Metatheatre in King Lear and Hamlet

Metatheatre in King Lear – Goneril and Regan ‘perform’ their professions of love to their father – Kent disguises himself to serve King Lear – The fool ‘plays’ his role to state truth – Edmund stages a fight with Edgar – Edgar performs a role (Poor Tom) – Edgar stages Gloucester’s suicide – King Lear stages imagined court proceedings.
Diehl on metatheatre in King Lear The play “juxtaposes Edgar’s theatrics to Cordelia’s resistance to the theatrical, a juxtaposition that raises provocative questions about the legitimacy of theatre and the effectiveness of plain speaking, the power of ritual performance and the value of inwardness” “Shakespeare challenges the anti-theatrical sentiments of early Protestantism, but he also demystifies a theatricality associated in his culture with Roman Catholicism. His plays could even be said to contain an anti-theatrical strain in the way they expose and condemn the fraudulent theatricality of villains like Goneril and Regan, Edmund, Iago and Claudius. But Shakespeare actively seeks to dissociate his own theatre from empty ceremonies, superficial spectacles, magical illusions, and deceptive theatrical tricks, and he claims for the theatre an ethical purpose and an emotional power that seem to align it with early Protestantism”
Metatheatre through actors In Hamlet, there occurs the following exchange between Hamlet and Polonius:Hamlet: […] My lord, you played once i’th’university, you say.Polonius: That I did my lord, and was accounted a good actor.Hamlet: And what did you enact?Polonius: I did enact Julius Caesar. I was killed i’th’Capitol. Brutus killed me.Hamlet: It was a brute part of him to kill so capital a calf there.—Hamlet (3.2.95-100).If the only significance of this exchange lay in its mentioning of dramatic characters within another play, it would be called a metadramatic moment. Within its original context, however, there is a greater, metatheatrical resonance. Critics assume that the roles in each case were played by the same actor in their original productions by Shakespeare’s company; Polonius and Caesar by John Heminges and Hamlet and Brutus by Richard Burbage.[12] Apart from the dramatic linking of the character of Hamlet with the murderer Brutus (and Hamlet as a murderer of Polonius in particular, as will occur in 3.4), the audience’s awareness of the actors’ identities and previous roles is being triggered.
Metatheatre “Metatheatre” is a convenient name for the quality or force in a play which challenges theatre’s claim to be simply realistic — to be nothing but a mirror in which we view the actions and sufferings of characters like ourselves, suspending our disbelief in their reality. Metatheatre begins by sharpening our awareness of the unlikeness of life to dramatic art; it may end by making us aware of life’s uncanny likeness to art or illusion. By calling attention to the strangeness, artificiality, illusoriness, or arbitrariness — in short, the theatricality — of the life we live, it marks those frames and boundaries that conventional dramatic realism would hide. It may present action so alien, improbable, stylized, or absurd that we are forced to acknowledge the estranging frame that encloses a whole play. It may, on the other hand, break the frame of the “fourth wall” of conventional theatre, reaching out to assault the audience or to draw it into the realm of the play. It may — by devices like plays within plays, self-consciously “theatrical” characters, and commentary on the theatre itself — dwell on the boundaries between “illusion” or artifice and “reality” within a play, making us speculate on the complex mixture of illusion and reality in our ordinary experience. Any theatrical device can work metatheatrically if we sense in it a certain deliberate reflexiveness, a tendency to refer to itself or to its context in a more general mode: to theatre itself; to art, artifice, and illusion; and perhaps above all to language as such.