Heâs so familiar with Lear â he studied the text intensely as a young man â that in conversation, he effortlessly recites from the play verbatim.
âShakespeare just gets into your blood after a while,â he said. âHeâs inevitably a gigantic influence on anyone writing in English.â Mr. St. Aubyn spoke with Alexandra Alter about reimagining Lear, and why the play resonates more than 400 years after it was written.
How did you come to the Hogarth Shakespeare project, and what made you choose âKing Learâ?
I heard about it and I discussed it with my agent, who talked to the head of Hogarth Shakespeare, and they were very enthusiastic about me participating. I was between novels. And then I was given a choice of plays that hadnât already been reimagined. Looking at the list, I thought I was better suited to King Lear rather than Romeo and Juliet. Love is not my specialty, relative to unhappy families and failing fathers and the misuse of power.
I like Lear for being very familial and political, as well as metaphysical. Learâs got everything, which is why it was the greatest challenge. In fact, I thought it was too big a challenge at one point.
Why was that?
I thought, I wonât reread the play straight away, Iâll get a film. I got Peter Brookâs film. It was so bleak that I staggered to the phone and called my agent and said, âLet me write a chapter before I sign.â Then when I reread the play, I got another wave of anxiety, a sort of, donât mess with the Bard anxiety. The towering rhetoric of the play. So I felt I needed to hurry away from the original like someone leaving a burning building, and sort of make it my own and not go back to the language again, so I never looked again at Lear. I didnât want to get into too many verbal reverberations, unless they arose naturally, or too many pedantic parallels.
It must have been nerve-racking, taking on…