"They’re not being treated with respect, these women. It’s all about the men and what the men are going to inherit. Obviously this game that Lear sets up is deeply disrespectful. Goneril plays that game in order to give herself some power and to create a boundary..."
Revisiting the character of Goneril, Emily discusses her previous impressions of her, her new thoughts on the role, and the relationship between father and daughter.
Time: 5 minutes 10 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Rona Kelly: How familiar were you with King Lear before you started?
Emily Bruni: I’ve seen it a few times. I worked on, weirdly, one of Goneril’s speeches at drama school.
RK: And then twenty years later [you're here!]
EB: Yes, that’s actually not that helpful, because it’s just trying to undo all that eighteen year old’s ideas and all her neuroses and fears she was bringing to the part. I thought that it would be helpful in that that’s the bit in the play that is feeling a bit sticky, because I have to forget stuff that I did.
RK: And what were your impressions which you had of Goneril from those days, and what impressions have you got of the character now that you’ve brought it into the rehearsal room?
EB: When you’re eighteen, you’ve had those eighteen years of life and you’re bringing that life experience and trying to use all the empathy and understanding that you have at that age to the character. Hopefully, by the time you’re middle aged you have a bit more, so that’s the difference! Goneril hasn’t changed...
RK: It's you who's changed!
RK: She’s still in the page, she’s still waiting for you to come back.
EB: Yeah, she’s still there to be discovered. Some of the things I was thinking about when I was reading the play before I started were how she’s different to Regan. The language seems...you know Sirene (Saba, Regan), may disagree with all this, but her language is more complicated. She’s more indirect in the way that she uses language, she’s less simple. A lot of the ideas are hers; Regan often enacts those ideas, but she’s driving a lot of the ideas. Her speed of thought is fast, she starts lots of ideas in the middle of verse lines.
At this point it may change. You know I may end up playing her like a Wicked Witch of the West! But I think that most of her actions seem to come from the need to protect herself, to create boundary. I’m only up to Act Four, we’ve just got to, 'Pluck out his eyes'. But even that is more reasonable than hanging a man, which is what Regan suggests. Yes, so really all her actions...I don’t know if you want me to talk you through the whole boring trail as I see it?
RK: Oh no please, go on.
EB: In the first scene I don’t think – they’re not being treated with respect, these women. It’s all about the men and what the men are going to inherit. Obviously this game that Lear sets up is deeply disrespectful. Cordelia calls it and Goneril just does something else. She plays that game in order to give herself some power and to create a boundary. To give herself land and create a boundary around her territory. She buys into that game, then she sees that his behaviour is not only unreasonable as it’s always been (according to her), but also now possibly mixed with senility, madness. And they need to make a plan to protect themselves from it. And then he comes to stay with her and he behaves badly, the knights behave badly, and it all happens in stages. [So I'm] just trying to go through it and logically trace the emotional trajectory, what joins each of those moments up.
RK: What relationships are proving really crucial at this moment which you think for Goneril?
EB: Well, the main relationships for Goneril in the play are with Albany, her husband. So that looks like it’s an arranged marriage. It doesn’t seem from the text like she’s ever had any attraction for her husband, and it’s important to think about really what that’s like: to endure a marriage bed, with a man you don’t feel any attraction for. When we look at her actions, it’s important to see what’s fuelling those. That’s not nothing, that’s pretty bad.
And then Lear, of course. That’s very complex. But I do think he doesn’t behave with respect towards her and it’s vicious. Some of the things he says to her, when he curses her womb, they’re very, very, massively transgressing her boundary. And I think there’s a lot of heartache in it, I don’t think it’s simple. Anyway, we’re just finding all that out at the minute, so I don’t know what that is yet. But the way that I see Lear through Kevin [McNally, Lear] is that he is frightening. This isn’t an air born intellectual; this is a very earthy, frightening version of Lear. It’s very, very exciting to work off, because it makes sense of her reaction, the way he is playing the part.
Thanks to Janet for the transcription of this interview.