Academic Journal of Modern Philology vol. 4 (2015)
University of Łódź
Looking for Lear in Dennis Kelly’s The Gods Weep.
First staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2010, Dennis Kelly’s The Gods Weep is an attempt to update the well-known story of King Lear to contemporary times. It focuses on Colm, an aging CEO who decides to divide his company evenly between two of his employees at the price of his only son’s share, a decision that results in escalating a bloody conflict that tears apart the business empire. Despite featuring an all-star cast and having the full support of the RSC, The Gods Weep received mixed to wholly negative reviews and was criticized for being chaotic, lengthy and not faithful enough to the masterpiece of the Bard. The present article addresses the problems raised by the critics and attempts to demonstrate that their responses were largely misguided, as most of them failed to recognize the full complexity of what they were dealing with. Thus the paper first shows that Kelly’s play is not merely a response to King Lear but, rather, a bricolage that recycles Akira Kurosawa’s Ran and Sarah Kane’s Blasted as well as a number of other works. The article then suggests that The Gods Weep is not an adaptation but an appropriation, as it shifts the political thrust of the hypotext and bears a mark of Kelly’s in-yer-face sensibility. Finally, the contribution argues that, given the range of sources that are being recycled, the play should not be viewed as an appropriation of a single text. Building on the concept of the “work” as formulated in Margaret Jane Kidnie’s Shakespeare and the Problem of Adaptation, I suggest that The Gods Weep should be viewed in the context of all texts which may be subsumed under what I call the “Lear type.”
Keywords: The Gods Weep, Dennis Kelly, Shakespeare, adaptation, appropriation.