Actor Simon Russell Beale believes Shakespeare's King Lear could have been based on a man living with Lewy Body dementia, the Daily Telegraph reports.
Mr Russell Beale is playing the classic character in Sam Mendes' production at the National Theatre. In order to get into the part he took King Lear's mannerisms and cross referenced them with medical research.
The tragic tale is considered one of Shakespeare's best and tells of how the title character descends into madness after giving away his crown and estate.
Speaking at a launch event on Wednesday (February 5th), Russell Beale said he wanted to look into what may have been behind the fictional king suffering fear, anger, a shaking hand and hallucinations.
"In this one, I thought I bet Shakespeare, being the acute observer of human nature that he is, would have studied old men," he said. "I thought: I’m going to do a bit of research."
Russell Beale's nephew is currently training in geriatrics at St Bartholomew's Hospital and was able to discuss the basics of dementia over a lunch, before a specialist was consulted to give the actor an event greater understanding.
The veteran thespian, who was described by the Independent as the "greatest stage actor of his generation", has previously had roles in the Shakespearian plays Troilus and Cressida, Richard III and The Tempest, but this was the first time he had conducted such in-depth research into a character.
Lewy bodies patients can often experience "sudden outburst of rate" and Russell Beale believes this "seemed to tie to Lear very well".
Around ten per cent of the estimated 820,000 people living with some form of dementia in the UK have Lewy bodies.
The condition involves symptoms associated to Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's, with delusions, agitation, aggression, trembling and hallucinations being common. It appears to affect men and women equally.
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