Slings and Arrows Canadian Television Series

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Slings and Arrows (2003-2006), directed by Peter Wellington, is a Canadian television series that features the backstage drama, onstage embarrassments, and personal turmoil’s encompassing the staff and actors within the fictional New Burbage Theatre Festival. Most known for its conceit in using plotlines that parallel that of the Shakespeare plays being performed, the third season follows the Burbage Theatre production of King Lear. It should be noted that the characters within Slings and Arrows that this paper will focus on briefly are the following: Geoffrey, Charles, Ellen, Barbara, and Sophie. Because the characters in King Lear go through just as many changes as the characters they take on in Slings and Arrows, it is important to realize that the use of plots used in literature is limited whereas in television, multiple plots can be used as a way of showing character and story development. Continuing, in season three audiences see artistic director Geoffrey Tenant attempting to create a breathtaking production of King Lear with aging lead actor Charles Kingman who, as the show continues, begins to literally live the role. Thus, the story line starts its downward spiral similar to that of King Lear.

Additionally, the third season starts off with the cast returning home after a successful Broadway production of Macbeth, where an old friend of Ellen’s— Barbara— suggests that she think about moving beyond New Burbage in regards to her acting. As the play progresses, showing more character development in the show, both female characters begin to showcase characteristics like that of the daughters in King Lear. Just as Goneril leads her father to believe that her love for him extends beyond any evidence of poor behavior, Barbara leads Ellen into thinking that she isn’t happy with her life and her position as an actor; ultimately leaving Ellen to feel as though she is responsible for her own actions when in truth, Barbara is the one leading her friend. This too is similar to the sense that Goneril is seen as responsible for Lear’s actions, having earlier endorsed them with her flattering confession. Continuing, Later in the show both Ellen and Barbara, like Goneril and Regan, show litter mercy and act out against Geoffrey as they call for Charles punishment concerning his irrationally behaviors throughout the show.

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Meanwhile behind the scenes, although Geoffrey decision to cast aging theatre legend Charles Kingman as Lear was one thought out without reason, Geoffrey in this season wants to carry out his vision. And having casted an aging actor and willfully making the decision to keep Charles’ dying wishes to himself, Geoffrey in turn only to jeopardize their production. In this, we see a comparison between Geoffrey and Shakespeare himself. Within the play, Shakespeare offers the audience no explanation at all for Lear’s point in dividing his kingdom, thus making it seem as though Lear’s action despite seeming reasonable to him are “willful and arbitrary” (Hanly, 1985); just like Geoffrey’s own actions throughout the show. To continue, just as Shakespeare’s Lear reflects on his own pity when encountering the poor, focusing on the parallels he sees in them within his own life, Charles himself goes through these same tangents. Audiences see this when he is among other actors, however this emotion is especially directed towards Barbara when saying, “Damn celebrities” when he must wait on Barbara in order to complete rehearsal. And again with Ellen in regard to her understanding of prose, verse, and how to truly act as Regan. Thus, Charles’— as well as Lear’s—pity is only a reflection of the pity he feels for his own situation. In addition, Charles is an actor, one in which the theater respectably admire; and so because of this, both Charles and Lear share a concept of responsibility and therefore blame for dispensing a balance.

Lastly, Sophie is one character who is most like the character she embodies in the play: Cordelia. Although she is seen for various amounts of times in the show, as rehearsals continue, Charles continues to terrorize Sophie on perfecting her character portrayal. Because, like Cordilia and Lear, Charles has rejected her, Sophie has no choice but to seek guidance and improve through friendships with other characters. Because she cannot go to other people with her problems on set, like the virtuous Cordilia, Sophie is held in high regard with some of the other actors; mainly Barbara and Ellen.

In conclusion, through the paralleling of characters within and outside the text, as well as on and off the stage, and into the surrounding lives of such characters and their lives, it is believed that through motion picture productions, characters become more relatable and better to understand; especially with Shakespeare. Barbra’s parallel with Goneril in terms of power throughout most of the play and the entirety of the show, shows that Goneril has a masculine side to her, one of authority and cruel honesty. Having power—whether it is outside of the stage or on— has been the most important objective for both characters.

In Geoffrey’s artistic visions, he recognizes that he bears responsibility for both his own problems and for those of others, who suffer just as equally either because or by such actions. Both Charles’ and mostly Geoffrey’s understanding of the complicity of events that follow them throughout the show is a major step in accepting responsibility and in acknowledging that one cannot only depend on themselves to solve their problems. Much like Lear with the Fool and with the misfortunes around him, by the end of the play Lear learns just what it is to be forgiven and along with that, comes to understand that even he is not above God’s justice— the unnatural and natural laws that he attempted to disrupt.

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Slings and Arrows Canadian Television Series. (2021, Apr 24). Retrieved from