The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company has announced that its popular Shakespeare on the Common event will take place July 22nd through August 9th. This year, the company will present King Lear for free to anyone who wishes to come see the performance. While Shakespeare on the Common has been providing free performances for over 20 years, this year is the first time the company will perform King Lear.
Considered to be one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, King Lear tells the story of an aging king facing his own mortality and mental decline. As he tries to secure his kingdom’s legacy by dividing it among his three daughters, Lear learns what is truly important to him. The play explores themes of family ties, loyalty, honesty, love, jealousy and the effects of old age. Many believe the play to be loosely based on legends about Leir of Britain, who is a semi-mythological Celtic king pre-dating the Romans.
Most likely written sometime between 1603 and 1606, King Lear was written several years after Shakespeare completed Hamlet. The play reveals an even darker side of humanity than Hamlet, with some companies choosing to perform an alternate ending due to the bleak nature of the original ending. As such, many critics consider King Lear to be the most moving of Shakespeare’s tragedies and possibly his greatest achievement. Three major versions of the play were published in 1608, 1619 and 1623, with some scholars believing Shakespeare revised the earliest version himself.
The Shakespeare on the Common performance typically attracts more than 100,000 people each year. As such, the performances are among the most popular Boston theater events each year. The high-energy performances are known for including bawdy jokes, songs and dance numbers. The outdoor setting is another major draw to the performances, with the well-lit stage located at the end of a gentle slope providing great views from any location. With that said, the area closest to the stage tends to be full two hours prior to the performance.
While you are permitted to bring food with you to the performance, there are several restaurants located near to where the performance takes place. Numerous Theatre District restaurants are located just a block or two away, while restaurants offering casual fare are also located near to the stage. These food items can also be brought in to the sitting area and enjoyed while watching the play.
King Lear performances will take place July 22nd through August 9th at 8:00 pm on Tuesdays through Saturdays and at 7:00 pm on Sundays. A 3:00 pm matinee will also be held on Saturday, July 25th, while an ASL interpreted performance will be shared on August 2nd and 7th. An audio-described performance will take place on July 26th. Performances take place on a temporary stage located near the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common. While you are welcome to bring a blanket, a low-folding chair and even a picnic basket to enjoy at the performance, chairs will be available for a minimum $50 donation. All proceeds go to benefit the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company.