When In Our Time issued a program about King Lear, I figured in advance, I could listen to it in conjunction with Berkeley's English 117S. The latter podcast is a lecture series about Shakespeare, taking on the more important plays one by one, dissecting them in three episodes which each take around 60 minutes.
The problems with English 117s that make it pretty inaccessible as a podcast are many and varied, but there are two that are in my eyes too big and too central and each ruin this series for the general public. One is that you have to have read each play that is being discussed pretty meticulously and would better have it at hand while listening, which is something I won't expect even the best listener can manage. The second problem is that the lecture is interactive, the professor (Charles Altieri) engages in dialog with the students, but on the podcast you cannot hear the students and Altieri doesn't repeat what they are saying. As a consequence, you are double shut out from the experience and only if you are totally dedicated to getting what can be had from the series and can put up with the way it is fragmented for you, there may be some point in listening.
The high level of the content is indisputable though and I was hoping In Our Time would prepare me sufficiently for listening. However, In Our Time hardly engaged in the content of the play (and assumed it known as well), but rather evolved around the reception and development. Still a very interesting podcast and still a very challenging listen. So how to take these two and listen to them with the greatest satisfaction, without spending hours of preparation?
I suggest one starts with Wikipedia and reads first the short entry about the historic King Lear (Leir), then the entry about the reception and development (The History of King Lear). This will kick you off wonderfully for In Our Time (King Lear). Once you have enjoyed that, you have a great introduction in the history, importance and genius of the play and that is where you can enter it. Wikipedia's entry on the play (King Lear) contains a list of characters and a synopsis and after having read this, you can begin to follow English 117S (stream for the first hour, the second hour, the third and final).
This remains a rugged ride, but one of 4 hours of podcast with maybe 30 minutes of preparation and an outcome that gives deep insight in the play and a full enrichment that a great work of culture can deliver: a historical, aesthetic, philosophical, psychological and spiritual experience.
More In Our Time:
The Social Contract,
The Fisher King,
The Charge of the Light Brigade.
Previously on English 117S:
Berkeley Spring 2008 has kicked off.