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King Leir : The Sudden Banquet

Staging the Scene

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The Banquet Scene

There were easier and more economical ways to stage this scene. Mumford could have laid a cloth on the stage and served out food from his basket. This could have seemed like a banquet to the starving Leir and Perillus. But this would have ignored the two clear references in the stage directions to a table. Another solution would be to have Mumford enter carrying a basket and a small trestle table at the start of the scene. He could then set up the table and lay out the food on cue. But this would not satisfy the implications of Perillus’ following lines:

Yonder is a banquet
And men and women, my lord; be of good cheer,
For I see comfort coming very near.
Oh, my lord, a banquet and men and women!

There are two key factors here. First, Perillus refers to men and women in the plural; the stage directions so far have only marked entrances for the Gallia, Mumford and Cordella – two men but only one woman. Second, he says he sees “comfort coming very near” and the next line specifies that the “comfort” is “a banquet” which he then connects to the “men and women” he just mentioned. This was the evidence in the text on which we based our staging. Although there is no mention of the country folk in the stage directions, Cordella was talking about them earlier in the scene, having them come on stage carrying a table and food for a “banquet” made sense of Perillus’ confusing lines. But why were they singing?

King Leir: The Sudden Song?

There is no textual justification for the song but we discovered early in the process that our company were excellent singers and looked for any opportunity to exploit their talents. Furthermore, bringing a table and food onto the stage is a clumsy business, not interesting enough to stand alone, but too distracting to be executed behind dialogue. Covering this action with a song therefore made theatrical sense. Most of all, however, the song increased the focus on the symbolic importance of the action. Having been thrown out of the homes of his other two daughters, Leir here receives hospitality from apparent strangers. By adding the song and turning the arrival of the "banquet" into a small spectacle we were following the implications of the stage directions but also highlighting a central theme in the play.

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