Essay, Research Paper: King Lear Play

Shakespeare: King Lear

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In the play King Lear written by William Shakespeare a collection of images are
used to express different points Shakespeare is trying to relay to his audience.
One reoccurring image that kept popping up was animal images. Shakespeare
displays these animal images when King Lear and many of the other characters in
the play talk about Goneril and Regan. The animals that Lear and the other
characters compare the two sisters to are not very pretty. They are compared to
the likes of tigers, serpents, and even monsters. These reoccurring images have
an important idea behind them that Shakespeare hopes to communicate his readers.
Shakespeare waste no time in comparing Goneril and Regan to animals. When Lear
parts from Goneril at the end of Act I, after she has sneered at him and
diminished the number of his retainers, he calls her a “Detested kite” (I.
iv. 269.). He also compares her to “the sea-monster” (I. iv. 268.), by which
he possibly means a mythological monster that would betray its own father. King
Lear also comments on his daughters ingratitude using animal imagery when he
said,” How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child”
(I. iv. 295-296.). Lear comments once more on his daughter’s “monster
ingratitude” (I. v. 40.). Lear is showing how he feels about how his daughters
are treating him by comparing them to unpleasant animals. Lear in scene IV has a
quarrel with his other daughter, Regan, where again he uses animal images to
show how his daughters are sinking below manhood to animals. Lear seeks out his
daughter, Regan, at Gloucester’s castle, and finds out that her husband has
put his faithful friend Kent in the stocks and that both husband and wife have
retired to bed and do not wish to see him. When Regan finally comes down, she
tells him “You should be ruled, and led by some discretion that discerns your
state better than yourself” (II. iv. 147-149). Lear responds by saying
“struck me with her tongue, most serpentlike, upon the very heart. (II. iv.
159-160). Lear here again is describing Regan to a serpent, which is a large
poisonous snake. Both daughters seem to him now like unusually cruel animals.
They show this when they shut him out into the stormy night. In the storm scene,
Lear’s hurt from his daughters affect his attitude to the mad Tom of Bedlam
(Edgar). He thinks, on the analogy of his own suffering, that his daughters must
have abused Poor Tom. Nothing else could have brought him to such a pathetic
state. This reminds Lear of his own “pelican daughters” (III. iv. 75). This
is an allusion to the medieval belief that pelican young fed on the blood of the
parent bird. This analogy compares to how Lear’s daughters are feeding on him
giving them the control of the kingdom. Shakespeare uses these animal images
throughout his play to describe Goneril and Regan. It will be noticed that most
of the animals used in these comparisons are unpleasant (kite, serpent, tigers,
pelicans, foxes, and even monsters). Shakespeare is showing that the sisters are
sinking from the level of man, who stood between the angels and the animals, to
the level of the animals. They have become like some of the most unpleasant
birds and animals of prey. In their cruelty and unnaturalness they are less than
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