Enumclaw and Cultural Liberties

Blow winds and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow, 
You cataracts and hurricanoes. 

King LEAR Act 3, Scene 2

There was a television show a very long time ago that traced random connections from one thing to another. I think it was a BBC production, but it could have been NRK. My memory code switches freely, which only proves to me how unreliable memory is. I loved the playfulness of that show. It was like mental hopscotch. Which is called a game of “paradis” in Norwegian.

This morning I was looking up the address of the theater in Washington that will do my play next fall. (I seriously tear up while writing that.) It turns out that it is about an hour away from B’s birthplace.

Enumclaw is the “place of thunder and lighting”. The Norwegian settlers named the area, borrowing the indigenous Skopamish word which also means “he who makes noise… to neigh, bray or sing”. But this is all legend, and I don’t know whose legend.

It is also defined as “the place of evil spirits”. That’s the definition B. told me about. She told me she had been to see the cemetery, and was happy with the place she’s picked out. She’s had Enumenclaw tattooed on her upper back. I’ve googled, and for all the spirits mentioned in King Lear, I can’t find one explicitly evil.

Evil is a very big theme. And while, Edmund says his spirits are “alarmed”, I’m not going to tackle it.

I’ve not been to Washington State, but B told me often that this place reminded her of home, the landscape being so similar. I’ve chosen the themes I want to focus on for the adaptation. Nature being central to everything. There is a part of me that wants to go sit out on the heath during a storm. Method writing. But I won’t. I may read Wuthering Heights again, though. I’ll go hiking in the rain.

I want to be careful to not let the process journal leach too much energy. I’ve kept process journals for poetry books, but this feels different. I don’t know why.

It turns out King Lear is another story familiar to the Jacobean audiences. But scholars think his version was the first to kill off Cordelia. There are sequels to the Lear/Leir story Shakespeare tells, and Cordelia does ultimately hang herself, but much later. In the legends, Cordelia survives her father.

It must have shocked the audiences. I wonder why he would do that? Following the Restoration, Shakespeare’s play was performed with the happier ending. I was taught that had been a kind of sacrilege to the “original”. But now I see that perspective as being historically blind to the very nature of culture. It is almost a kind of idolatry that erases what came before the white Bard that was called an “upstart crow” and plagiarist by his contemporaries.

It is funny what we are allowed to forgive Shakespeare in terms of story structure and dramaturgy. When I read K. my treatment, he kept pointing out cheap plot devices. Yeah, those are Shakespeare’s I kept saying.


It’s a legitimate question. “So?” I think we treat the text with a religious devotion that borders on the absurd. I once took an acting workshop from a now-famous actress and when I asked her what a particular word meant in my monologue, she said she had no idea. The question was academic for her.

One the one hand, I totally get it. The poetry is undeniably genius. Even with an American accent – or the contemporary British accent that has little resemblance to Shakespeare’s pronunciation – it is a joy to speak. You don’t have to intellectually understand every little thing to appreciate the beauty of the whole. It is the human equivalent of birdsong.

On the other hand, time has made a fair amount of the text incomprehensible for a modern audience, especially as a performed work. Audiences were not smarter, but they were familiar. Isn’t the essence of conventional theater the melding of human birdsong and story?

I cannot ruin Shakespeare. Were I to stage it with every plot device a product placement, Oswald’s letter a text message on an iPhone, I could ruin any chance for a career in playwrighting, but “Shakespeare” would be just fine.

If I choose to alter aspects of the plot, to satisfy my own expectations of story structure – or if I choose to flesh out characters and motivations to avoid a kind of academic puzzle or psychological Rorschach as take-home work for the so-inclined who may not know, or who forget, that these things were known already to the audience at the start of the play – it will be okay. I’ts not that everyone will approve, but I am comfortable with this.


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