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Shakespeare & Beyond

Excerpt from Dunbar: Edward St. Aubyn retells King Lear

Dunbar author photo by Timothy Allen

Photo by Timothy Allen

In Dunbar, a new novel by Edward St. Aubyn that retells the Shakespeare play King Lear, Henry Dunbar makes the mistake of handing over control of his global corporation to his eldest daughters, who bribe a doctor to declare him mentally unfit and send him to a care home in England. Can his youngest daughter (the only one who loves him) find him in time?

Dunbar, published Oct 3, is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, in which modern writers re-imagine Shakespeare plays as novels. The series has so far included retellings of The Winter’s Tale, The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest, and Othello by Jeanette Winterson, Howard Jacobson, Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood, and Tracy Chevalier, respectively.

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In an interview with The New York Times, St. Aubyn says he likes the play “for being very familial and political, as well as metaphysical.” He also explains why he made his protagonist a media mogul:

Your version of Lear is a ruthless Canadian media mogul. Why did a media titan seem like a fitting parallel for a monarch?

I wanted to keep the political dimension of it, so I needed to have someone who was powerful, and a king obviously doesn’t make the grade in the 21st century. I felt elected politicians were these brief summers of electoral democracy, and I wanted to deal with the permafrost of power, the people who are always there. Administrations come and go and prime ministers come and go. I think that [a media titan] is the modern analog to a king.

The opening scene of Dunbar, excerpted below, finds Henry Dunbar plotting his escape from the care home with the help of another patient, Peter.


I much prefer Shakespeare’s version. This one is simply poorly written standard stuff. Why even attempt to rewrite “Lear” or any great play?

Steven J Myers — October 4, 2017

[…] Dunbar: Edward St. Aubyn retells King Lear […]

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