Word Count: 2061 Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear is a detailed description ofthe consequences of one man’s decisions. This fictitious man isLear, King of England, who’s decisions greatly alter his life andthe lives of those around him. As Lear bears the status of King heis, as one expects, a man of great power but sinfully he surrendersall of this power to his daughters as a reward for theirdemonstration of love towards him. This untimely abdication of histhrone results in a chain reaction of events that send him througha journey of hell.
King Lear is a metaphorical description of oneman’s journey through hell in order to expiate his sin.
As the play opens one can almost immediately see that Learbegins to make mistakes that will eventually result in hisdownfall. The very first words that he speaks in the play are :-“…Give me the map there. Know that we havedividedIn three our kingdom, and ’tis our fast intentTo shake all cares and business from our age,Conferring them on younger strengths while weUnburdened crawl to death…”(Act I, Sc i, Ln 38-41)This gives the reader the first indication of Lear’s intent toabdicate his throne.
He goes on further to offer pieces of hiskingdom to his daughters as a form of reward to his test of love. “Great rivals in our youngest daughter’s love,Long in our court have made their amoroussojourn,And here are to be answered. Tell me, mydaughters(Since now we will divest us both of rule,Interest of territory, cares of state),Which of you shall we say doth love us most?That we our largest bounty may extendwhere nature doth with merit challenge.”(Act I, Sc i, Ln 47-53)This is the first and most significant of the many sins that hemakes in this play. By abdicating his throne to fuel his ego he isdisrupts the great chain of being which states that the King mustnot challenge the position that God has given him. Thisundermining of God’s authority results in chaos that tears apartLear’s world. Leaving him, in the end, with nothing. Followingthis Lear begins to banish those around him that genuinely care forhim as at this stage he cannot see beyond the mask that the evilwear. He banishes Kent, a loyal servant to Lear, and his youngestand previously most loved daughter Cordelia. This results in Learsurrounding himself with people who only wish to use him whichleaves him very vulnerable attack. This is precisely what happensand it is through this that he discovers his wrongs and amendsthem.
Following the committing of his sins, Lear becomes abandonedand estranged from his kingdom which causes him to loose insanity. While lost in his grief and self-pity the fool is introduced toguide Lear back to the sane world and to help find the lear thatwas ounce lost behind a hundred Knights but now is out in the openand scared like a little child. The fact that Lear has now beenpushed out from behind his Knights is dramatically represented byhim actually being out on the lawns of his castle. The terrifiedlittle child that is now unsheltered is dramatically portrayed byLear’s sudden insanity and his rage and anger is seen through thethunderous weather that is being experienced.All of thiscontributes to the suffering of Lear due to the gross sins that hehas committed.
The pinnacle of this hell that is experienced be Lear in orderto repay his sins is at the end of the play when Cordelia iskilled. Lear says this before he himself dies as he cannot livewithout his daughter.
“Howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones.
Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them soThat heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gonefor ever!I know when one is dead, and when one lives.
She’s dead as earth. Lend me a looking glass.
If that her breath will mist or stain thestone,Why, then she lives.”(Act V, Sc iii, Ln 306-312)All of this pain that Lear suffered is traced back to thesingle most important error that he made. The choice to give uphis throne. This one sin has proven to have massive repercussionsupon Lear and the lives of those around him eventually killingalmost all of those who were involved. And one is left to askone’s self if a single wrong turn can do this to Lear then whatdifficult corner lies ahead that ma cause similar alterations inone’s life.
Reference ListShakespeare, William. King Lear. Eric A.
McCann, ed. Harcourt Brace JovanovickCanada Inc., Canada. 1988.
There has been many different views on the plays of WilliamShakespeare and definitions of what kind of play they were. Thetwo most popular would be the comedy and the tragedy. King Lear tosome people may be a comedy because they believe that the play hasbeen over exaggerated. Others would say King Lear was a tragedybecause there is so much suffering and chaos. What makes a Shakespearean play a comedy or a tragedy? KingLear would be a tragedy because it meets all the requirements of atragedy as defined by Andrew Cecil Bradley. Bradley states that aShakespearean tragedy must have to be the story of the hero andthat there is exceptional suffering and calamity slowly being wornin as well as it being contrasted to happier times. The play alsodepicts the troubled parts in his life and eventually his deaththat is instantaneous caused by the suffering and calamity. Thereis the feeling of fear in the play as well, that makes men see howblind they are not knowing when fortune or something else would beon them. The hero must be of a high status on the chain and thehero also possesses a tragic flaw that initiates the tragedy. Thefall of the hero is not felt by him alone but creates a chainreaction which affects everything below him. There must also bethe element of chance or accident that influences some point in theplay.
King Lear meets all of these requirements that has been laidout by Bradley which is the most logical for a definition of atragedy as compared to the definition of a comedy by G. WilsonKnight.
The main character of the play would be King Lear who in termsof Bradley would be the hero and hold the highest position is thesocial chain. Lear out of Pride and anger has banished Cordeliaand split the kingdom in half to the two older sisters, Goneril andRegan. This is Lear’s tragic flaw which prevents him to see thetrue faces of people because his pride and anger overrides hisjudgement. As we see in the first act, Lear does not listen toKent’s plea to see closer to the true faces of his daughters. Kenthas hurt Lear’s pride by disobeying his order to stay out of hisand Cordelia’s way when Lear has already warned him, “The bow isbent and drawn, make from the shaft.” Kent still disobeys Learand is banished. Because of this flaw, Lear has initiated thetragedy by disturbing the order in the chain of being by dividingthe kingdom, banishing his best servant and daughter, and giving uphis thrown. Due to this flaw, Lear has given way to the two olderdaughters to conspire against him. Lear is finally thrown out ofhis daughters home and left with a fool, a servant and a beggar. This is when Lear realizes the mistake that he has made and suffersthe banishment of his two eldest daughters. Lear is caught in astorm and begins to lose his sanity because he can not bear thetreatment of his two daughters as well as the error he has madewith Cordelia and Kent. Lear also suffers from rest when he ismoving all over the place and the thing that breaks him is thedeath of his youngest daughter Cordelia. This suffering can becontrasted with other happier times like when Lear was still kingand when he was not banished by his two daughters. The feeling of fear is when Lear is in the storm ragingagainst the gods, “I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness. I never gave you kingdom, called you children,you owe me no subscription.”,telling them to rage harder since he has not done anything for themand that he didn’t deserve what he has received from his twodaughters. The fear is how Lear in a short period of time wentfrom king to just a regular peasant and from strong and prideful toweak and unconfident. This shows that men do not hold their owndestiny and that even though things may be great now you can bestruck down just as fast as was to Lear.
The fall of Lear is not just the suffering of one man but thesuffering of everyone down the chain. Gloucester loses his statusand eyes, Cordelia and Kent banished, and Albany realizing hiswife’s true heart. Everything that happened to these charactersare affected by Lear in one way or another and that if Lear had notbanished Cordelia and Kent then the two sisters would not be ableto plot against their father. Without the plot of the two sistersthen Gloucester would not of lost his eyes to Cornwall and hisstatus because he was guilty of treason.There is an element of chance in the play in which Edgar meetsOswald trying to kill his father because he is a traitor. Oswaldis slain asks Edgar, “And give the letters which thou find’st aboutme to Edmund Earl of Gloucester. Seek him outupon the English party.”Edgar finds a letter to Edmund from Goneril about the conspiracyto kill Albany. This part in the play affects the outcome ofGoneril and Edmund in which will lead to both of their deaths. The pain and suffering endured by Lear eventually tears downhis strength and sanity. Lear is not as strong, arrogant, andprideful as he was in the beginning of the play instead he is weak,scared, and a confused old man. At the end of the play Lear hascompletely lost his sanity with the loss of his daughter Cordeliaand this is the thing that breaks Lear and leads to his death. Lear dies with the knowledge that Cordelia is dead and dies as aman in pain. “And my poor fool is hanged! No, no, no life! Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come nomore, never, never, never, never, never!”King Lear has met all the requirements that Bradley has statedas a Shakespearean tragedy. Lear has a tragic flaw which is hispride that prevents him to see the true faces of people. He alsoinitiates the tragedy by the banishment of Cordelia and Kent aswell as dividing the kingdom. Lear has also suffered and enduredthe pains of his error which leads to his death and which iscontrasted to that of happier times. There is the feeling of fearin the play which is of a King losing his crown and becoming apeasant. Lear has also created a chain reaction that affectseverything down the chain. The element of chance is alsointroduced in the play with Edgar and Oswald, Oswald possessing theletter to Edmund. And the final part is the death of King Leardying in suffering of the death of his daughter Cordelia.
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