. We'll talk this over frankly and openly.
(She pats him gently on the leg)
Frankly and openly? Shall we?
(Pause, as LEAR briefly looks her in the eye, then turns away again)
LEAR (Nodding reluctantly): All right.
CORDELIA: Now--I'm going to start by asking you a little question.
LEAR: I won't come down.
CORDELIA: It has nothing to do with that. You haven't the slightest idea what I was going to ask. Now--will you try to answer just one little question frankly and openly?
LEAR (Grudgingly): All right.
CORDELIA: What was the weather like that day you wandered out on the heath?
LEAR: How do you mean?
CORDELIA: Was it hot or cold?
LEAR: Cold--but I was all wrapped up, remember.
CORDELIA: Was it wet or dry?
LEAR: You said it was only one question. That's a second one you're asking.
CORDELIA: It's part of the sane question. I divided it up in parts. Now--was it wet or dry?
LEAR (Defiantly): Wet--and I like the rain.
CORDELIA: I must say, your memory's very good for a man your age, Father.
LEAR: That's what I've been telling you all along.
CORDELIA: Now, let's see if you can remember what I was doing in chapel while we waited for them to bring you back.
LEAR: How should I know? I wasn't there.
CORDELIA: But I've told you time and again. I can see your memory's not as good as it used to be.
(Pause)
Think hard now. What was I doing in chapel while we feared you might be lost for good?
LEAR (Staunchly): I don't remember.
CORDELIA: You're sure now?
LEAR (Stubbornly): I don't remember.
CORDELIA (Turning toward where DOCTOR ATTEENDANT is hiding): Doctor, I think it may be time now.
LEAR: Don't you call him! I don't want him again!
CORDELIA (Signalling DOCTOR ATTENDANT to go back, speaks to LEAR):
You're sure you don't want to remember any more?
(LEAR looks around, sees DOCTOR ATTENDANT, tries to climb higher on fence. The others become visibly nervous at his movements. When he finds he can climb no further, he stops, freezes again)
I'm afraid we're going to need the doctor to help us remember.
(DOCTOR ATTENDANT moves forward, quickly pulls a small piece of paper out of his pocket from which he reads his succeeding speeches as inconspicuously as he can)
Now--I want you to think back and try to remember how sick you were
after that night you ran out on the heath.
(To DOCTOR ATTENDANT)
Remember how sick he was?
DOCTOR ATTENDANT: I certainly do. He was about as sick as anyone can be and still survive at his age.
CORDELIA (To LEAR): You see, Father?
(To DOCTOR ATTENDANT)
And remember all those hours when we hadn't the slightest idea where he'd run off to?
LEAR: Stop it! I know exactly what you're trying to do.
CORDELIA (Paying no attention to LEAR's interruption): I told you to give the King a sedative, since it was no use the two of us having to suffer that way all night.
DOCTOR ATTENDANT (Stumbling a bit over the text he is reading from): He thought it'd be too much for you holding your vigil in chapel alone.
CORDELIA: But it was much better that way, don't you agree, since I really didn't trust myself not to get hysterical--

LEAR (Trying in vain to interrupt): Stop it!
CORDELIA: After all, the last thing I wanted was for the King to have to nurse me along. No, I never really trusted myself--I might as well admit it now--but then, as it turned out, I never broke down either. I didn't want to eat, of course, but one meal more or less wasn't going to make a whole lot of difference.
LEAR: Stop it!
DOCTOR ATTENDANT: You held up very well, all things considered.
LEAR: He's reading it. I caught him! He always reads his part in this game.
CORDELIA (Paying no attention to LEAR' s interruption): You told me I was being very good, but I never let any of you know how I really felt inside. This way I could insist you keep me informed exactly how the search was going. "Don't spare me a single detail," I told you, "even if you think it'll make me unhappy."
DOCTOR ATTENDANT: It was only my duty.
LEAR: Stop it!
CORDELIA: And remember what I vowed to do if we got him back safely? I vowed I'd never let him out of my sight again, even if it meant casting everything else out of my life during the few years he had left--
LEAR: Stop it!
CORDELIA (Paying no attention): And when you carried him in the next day he was already half a corpse from all that exposure to the wind and the rain, but I begged you under no condition to reproach him until you had him fully recovered--
LEAR: Stop it, stop it, stop it, stop it! I don't want to have to hear this any more.
CORDELlA (Quietly, to LEAR): Are you sure you don't want to come down now?
LEAR (As though in an automatic response): I won't, I won't!
CORDELIA (Turning to DOCTOR ATTENDANT): It's then I knew I should have been a better daughter all along. I reproached myself constantly for being selfish enough not to foresee these dangers, but you kept reassuring me that there's only so much--
LEAR (Louder than before): Stop it, stop it, stop it, stop--
CORDELIA (Interrupting, has to raise her voice loud enough so that he will hear her): You're sure you're not ready to come down?
(Pause, while everybody waits to see what LEAR will do. He looks around on all sides, glances briefly at ATTENDANTS, then, as unobtrusively as he can, lets himself fall into the net. CORDELIA and DOCTOR ATTENDANT breathe loud sighs of relief)
DOCTOR ATTENDANT (Looking him over): He's pretty worn out this time.
(To ATTENDANTS)
Take him straight to his room.
(ATTENDANTS start carrying LEAR out left in the net)
CORDELIA (Patting LEAR on head as he is being carried out): My poor dear fatherl
DOCTOR ATTENDANT (To CORDELIA): I'll get you a sedative, Your Majesty.
CORDELIA: Go stay with my father. I don't want you fretting over me.
(DOCTOR ATTENDANT follows ATTENDANTS out left. CORDELIA starts moving slowly upstairs, musing to herself. Suddenly she turns, faces audience, speaks up in a sharp, deliberate tone of voice)
I think we'd better add another two feet to that fence!
(She walks resolutely up the stairs as the lights go out)
(Back to list of Variations)

CLUB
(MUSIC ATTENDANT plays a Gregorian chant. A slow procession of ATTENDANTS crosses stage from left to right. ATTENDANTS come out in twos, with hands folded, faces pious and motionless. As each couple reaches stage center, it turns downstage briefly and genuflects, then continues process toward right. By the time the third or fourth couple has crossed, CORDELIA enters alone. She marches in the same slow rhythm as the couples before her. In her folded hands she holds a prayerbook, under which she dangles a club which is strapped to one wrist. She also holds a long rope which extends behind her offstage. Before she can reach the center LEAR enters. He is crawling on all fours, and the end of the rope that CORDELIA leads is looped around his waist. As soon as the audience has had a good look at him, DIRECTOR's voice is heard from audience.)
DIRECTOR (Getting up abruptly): OK, I've had enough of this. You can cut it.
(He walks briskly toward stage, carrying his clipboard. CORDELIA and LEAR continue as before)
Did you hear me? I said cut it.
(Music stops, but CORDELIA and LEAR continue)
Cut it!
(CORDELIA and LEAR finally stop dead in their tracks. They look bewildered. During following speech DIRECTOR sets his clipboard down, takes a knife out of his pocket, cuts LEAR's leash, addresses LEAR)
I think it's time you cut out that outrageous pose and stood up like a man.
(LEAR stands up obediently. CORDELIA remains frozen in her kneeling position, refuses to look at DIRECTOR, who now addresses both of them)
You've indulged yourselves more than enough for a single evening. I was, of course, perfectly willing to go along with this business for a while--
(He points disdainfully at rope, tears CORDELIA's prayer book and club away from her, lets them drop on floor)
--but this is more than any normal person is willing to put up with. I've been moving about the theater listening to comments, and I'm frankly appalled at what I've heard.
(He picks up his clipboard)
In short, I can't possibly allow this thing to go on.
CORDELIA (Slowly standing up, speaks in a martyred tone): It would only be fair to make your charges more explicit.
DIRECTOR (Looking over the notes on his clipboard): First of all, there's the lady who's spent her last seven years tending her senile mother. She's been totally devastated by these routines of yours, especially since she found her mother perched in a tree the other day.
CORDELIA: I'm afraid that's just one of the hazards you expose yourself to when you attend the theater.
(Then in a kindly tone)
But do tell her we're sorry if we've offended her.
DIRECTOR: It's too late. She's already left. Now--if hers was just an isolated complaint I might have chosen to overlook it. But this was only the start.
(He leafs through several pages on clipboard to indicate a large number of complaints he has written down)
These people are willing to put up with absurdity--to a point, of course--
CORDELIA: I can assure you we never had the slightest intention of acting absurd.
LEAR (To CORDELIA): Let him finish. The impression we've tried to make isn't necessarily the impression--
CORDELIA (Interrupting LEAR brusquely): I think you'd better let me handle this--
DIRECTOR (Interrupting CORDELIA): I never said absurdity was bad in itself, I simply wanted you to know you may have carried things a little too far--at least I've had four complaints on the matter--
(He points to his clipboard)
--but let's forget that for the present. Now--those people out there are even willing to tolerate these gimmicks you've cluttered the play up with--
(He kicks the club a ways along the floor)
CORDELIA (Didactically): Perhaps you could tell them the objects in this play demand more reflection than those people are prepared to give.
DIRECTOR: I don't need to tell them. I said they're willing, most of them, at least, to go along with you this far. Not only that, they'll even allow you to introduce prayer books and Christian ritual into a strictly pagan work--at least I had only two complaints on that score--
CORDELIA (Impatiently): For God's sake, everybody knows William Shakespeare made a specialty of anachronisms!
DIRECTOR: I wish you wouldn't be so touchy, please! I've simply been trying to indicate all the many things those people will put up with. And I'm telling you this because there's one thing that nobody here is willing to bear--
(He leafs through the pages on clipboard and waves his arm to indicate audience)
--twenty-three bona fide complaints, no less--no, there's one thing they won't let you get away with, they're not going to let you steal mercilessly from every conceivable play, past and present.
CORDELIA (Uncomprehending, innocently): I thought you were leading up to something devastating.
DIRECTOR: By God, I am! Didn't you know that these tired old routines of yours have been done before? You didn't know?
(He picks up the club and during the following lines he chucks LEAR and CORDELIA successively under the chin with the club)
Then I'd better inform you there's nothing in the least original, or entertaining, or thought-provoking in this stuff you've been dishing up.
It's all been done before--not once, not twice, but hundreds, thousands
of times. You hear that? It's been done!
(He stands back exultantly to await their reactions. Pause)
CORDELIA (To DIRECTOR): You want to hear something? Well, I'm done!
(She precipitously tears off her gown. She takes off her crown, coldly hands gown and crown to DIRECTOR, then points at LEAR)
And you, too! Do you think I'm going to subject myself to this humiliation alone?
(Pause, as LEAR starts to take off his gown, then stops, then mutters an inaudible word or two under his breath, then gradually turns to her, looks gloweringly at her as though about to say something accusing, then suddenly turns to DIRECTOR)
LEAR (To DIRECTOR, points at CORDELIA): She's the one who's to blame!
CORDELIA (Gasping): I? For what?
LEAR: It's her fault--that's right--it's her fault this play has gone the way it has. She's the one who's always forcing me into the role I play.
DIRECTOR (To LEAR): Then why the hell don't you try to stand up to her?
CORDELIA: That's what I say. If you don't like the way I do things, why don't you speak up like a man?
LEAR (To DIRECTOR): You just try! Whatever you say to her she'll make you squirm right back into the same old role.
CORDELIA: What?
(LEAR starts whispering to DIRECTOR, who soon whispers back. Both take oblique glances at CORDELIA while whispering. LEAR takes off his crown, hands it to DIRECTOR)
It's very bad taste, I'll have you know, to whisper in company like that.
DIRECTOR (To CORDELIA): Keep out of this.
CORDELIA: The least you could do is send those poor people home--
(She indicates audience)
--so they won't have to witness this dreadful bickering.
DIRECTOR (To CORDELIA): If you don't keep out of this, I'll have the attendants called.
(CORDELIA glowers at DIRECTOR. Then he addresses LEAR smugly)
See what I just did? The thing to do is face her directly and have
it out with her.
LEAR: (Helping put his crown on DIRECTOR's head): Wait till she figures out her next step.
CORDELIA: I . . . what?
(Suddenly she becomes aware of LEAR's crown on DIRECTOR's
head
)
Don't tell me I'm supposed to start playing with him?
DIRECTOR: I said, keep out of this. Attendants!
(Two ATTENDANTS suddenly appear)
LEAR (With bravado, to CORDELIA, as ATTENDANTS are coming out): Didn't you hear what he said? You keep out of this.
DIRECTOR: Attendants, would you please usher the lady to a seat in the audience--
(Points to audience)
--and under no circumstances let her out of your sight.
(While DIRECTOR has been speaking, LEAR has taken CORDELIA's gown and crown out of DIRECTOR's hands and put them on)
LEAR (Starting to speak in a high-pitched voice to DIRECTOR as he takes CORDELIA's gown and crown out of DIRECTOR's hands and puts them on)
Father, there's a little matter I've been meaning to take up--
CORDELIA (To DIRECTOR, as ATTENDANTS, one on each side of her, start leading her into audience): I have only one parting remark: These people--
(She indicates audience, then points disdainfully at LEAR)
--these people did not come here to watch a female impersonator.
(She kicks the club along floor in direction of DIRECTOR and LEAR)
DIRECTOR: Attendants, would you please usher her to her seat?
(ATTENDANTS walk up the aisle with her, during which time DIRECTOR addresses LEAR as though improvising a role)
What were you trying to say to me, Cordelia?
LEAR: There's a little matter I've been meaning to take up with you for some time now, Father. It's just a trivial--
CORDELIA (To ATTENDANTS, as they walk up aisle): I can't see why they don't just send these poor people home, I can't see why at all.
DIRECTOR (To ATTENDANTS): Would you please sit her down so the play can go on?
CORDELIA (Sarcastically): Play!
(ATTENDANTS push her into DIRECTOR's seat on aisle. ATTENDANTS remain sitting in aisle as though guarding her)
DIRECTOR (Resuming his improvising role): Go on, Cordelia.
LEAR: It's just a trivial little thing, Father, but there's no harm talking these things over in a frank and open way.
DIRECTOR: I wish you wouldn't always force those long prefaces on me.
LEAR: I've never forced a thing on anybody. I simply wanted to mention that little friend of yours--
CORDELIA (To ATTENDANTS): They're fishing desperately for something to say.
LEAR: --that little friend of yours you've had visiting you.
DIRECTOR: He's not in the least little. You know good and well he's bigger than I am.
LEAR: I meant it figuratively, but I'll try to be a little more careful with my adjectives from here on.
DIRECTOR: I think we ought to treat him with all due respect--
(He suddenly trips on club, stoops to pick it up)
Fancy this! I wonder how this found its way here.
(He lifts it up)
LEAR: Let's not have to use that thing.
DIRECTOR (Swinging it here and there): You never know when they come in handy.
LEAR (Swinging his hips angrily): I said, please let's not have to use it.
CORDELIA (To ATTENDANTS): He thinks femininity's all in the hips.
ATTENDANTS: Shh!
LEAR: I honestly don't want to have to use it.
(He looks out toward CORDELIA in audience)
Some people have the most obsessive need for objects to get themselves worked up.
(He turns to DIRECTOR again)
So . . . won't you kindly take the hint and forget the whole thing?
CORDELIA (To ATTENDANTS): He doesn't know how to stay in character.
ATTENDANTS: Shhl
DIRECTOR: I'm not the sort of man who responds to hints. I'd better make that clear from the start if I'm to live here with you.
(Pauses a moment, sets club down)
But since there's obviously no reason to use this thing right now, I'll set it down. But it's my choice, remember.
LEAR: Now to get back to your friend Xyphrax--
DIRECTOR: King Xyphrax. Don't forget, he was a king once, too.
LEAR: So we'll call him King Xyphrax, Emperor Xyphrax, King-Father Xyphrax--anything you want, in fact. But it's high time someone told him that a title in itself doesn't mean any too much. It's the aura of respect a man can create around himself that makes all the difference.
DIRECTOR: Now I don't want you to be too hard on him, please. He's been feeling pretty rotten lately. You know, he's also had his share of daughter trouble.
LEAR: You must tell your friend that if he looks around hard enough he may find there's a nice daughter waiting for him somewhere.
DIRECTOR: Like you, for instance?
CORDELIA (To ATTENDANTS): This is all for my benefit. They're waiting to see my reaction.
ATTENDANTS: Shhl
LEAR (Irritated by CORDELIA's interruption, tries all the more
earnestly to assume his role
): Now to get back to your friend Xyphrax, I wish you'd tell him--though in the most tactful way, of course, since I'm sure he always means well--now I wish you'd tell him to be just a little more considerate the way he uses the bathroom.
DIRECTOR: I think it'd only be fair to Xyphrax if you got more specific.
LEAR: It's not that I'm objecting on my own account--after all, France and I never have occasion to go see for ourselves--but we can't ignore it when our servants start complaining to us day in and day out.

DIRECTOR: You're still not being very specific. If Xyphrax is doing something unforgivable, I think you should say so directly.
LEAR: I never said he was doing anything unforgivable, and I didn't even say it was very bad. I thought I'd simply have to say the word bathroom and you'd . . . take it from there.
CORDELIA (To ATTENDANTS): Just wait, he's going to spell it out for sure.
ATTENDANTS: Shhl
LEAR (Noticeably irritated by CORDELIA's interruption): After all, the two of you have been sharing the same bathroom for two months now.
DIRECTOR: As a matter of fact, I can assure you Xyphrax has never used the bathroom.
LEAR: That's a little hard to believe, since the bathtub's an absolute horror at least every other day.
DIRECTOR: I swear up and down he vowed never to take a bath ever since his exile began.
LEAR: Well, I hardly know what to say in that case, though it's by no means just the bathtub that gets all these complaints.
DIRECTOR (With lurking anger): Make yourself more clear. I'm not the sort of man who likes all this beating around the bush.
LEAR: Well, if you insist--
CORDELIA (To ATTENDANTS): He'll never be able to let well enough alone.
ATTENDANTS: Shhl Shhl
LEAR: --if you insist, but it's hardly necessary to go into detail for a grown man like you, Father--
ATTENDANTS (Before CORDELIA can say a word): Shhl
LEAR: --no, I can assure you I'm not going to let you force me to name it, but there's one thing I will say, there are all sorts of things you can do nowadays to make it more appetizing!
(Pause, during which CORDELIA gasps, ATTENDANTS say, "Shhl" and DlRECTOR looks quietly at floor, eyes club)
DIRECTOR (Walking slowly toward club): You want to know something? I think you're trying awfully hard to use Xyphrax as a way of getting at me. And you want to know something else? I don't at all like that dirty little mind of yours prying into my bodily functions!
ATTENDANTS (More quietly than before): Shh!
LEAR: If I had ever thought you would speak to me in this way-
DIRECTOR: And you want to know something still more?
(He picks up club)
--I just hate Xyphrax and I hate what you're doing to me through him.
(He aims club at LEAR as gasps are heard from both LEAR and
CORDELIA)
LEAR (Gasping, then in a pleading tone): However could you--? Oh, Father, Father, Father--
DIRECTOR (Moving forward, club in hand, with LEAR walking backwards): Don't give me that stuff!
LEAR: --Father, Father, Father--
DIRECTOR (Raising his voice): I said, don't give me that stuff!
LEAR (After a pause, then quietly, coldly): If you don't set that thing down this very second, I'll get you where it really hurts.
(Long pause, during which it is evident that a new idea is coming over the DIRECTOR)
DIRECTOR: You really will?
(He hands him the club, speaks with gleeful anticipation)
Please use it.
(LEAR accepts club hesitatingly at first, weighs it with both hands a moment, assumes a gradually fiercer look, starts to practice a swing aimed at DIRECTOR, then, just as audience expects him to come through with a blow, he suddenly tries to hand club to DIRECTOR)
LEAR: You use it.
DIRECTOR: No, you use it.
CORDELIA (To ATTENDANTS): How perverseI
ATTENDANTS: Shh! Shh!
LEAR: Beat me, for God's sake!
DIRECTOR: You beat me!
LEAR: Please beat me.
(During the interchange the two men have in effect started chasing one another in different directions as each tries to get the other to wield club. By the end of the interchange they have ascended three or four steps, and the DIRECTOR is holding the club. He contemplates it a moment, and LEAR, expecting a blow, turns his back to DIRECTOR and prepares for the blow by groaning in anticipation. Unbeknownst to LEAR, the DIRECTOR quietly, slowly backs away from him, goes down the stairs, gets as far from LEAR as possible)

CORDELIA (While LEAR is awaiting blow): Careful, dear, keep it clean.
ATTENDANTS: Shh!
(LEAR, obviously to the DIRECTOR's amazement, acts as though he has received blow, then suddenly collapses on stairs. DIRECTOR straps club to wrists, keeps it there for remainder of scene. He walks over to LEAR, who remains motionless)
DIRECTOR: OK, you can get up now.
(LEAR fails to move. DIRECTOR touches him gently on the hip with his foot)
Do I have to ask you once more to stand up like a man?
(LEAR still fails to move. DIRECTOR begins to show concern)
CORDELIA (To ATTENDANTS): I think we're needed down there.
(CORDELlA and ATTENDANTS rush down to stage)
DIRECTOR (Calling offstage): Attendants! Stretcher! Stretcher! Attendants!
(Two ATTENDANTS carrying a stretcher enter immediately)
CORDELIA (To DlRECTOR): You're going to have to be very careful with him. My own guess is he's an epileptic.
DIRECTOR (To CORDELIA): I think you'd better let me handle this--
(About this point the STRETCHER ATTENDANTS and CORDELIA and her two ATTENDANTS all converge on DlRECTOR and pretty soon everybody converges on everybody else. During the following dialogue the confusion gradually builds to a higher and higher pitch. The audience is not expected to hear anything clearly, but simply to catch various phrases here and there. The speeches are presented in the text according to who is speaking and not in the order that they would be spoken onstage)
CORDELIA (To STRETCHER ATTENDANTS): I told the director he's very likely an epileptic, but he refuses to listen. So for God's sake don't give him any first aid.
(To her own ATTENDANTS)
Don't let them give him any first aid until a doctor comes. You never know what might happen.
(To DIRECTOR)
I think it's only fair to tell you I found your behavior throughout this thing abominable.
STRETCHER ATTENDANTS (To CORDELIA, though separately): I'm taking all my advice from the Director, thank you.
(To CORDELlA's ATTENDANTS)
Have you ever seen such a madhouse while somebody's in a state of suffering?
(To DIRECTOR)
You want us to leave the crown on him when we take him out?
CORDELIA'S ATTENDANTS (To CORDELIA, though separately): We can't take advice from all of you at once.
(To STRETCHER ATTENDANTS)
Don't you wish he'd find us another play?
(To DIRECTOR)
I wish you'd find a more useful role for us.
DIRECTOR (In reply to each person who approaches him): How do you expect me to hear you when everybody's talking at once?
(After the confusion has reached an unbearable pitch, DIRECTOR suddenly swings club in the air and outshouts everybody)
Shut up, all of you! You're driving me crazy!
(Long pause, with everybody frozen. Pause lasts until it has become as unbearable as the noise before it)
CORDELIA (Accusingly to DIRECTOR, while she points at LEAR, who is motionless as ever): Well, are you or aren't you going to do something about him?
DIRECTOR (Abruptly turning on CORDELIA, uses club as pointer): You know what I want you to do? I want you to disappear out there--
(He waves toward lobby)
--out there, anywhere, and I don't want to hear from you ever again.
(CORDELIA gasps as though mortally insulted. DIRECTOR turns to CORDELIA's ATTENDANTS)
For God's sake, attendants, take her out of my hair!
(CORDELIA's ATTENDANTS, one on either side, force her up the aisle. She stops constantly to look back. DIRECTOR turns to STRETCHER ATTENDANTS as soon as CORDELIA's ATTENDANTS have started off with her. During this period STRETCHER ATTENDANTS have started to lift LEAR onto stretcher)
I don't care where you leave him, but I want you to get him off the
premises before he sues me for battery.
CORDELIA (From aisle, shouting to STRETCHER ATTENDANTS as they start to carry LEAR off): There's a good hospital down the road you can take him to. They have psycho-drama sessions Mondays and Thursdays, I've heard.
(LEAR suddenly sits up in stretcher and sticks his tongue out at CORDELIA. STRETCHER ATTENDANTS take LEAR offstage. DIRECTOR, during this time, has been trying to get the audience's attention and has not seen LEAR's gesture)
DIRECTOR (To audience, while LEAR sticks his tongue out): As you've seen for yourselves, ladies and gentlemen--
CORDELIA (Forcing her ATTENDANTS to stop again, interrupts DIRECTOR, shouts to LEAR, who is offstage by now): I saw what you did
DIRECTOR (To CORDELIA and her ATTENDANTS, while pointing club at
CORDELIA): I really meant it when I said disappear. Attendants, please remove that woman!
(CORDELIA's ATTENDANTS rush her into lobby. DIRECTOR addresses audience again)
As you've seen for yourselves, everything has pretty much gone to hell around here, so I'll ask you to go take your intermission now and I'll do all I can in the next quarter-hour to put a few pieces back together again. In any case, I don't want you to disappear. Is that clear? Don't go home yet. Don't . . . go . . . home!
(As soon as DIRECTOR finishes speaking, projection changes to read INTERMISSION. MUSIC ATTENDANT starts playing a record of brisk Renaissance instrumental music. DIRECTOR moves about the stage fussing with the furniture and props. Lights go on to encourage audience to go to lobby. ATTENDANTS come onstage and work throughout intermission setting up next scene.)
(Back to list of Variations)
(Back to HOME PAGE)