Sir John Gielgud (1904–2000) was a British actor and director who, as well as his success in more modern roles, was known for his mastery of Shakespearean verse. He is widely regarded as the best Hamlet of his generation. Gielgud played Lear on the stage four times during his long career: in 1930–1931, 1940, 1950 and 1955. He also recorded a radio production in 1994 at the age of 90.
In 1950, Gielgud and Anthony Quayle co-directed a production of King Lear at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, with Gielgud also taking the lead role. The production was similar to that of 1940, but with changes to the interpretation of Lear, who Gielgud now played with less variety and with a more sustained development in a performance that was often regarded as the most intellectual of possible Lears. In this production Gielgud also emphasized his thin and gaunt features instead of trying to disguise them as he had in 1940 when wanting to portray Lear’s physical strength. Another difference between this and Gielgud’s previous productions of this bleak and horrific play would have been in the audience, who had now experienced the grim horrors of the Second World War.
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- Full title:
- John Gielgud Archive. Professional photographs; C20th
- 1950, Stratford-upon-Avon
- Photograph / Image
- Angus McBean
- © [Add MS 81465/olvwork549054], Angus McBean Photograph. Houghton Library, Harvard University.
- Held by
- British Library
- Add MS 81465
- Article by:
- Kiernan Ryan
- Tragedies, Power, politics and religion
Professor Kiernan Ryan argues that the subversive spirit of King Lear remains as powerful as ever, four centuries after it was first performed.