Emeritus Rex: Tackling the role of King Lear by Professor Emeritus Paul Whitworth

Professor Emeritus Paul Whitworth as King Lear. Photo by Shmuel Thaler.

In his lecture entitled “Emeritus Rex: Shakespeare’s King Lear, a Cautionary Tale for Retirees,” the acclaimed emeritus theater professor, Paul Whitworth, invites attendees into the world of Shakespeare's King Lear, who is retiring from the top job. 

Whitworth played the role of Lear for the first time at the Santa Cruz Shakespeare Festival in the summer of 2023.  In this lecture, he discusses his past relationship with the play, his approach to the leading role and compares it with other Shakespearean leads he has played. 

“King Lear is forced to undergo a redefinition of himself under new and strange circumstances.” Whitworth says. “This is something I think that we can all relate to because it doesn't just happen in retirement; it happens if we lose a job, lose a friend, lose a partner. Who are we when our relationship with the world is suddenly and radically altered?”

“I think Shakespeare is always fascinated by how we shape shift from one kind of person to another,” Whitworth says. “That's his territory: how we negotiate the great forces that act upon our lives. How do we adapt? What choices do we make? How do we come to terms with our circumstances?”

Whitworth hopes the lecture will communicate something of his continuing fascination and engagement with the theater.

“There is no substitute for it,” he emphasizes. “No film can ever replicate what Shakespeare called ‘the cunning of the scene.' His experiments with theater continued throughout his career and King Lear is one of his boldest.”

The lecture will take place at the Music Recital Hall on November 15th at 7 pm. The event is free and open to the public. 

Whitworth encourages attendees to read the beginning of the play through King Lear’s first exit, and Edmund’s soliloquy (which immediately follows this first scene) before attending the lecture. He asks attendees to read the scene carefully, imagine they are Lear and answer the following question: What is King Lear’s plan for his kingdom as he announces his retirement?

Paul Whitworth

Whitworth’s passion for theater was ignited at the age of 10 at boarding school in England, persisting through his postgraduate years at Oxford University. He left Oxford to join the renowned Royal Shakespeare Company.  He has performed and directed professionally in many theaters in England and the United States. 

Whitworth’s association with UC Santa Cruz began in 1984 when Shakespeare Santa Cruz invited him to play Prince Hal in their production of Henry IV, Part I. As professor of Theater Arts at UCSC and former artistic director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Whitworth has sought to promote a creative exchange between scholarship and performance.