More great thoughts on King Lear in the Village Voice, from the play's director, Jonathan Miller:
It's an extremely domestic play. Simply because there are five minutes of thunder, people think it's cosmic. The characters are not up against the cosmos; they're up against each other. It's about social disorder, which follows from the disappearance of authority, an authority we may no longer have time for—the absolute power of monarchy. The play isn't cosmic. It's social and political, and intensely domestic.
I wanted to bring the Fool on during Lear's entrance. There's an extraordinary companionship that exists between these two old men. Portraying the Fool as old is itself an innovation. The wisdom he discloses is quite inconceivable in a young person. It's only someone who had been with Lear all along who could rib him that way he does—who can say to the king, "Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise."
I always point out that if you're ever aware of the actual prosody, then you've missed the point. If you look at a mattress, a beautiful styled mattress, the springs are placed at regular metrical intervals. When you sleep, however, you are absolutely unaware of their distribution. And that's exactly how it should be. The skillful speaking of verse should honor the metrical structure without the audience ever being aware of it.
Critics are often tremendously eager to see this play as unmanageably large. It's not. I have to say I had the same problem when I did Long Day's Journey Into Night, which is always seen as a modern Greek tragedy. It's just a lot of drunk Irish Broadway bums whiling away a hot night in New London. When I was doing it with Jack Lemmon and Kevin Spacey, I said, "Look, this is not Aeschylus. It's Neil Simon's Broadway Bound." And I was able to take an hour and 20 minutes off the running time by having them talk normally instead of having these recitations.
(Interesting thought there -- I read the O'Neill play twice over the past couple weeks. Truly interminable reading, and I found myself sympathizing with O'Neill's wishes to never have it staged. It seemed as if he was just trying to exorcise his own past in the only form he knew, dramatic writing, with all these impossibly specific details. I don't think he was thinking of the stage; i think he was trying to give shape to the memory of his family history.)
There's something enchantingly comic about [King Lear], and this is what makes the tragedy so unbearable. The imperceptible slide into wickedness, which is the other thing I find so interesting. It's what Hannah Arendt calls the banality of evil—the dismal suburban commonplaces of those sisters and their husbands.