Through gloom and shadow look we
On beyond the years!
The soul would have no rainbow
Had the eyes no tears.
John Vance Cheney (1)



Reflecting on how King Lear’s “stormiest part” (2) (229) could be filmically realized, Grigori Kozintsev intriguingly alludes to the “visual acoustic” (229) aesthetic upon which Le Corbusier erected Notre-Dame-du-Haut, his Ronchamp chapel. (3) That Kozintsev appropriates this crucial Corbusian concept to make Lear resonate within the space of tragedy like Ronchamp chapel does within its Vosges setting becomes however more evident from his “visual acoustic” comment about Lear’s “thoughts and feelings [having to] sound like an arrow in the mist” (142). Admittedly, Kozintsev owes this poetic simile to Alexander Blok, (4) but he just as clearly echoes what Christopher Pearson calls Le Corbusier’s “lyrical account” (179) of how the Parthenon subsumes the Acropolis plane through its “arrows bursting away like rays” (5) (179). Far from remolding Lear in terms of Peter Brook’s “delocalized space” (6) (26), Kozintsev envisions him as a Corbusian landscaped figure whose radiating influence modulates his ambience to his tragic resonance. Hence John Collick’s astute remark that “[in] Korol Ler, as in Noh, the diegetic space barely exists in a concrete physical form” (145), for it functions essentially as Kozintsev’s Corbusian analogy to what Shakespeare’s Lear describes as “this tempest in my mind” (7) (3.4.12). Collick’s Noh reference is in fact deadly accurate, since what Kozintsev’s landscape radiates, while “contract[ing] or conflat[ing]” (145), to use Collick’s verbs, in resonance with his Corbusian Lear is the “light emptiness” (3) Kozintsev sees characterizing Soami’s Kyoto garden. What Kozintsev’s Lear shares with Soami’s garden is “the rhythm” (3) of its stones and gravel from which emanates its Nohlike musical evanescence–for Kozintsev attunes Lear to a parallel immateriality often through Dmitri Shostakovich’s “tragic forte passages” (51). Keyed at a phantom pitch, Kozintsev’s landscaped Lear resonates beyond the storm scenes to engulf other parts of the film as a hollow echo of what Shakespeare’s Fool labels “Lear’s shadow” (1.4.222). By intermeshing Corbusian and Noh influences, Kozintsev transforms what Lawrence Danson terms “the nothings of King Lear” (131) into the visual acoustics of an insubstantial Shakespearean realm.



Consider, for instance, the battlements sequence where Kozintsev’s Lear, blaring Cordelia’s banishment, unleashes his fiery essence by radiating it through his turreted belching beacons. Just like his Shakespearean counterpart whose “wheel of fire” (4.7.47) impels him “Every hour / [to] flash […] into one gross crime or other” (1.3.4-5), Kozintsev’s Lear instinctively bursts into elemental turbulence by appropriating the “walking fire” (3.4.111) aspect that Shakespeare’s Fool attributes to the Bedlam Edgar. Significantly, what Kozintsev’s Lear earlier unmasks when he removes what Kenneth S. Rothwell rightly identifies as “a Noh-like mask” (A History 189) is a seething affinity with his hearth. Kozintsev instantly underlines Lear’s scorching nature not only by having him conduct the heated division of his kingdom sitting near his crackling hearth but, as Douglas Radcliff-Umstead points out, by “catch[ing] Lear’s face in a shot taken through the flames of [the] high fireplace” (268). Equally ominous is Kozintsev’s suggestion that Lear’s smoky self trails from the battlements to disperse into what Jack J. Jorgens describes as “a clouding sky” (239). Inspired by Gordon Craig’s Lear sketches, with their “confusion of perspectives [and] threat of emptiness” (228), Kozintsev smolders Lear into a celestial incarnation of what Shakespeare’s Fool tells his literary equivalent: “I am a fool, thou / art nothing” (1.4.184-85). What Kozintsev skyscapes then is Lear’s Corbusian warping of his country into the “empty geometry” (174) of his psyche–a nebulous terrain that Rothwell evocatively charts as “the imaginary realm of Gog and Magog, which, if nothing can be about something, is pretty much what King Lear’s about” (“In Search” 145). Once Kozintsev’s Lear unmaps his kingdom, Nothingness threatens. Again, Rothwell timely hears this threat in Lear’s racking of his map: “[he] shakes it and rattles it so fiercely that it rumbles like distant thunder” (“In Search” 140). Rothwell’s simile sharply clinches Kozintsev’s prolepsis of Lear’s impending tempest that Shostakovich’s orchestral crescendo equally heralds by propelling Lear’s stormy scaling of the battlements. As Erik James Heine observes: “it grows from a single cello line at a dynamic of pianissimo to a full orchestra at fortissimo” (277). Significantly, Shostakovich’s “Approaching Catastrophe” movement, with its mounting musical eruption, abruptly ends with what Heine calls “a tam-tam attack” (277). Since the tamtam frequently figures, as Heine emphasizes, in “funeral ceremonies” (278), its conclusive cadence accrues the foreboding effect of tolling what Shakespeare’s Kent later terms Lear’s “promised end” (5.3.26). Pitched by the death-gong’s final note to Kozintsev’s reworking of Gloucester’s “extreme verge” (4.6.26), Lear likewise annihilates himself by scaling analogous heights of emptiness. For what Lear’s Corbusian edge fatally resounds is the immaterial might of thunderclouds.



Hence the stunning aerial shot upon whose “unfamiliar and hence more challenging perspective” (55) Lorne M. Buchman rightly sees Kozintsev pivoting his storm sequence. But rather than signifying “[the] perspective of [Lear’s] interlocutor–the skies” (55), as Buchman contends, the aerial shot portends Lear’s enskied self. True to Kozintsev’s Corbusian vision that “[t]hey merge (the storm and man)” (232), Lear waxes into an inclement skyscape. Just as Shakespeare’s Lear liquefies “his little world of man / [into] conflicting wind and rain” (3.1.10-11), so does Kozintsev’s Lear dissolve into a parallel emotional gale that Jonas Gritsus’s camerawork astonishingly emulates. In Kozintsev’s words: “the camera like the wind chased after the Fool and Lear, lost them in the emptiness of space (the lines of the folds alone looked like rushing gusts of wind)” (231). But Lear, even when unseen, rages in the wind, and what he shrills is the nothingness within. Echoes of Noh influence are unmistakable, for Noh landscape, as Collick says, likewise depends for its Le Corbusier-like effect on “the definition placed on it by the tragic characters it surrounds” (145). Paradoxically then, Kozintsev transmutes his maskless Lear into an elemental Nohman or mask of emptiness. For Kozintsev modulates Soami’s Noh-like garden, with its pulsating sandscaped consciousness, to an aeolian spatiality reverberating Lear’s hollowness. That Kozintsev’s Lear distils Shakespeare’s to his “fretful elements” (3.1.4) is further reinforced by Shostakovich’s equally hollowing “Storm” score. For Shostakovich elementalizes Lear by transcribing him into a musical integration of percussive xylophone vibration and a continuous petal tone whose “repetitive, almost trance-like [effect],” to quote Heine’s words, “reflects the swirling and relentlessness of the storm” (289). Fulfilling Kozintsev’s wish that “the voice should belong to music” (51) in the storm scene Shostakovich musicalizes Lear into his Shakespeare an counterpart’s “impetuous blasts” (3.1.8.) that likewise trumpet the latter’s insubstantial substance. Not surprisingly then, Kozintsev claims: “When I hear Shostakovich’s music I think I’ve heard Shakespeare’s verse.” (8) For what Shostakovich’s musical whirlwind intimates is that Kozintsev’s Lear analogizes Shakespeare’s by inflating Edgar’s “unsubstantial air” (4.1.7) that he also shares into the visual acoustics of skyscape emptiness.



Once Kozintsev’s Lear is viewed from this Corbusian elemental perspective, the aerial shot’s Shakespearean significance becomes apparent–for the “light-as-air Leviathan” (64) Theodore Weiss sees in Shakespeare’s Lear suddenly looms large in Kozintsev’s stormy sky. Filtering the “scarecrow Genuis Loci” (82) of his tragic spatiality through the aerial shot’s Shklovskean defamiliarization, Kozintsev dematerializes Lear’s essence to ethereal cloudiness. Hence Kozintsev’s panning shot tousling Lear into the nothingness of an infinite black-clouded firmament. As Kozintsev intuits: “[t]he clouds pronounce soliloquies” (245); and what Lear’s “black […] storm cloud” (245) soliloquizes is that he has swollen with his literary equivalent’s “darker purpose” (1.1.35). Kozintsev aptly draws our attention to how Shostakovich initially suggests the cloudy Lear’s thundering hollowness through “a growing resonance without any material element” (246). Keyed at the very low pitch of “The Storm’s Beginning,” Kozintsev’s Lear fades with the timpani as, to quote Heine again, it “descrescendo[s] to nothing” (284). What Rothwell astutely claims about Kozintsev’s camera, that “it is an x-ray, not a mirror” (“Representing” 221), is also applicable then to his soundtrack, and particularly to its musical unleashing of what Shakespeare’s Fool dubs “an O without a / figure” (1.4.183-84). Karol Lier resounds with Shakespearean metaphysical gusts, for what Shostakovich musicalizes is Lear’s existential eclipse, whose “rumbling darkness” (51) Kozintsev evidently conceives from the implied “thunder-bearer” (2.2.416) threat that Shakespeare’s Lear hollowly hurls at Goneril. Elementalized to the “Darkness” (1.4.243) that his literary counterpart thunderously invokes, Kozintsev’s Lear likewise becomes, to use Macbeth’s phrase, “[a] sightless courier of the air” (9) (1.7.23)–for he similarly mutates into what the Knight terms the storm’s “eyeless rage” (3.1.8). Blinded into a Stygian cloudscape that incarnates Kent’s faithful belief that “Things that love night / Love not such nights as these” (3.2.42-43), Kozintsev’s Lear musically swirls to the shrieking tune of his Shakespearean equivalent: “Why, this is not Lear. / Does Lear walk thus, speak thus? Where are his eyes?” (1.4.217-18). It is through this cloudscape Lear thundering his nothingness that Kozintsev reaches the dark abyss of his Corbusian revisioning of Shakepeare’s visionless Lear–a revisioning that evokes Le Corbusier’s ineffable integration of the Acropolis temples and their landscape into the visual acoustic of “closely-knit and violent elements, sounding clear and tragic like brazen trumpets” (Towards 190). Nothing can be further from the “Marxist perspective” (93) Wayne Schmalz attributes to Kozintsev’s film adaptation than this Lear’s nihilistic plunge into “[t]he black hole of night” (191). Collick’s view of Kozintsev focusing “less upon the mechanism of social order” (144) is more thematically revealing, for Kozintsev’s is a Shakespearean tragic vision that thrives on “a strongly spiritual mystification” (144) of Lear’s characterization.



Nowhere is this more evident, however, than in the hovel sequence where Kozintsev utilizes Lear’s actual meeting with the “houseless heads” (3.4.30) that never materialize in Shakespeare’s play to transcend his less crucial Marxist concerns. For Lear’s hovel interaction with both his Fool and the Bedlam Edgar towers above the “Poor naked wretches” (3.4.28) as a darkling babel echoing the raging tempest. Radcliff-Umstead strikes the right absurdist note when he writes: “All three seem to be babbling, not truly to each other or to any of the drenched vagabonds, [for] the cacophony of their voices takes language and meaning beyond a zero-degree of comprehension” (270). Theirs is disturbingly Nothing’s conversation, for Lear once again keys his ambience at the pitch of emptiness. That Kozintsev imbues the beggars’ hovel with the Brook-like absurdity of Lear’s darkly empty language is however only half the point. For Kozintsev equally pivots the hovel sequence on his ardent belief that “when darkness reaches its utmost limits, an almost invisible spark begins to burn, and the darkness loses its power in comparison with this tiny fragment of light” (222). Kozintsev’s interplay of conflicting light and shade should alert us to the thematic relevance of Radcliff-Umstead’s comment about “[t]he hovel scenes [being] shot in a chiaroscuro contrast” (269). For what Kozintsev’s hovel sequence elementally celebrates is Lear’s Rembrandtesque birth from the ecliptic darkness of his stormy self to the light that Shakespeare breaks into his Edgar’s reeling mind: “The lamentable change is from the best, / The worst returns to laughter” (4.1.5-6). Equally revealing is that Lear’s darkness modulates to light in resonance to his alter ego’s sound for, as Schmalz cogently observes, Lear “discovers his own humanity [by] the jingling of [the Fool’s] bells” (92). Accurately conceived by Barbara Leaming as “aspects of a single self” (132), King and Fool truly intermesh at this birthing stage when Lear, jingled by what Kozintsev explicitly labels “the call sign of conscience” (72), finally accrues in Sergei Yutkevich’s words “[a] value in and out of himself [when] he possesses nothing” (195). Quoting Kozintsev again: “The shadow becomes conscience. The Fool has begun to give utterance to Lear’s most secret thoughts.” (10) It is Kozintsev’s Fool then who answers the Shakespearean Cordelia’s musical plea to the gods to “wind up” her father’s “untuned and jarring senses” (4.7.16) by jingling out of Lear’s reason-in-madness a lucidly humane essence. By resonating to his jingling conscience, Kozintsev’s Corbusian Lear becomes its living visual acoustic, thereby incarnating what Shakespeare’s Lear recommends to Gloucester: “A man may see how this world goes / with no eyes. Look with thine ears” (4.6.146-47). It is indeed by seeing it jinglingly that Kozintsev transforms his FEKS carnivalistic Fool (11) into Lear’s conscientious truth. Jingled initially into a crackling hearth that smolders its heat into an inclement sky, Lear finally jingles out of his dark thundering cloud into the light flooding his broken heart.




Hence Kozintsev’s notion of reimagining Craig’s drawing of a “willow-branch[ed]” (228) hovel as a thatched one leaking rainwater. For the hovel clearly looms in Kozintsev’s mind as “[a] space [that] howls and cries” (196) Lear’s tragic plight. Significantly, just as in The Miserable Beggar, a Noh play Kozintsev admires, “the tapping stick create[s] the feeling of blindness” (7), so does the dripping hovel suggest the parallel emotional effect of a silently weeping Lear. Barbara Hodgdon rightly focuses on what is probably Karol Lier’s pivotal image: “a mid-closeup of Lear, his face suffused with light, raindrops running down his face” (“Kozintsev” 296). For Lear’s aural sight filters this light into a literal flood by keying it at the pitch of raindrops whose rhythmic dripping becomes, like the Fool’s jingling, the visual acoustic of conscientious grieving. Radiating its sobbing music like Wordsworth’s dripping nave at Furness Abbey, (12) Kozintsev’s hovel tearfully thaws Lear’s lament into the ocular “garden water-pots” (4.6.192) of his Shakespearean equivalent. As Shakespeare’s stocked Kent discovers: “Nothing almost sees miracles / But misery” (2.2.163-64). It is this poignant paradox tha inextricably intermeshes Kozintsev’s Lear and Shakespeare’s. Echoing Shakespeare’s Lear who thunderously declares




I have full cause of weeping, but this heart
Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws
Or e'er I'll weep. (2.2.473-75),

Kozintsev’s Lear echoes him again by melting into his inwardly ” cadent tears” (1.4.277). It is through this “voice of tears” (252) which Kozintsev defines as “[a] ringing moist sound” (252), that the hovel Lear intuits his Shakespearean counterpart’s answer to the existential problem concerning “the cause of thunder” (3.4.151). For once Kozintsev’s Lear comes to his Shakespearean equivalent’s realization that “men of stones” (5.3.255) really cause thunder, he liquefies the stony self of his rock-riddled realm into the dripping rain that tearfully etches his facial terrain. As Anthony Lyons claims: “Water in the film is wholly good” (34). It is as if Kozintsev finds an aquatic corrective to the political poison that his Gamlet’s Elsinore oozes in Karol Lier’s edifying liquidity. Hence Kozintsev’s touching image of the Fool collecting the dripping rainwater in his cupped hands and drinking it. What Kozintsev movingly suggests is that Lear radiates back the spiritual sustenance that the Fool, whom David Gillespie rightly considers “a Russian Holy Fool or iurodivy” (85), initially jingles into Lear’s existence. Reaching the apotheosis of their integration in rainy tears, Kozintsev’s Fool/Lear ironically “make content,” to quote the literary Fool’s words, “[t]hough the rain it raineth every day” (3.2.76-77). True to Shakespeare’s Lear who ultimately realizes that “The art of our necessities is strange, / And can make vile things precious” (3.2.70-71), Kozintsev’s Lear likewise sheds silent “tears [that] scald like molten lead” (4.7.47-48). For only by becoming the visual acoustic of burning tears can Kozintsev’s Corbusian Lear paradoxically extinguish his flaming kingdom.



Significantly, Kozintsev reworks the “unbearable” (223) Lear/Cordelia meeting by enhancing the purgatorial effect of the literary Lear’s liquid question to her: “Be your tears wet?” (4.7.71). For not only does Kozintsev’s Lear feel Cordelia’s moistness by touching her cheek, but he actually tastes her tear from his fingertip. Echoes of the Fool’s drinking gesture signify the final stage of Lear’s tearful redemption. Having thunderously rumbled to Cordelia his Shakespearean counterpart’s belief that “nothing will come of nothing” (1.1.90), Kozintsev’s Lear parallels him again by ironically finding his sustaining self in the immaterial materiality of her tear. Kozintsev’s film tearfully suggests that something comes of nothing in King Lear. It is in fact by gazing into the archway’s emptiness after Cordelia’s hanged body is removed that Kozintsev’s Lear attains the mutual evanescence of his Shakespearean equivalent. Dollying away from Lear’s “Nyet” screams, Kozintsev’s camera charts the fivefold “Never” (5.3.307) path of his Shakespearean counterpart through the waters beyond Cordelia’s empty arch. As Hodgdon remarks: “Kozintsev’s ending also describes a move toward Lear’s absence” (“Two” 148). Hence the self-effacing Lear/Cordelia burial, whose trajectory into the inapparent evokes that of Caspar David Friedrich’s monk mystifyingly proceeding beyond the Oakwoods Abbey cemetery. Quoting Shakespeare’s Edward, “the wheel is come full circle” (5.3.172), but it comes trailing Lear’s transcendence. For by liquefying Lear into Cordelia’s tear, Kozintsev immerses him into an elemental nothingness whose essence parallels that of Shakespeare’s Cordelia by “reverb[ing] no hollowness” (1.1.155). Significantly, just like Shakespeare keys Cordelia’s “Nothing, my lord” (1.1.87) at the melancholic pitch of her “low sounds” (1.1.54), so does Kozintsev transcribe her “Nichevo” into the plaintive cry of her seagull soul in flight. What absorbs Lear’s echoing screaming is in fact the seagull’s mournful mewing. Reciprocally, however, Kozintsev’s Lear emanates from his thundering nothingness by resounding Cordelia’s avian requiem. True to Shakespeare’s Lear then, who musically endures in his woeful vision of Cordelia and himself “sing[ing] like birds i’ the cage” (5.3.9), Kozintsev’s Corbusian Lear likewise abides as the visual acoustic of Cordelia’s lament by modulating it to the Fool’s piping dirge.



Having initially functioned as Kozintsev’s non-diegetic musical reworking of the tearful truth Shakespeare’s Lear tosses at Gloucester–“We came crying hither” (4.6.174)–by analogously wailing Karol Lier’s universe into existence, “The Fool’s Pipe” diegetically resurges in its mourning player as the “Finale’s affirmation of the cathartic weeping of Lear’s “Cordelia” spirit. What Tatiana Egorova claims in fact about Shostakovich’s Brecht-like “Fool’s Songs,” (13) that “[t]here is something [in them] akin to a philosophic parable” (221), also applies to his elegiac “Fool’s Pipe” music. For by relying on what R. B. Parker terms “a Noh borrowing” (76) of framing flute laments, Kozintsev intermeshes Lear’s “coming hither” and his “going hence” (5.7.10) by attuning them to the grieving rhythm of the dripping hovel’s silent weeper. Just as the Fool’s jingling propels Lear to his sobbing sanity, so does the Fool’s piping finale transfigure the Lear/Cordelia memento mori into de profundis music. The Fool’s “sorrow songs,” with their sad irony echoing through Goneril’s castle, find then their lamentable sublimation in his own cadential piping. For not only does the Fool’s elegy exalt, as James M. Welsh aptly says, “his anguish translated beyond words into music” (156), but it just as achingly moans the Lear/Cordelia swansong. Awakening from the nothingness of his hollow rumbling into Cordelia’s streaming tears, Kozintsev’s Lear resounds in the Fool’s lamenting pipe. True to Kozintsev’s belief that “in Shakespeare’s world […] nothing perishes without trace” (222), Cordelia’s Lear rises phoenix-like from the Fool’s ashes to herald his Corbusian plight by radiating his tragic humanity through the sighing fife. Keyed at this plangent pitch, what Kozintsev’s Lear trails in his absent-present wake is the wisdom of his wail.



Texto Original: Saviour Catania.

Universidad de Malta




(1) See Vance Cheney, “Tears” in The Century 44 (1892): 538.

(2) Unless referred to other sources, all quotations are from Kozintsev’s film diary King Lear: The Space of Tragedy.

(3) For a detailed discussion of Le Corbusier’s concept of “visual acoustics” whereby an architectural work and its environment create a reciprocal resonance, see Pearson (1997).

(4) See Kozintsev’s comment in his King Lear diary on how Blok himself reworks the image of “an arrow in the mist” from Gogol’s Diary of a Madman 42.

(5) I use Pearson’s translation of “des traits jaillissant comme par un rayonnment.” See Pearson 179.

(6) See Kozintsev’s letter to Peter Brook published in his King Lear diary 26.

(7) All quotations from King Lear (in parentheses) refer to Foakes’s Arden 3 edition.

(8) See the interview with Kozintsev in Hayman 15.

(9) The quotation from Macbeth (in parentheses) refers to Muir’s Arden edition.

(10) See Kozintsev, Shakespeare: Time and Conscience 81.

(11) For further information on how Kozintsev recreates Shakespeare’s wise Fool by nostalgically integrating the subversive “clown” concept of both FEKS (the Factory of the Eccentric Actor that he had founded in 1922 with Leonid Trauberg) and Bakhtin’s vision of the grotesque, see Collick 108-48.

(12) See the “Wren” spot of time in Wordsworth’s The Prelude 2 (11.115-218) 47.

(13) Only two of the ten “Fool’s Songs” Shostakovich composed for Kozintsev’s 1940 stage production of King Lear feature in the 1970 film version.

Works Cited

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Egorova, Tatiana. Soviet Film Music: An Historical Survey. Australia: Harwood, 1997.

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Gillespie, David. “Adapting Foreign Classics: Kozintsev’s Shakespeare.” Russian and Soviet Film Adaptations of Literature, 1900-2001: Screening the Word. Ed. Stephen Hutchings and Anat Vermitski. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005. 75-88.

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______. “Two King Lears: Uncovering the Filmtext.” Literature/Film Quarterly 11:3 (1983): 143-51.

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______. King Lear: The Space of Tragedy. Trans. Mary Mackintosh. London: Heinemann, 1977.

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Pearson, Christopher. “Le Corbusier and the Acoustical Trope: An Investigation of its Origins.” The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 56 (1997): 168-83.

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Rothwell, Kenneth S. “Representing King Lear on Screen: From Metatheatre to Meta-Cinema.” Shakespeare and the Moving Image: The Plays on Film and Television. Ed. Anthony Davies and Stanley Wells. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994. 211-33.

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______. A History of Shakespeare on Screen: A Century of Film and Television. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.

Schmalz, Wayne. “Pictorial Imagery in Kozintsev’s King Lear.” Literature/Film Quarterly 13:2 (1985): 85-94.

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Weiss, Theodore. “As the Wind Sits: The Poetics of King Lear.” On King Lear. Ed. Lawrence Danson. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1981. 61-90.

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2008 Salisbury State University