In what ways does Shakespeare draw parallel situations between King Lear and Earl of Gloucester, and how are the characters similar in the play (specifically Act 1)?
While examining Lear and Gloucester, there are obvious similarities, such as that they are both of an older generation with evident power and authority. Both have children wishing to overthrow them through mendacity and false assurance. These two characters relate in a much more symbolic way that reveals insight into their foolishness and naïve sense of entitlement.
Lear and Gloucester are symbolically blind to the fact that their children wish to acquire their power for selfish purposes. Edmund, Gloucester’s son without a mother, falsifies his commitment to his half-brother, Edward, when he says “I hope for my brother’s justification, he wrote this but as an essay of my taste of my virtue,” (Act 1 Scene 2) and Goneril, Lear’s daughter, has him believe she genuinely loves him when she says “Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter,” (Act 1 Scene 1).
These instances lead to Lear and Gloucester’s imprudent decisions to act on matters that deserve more substantial evidence. “Gloucester reacts exactly like Lear, displacing his favor onto an unworthy recipient” (Storozynsky). Neither can see their children for who they truly are, which make it seems as if they the necessities to make rational decisions, hence being “blind”.
When considering the underlying characteristics of Lear and Gloucester, the audience can see two men, who are delusional with power, insecure and illogical. Their uncertainties stem from their children, who they love, but are quick to turn against. Lear turns against Cordelia because she refuses to discuss her love for him and Gloucester, for potentially having a preexisting fear that his children wanted him gone so they could have his power, believes that Edward wants him dead. “The old men inhabit worlds created by the mind and emotions, but which share some of the features of their actual surroundings: isolation, heights and depths, enclosures and open, empty places,” (Storozynsky). This author compares them to empty places and isolation, which is symbolic of their personality. Neither seems to be relatable to the audience, due to them not having any admirable traits. Both seem to be shallow characters that lack the confidence that a man of power should carry with him.
Lear and Gloucester both use the word “nothing” frequently in the play and this has a symbolic attachment to it. We see Lear use the phrase “nothing will come of nothing” (Act 1 Scene 1) while addressing his dissatisfaction with Cordelia. This provides insight into his shallowness because the audience is able to see that Lear expects to be verbally showered with praise. The irony is that Goneril and Regan’s flattering’s lack authenticity and are the true statements that mean “nothing”. Gloucester’s use of the word comes during his conversation with Edmund. He notices Edmund hiding a letter and says, “The quality of nothing hath not need to hide itself.” (Act 1 scene 2) Gloucester, like Lear, finds himself gullible to false pretenses. This nothingness they speak of is something that they are displacing onto other people, when in fact, they should be self-assessing themselves for. Their ignorance and assumptive attitudes reflects the reason as to why their personalities are hollow and self-fulfilling.
Through Act 1, the audience gets insight into the dramatic irony that is evident in both parallel situations. However, there are four more Acts to King Lear. The newer generations of greedy rulers (Goneril, Regan and Edmund) are expecting to cast out the older generation Lear and Gloucester. Lear, while talking to the fool, realizes that he may have made a mistake by handing down his power to his daughters. He is worried about his mental health when he says, “O, let me not be mad, not mad sweet heaven!” This is a foreshadowing of events to come in the book. Due to the parallel situations that Gloucester and Lear are in, both will continue to spiral down a path of chaos and ignorance.
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