Essay, Research Paper: King Lear

Shakespeare: King Lear

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Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear is a detailed description of the consequences of
one man's decisions. This fictitious man is Lear, King of England, who's
decisions greatly alter his life and the lives of those around him. As Lear
bears the status of King he is, as one expects, a man of great power but
sinfully he surrenders all of this power to his daughters as a reward for their
demonstration of love towards him. This untimely abdication of his throne
results in a chain reaction of events that send him through a journey of hell.
King Lear is a metaphorical description of one man's journey through hell in
order to expiate his sin. As the play opens one can almost immediately see that
Lear begins to make mistakes that will eventually result in his downfall. The
very first words that he speaks in the play are :- "...Give me the map
there. Know that we have divided In three our kingdom, and 'tis our fast intent
To shake all cares and business from our age, Conferring them on younger
strengths while we Unburdened crawl to death..." (Act I, Sc i, Ln 38-41)
This gives the reader the first indication of Lear's intent to abdicate his
throne. He goes on further to offer pieces of his kingdom 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 amorous sojourn, And here are
to be answered. Tell me, my daughters (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 extend where nature doth with merit
challenge." (Act I, Sc i, Ln 47-53) This is the first and most significant
of the many sins that he makes in this play. By abdicating his throne to fuel
his ego he is disrupts the great chain of being which states that the King must
not challenge the position that God has given him. This undermining of God's
authority results in chaos that tears apart Lear's world. Leaving him, in the
end, with nothing. Following this Lear begins to banish those around him that
genuinely care for him as at this stage he cannot see beyond the mask that the
evil wear. He banishes Kent, a loyal servant to Lear, and his youngest and
previously most loved daughter Cordelia. This results in Lear surrounding
himself with people who only wish to use him which leaves him very vulnerable
attack. This is precisely what happens and it is through this that he discovers
his wrongs and amends them. Following the committing of his sins, Lear becomes
abandoned and estranged from his kingdom which causes him to loose insanity.
While lost in his grief and self-pity the fool is introduced to guide Lear back
to the sane world and to help find the lear that was ounce lost behind a hundred
Knights but now is out in the open and scared like a little child. The fact that
Lear has now been pushed out from behind his Knights is dramatically represented
by him actually being out on the lawns of his castle. The terrified little child
that is now unsheltered is dramatically portrayed by Lear's sudden insanity and
his rage and anger is seen through the thunderous weather that is being
experienced. All of this contributes to the suffering of Lear due to the gross
sins that he has committed. The pinnacle of this hell that is experienced be
Lear in order to repay his sins is at the end of the play when Cordelia is
killed. Lear says this before he himself dies as he cannot live without his
daughter. "Howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones. Had I your tongues
and eyes, I'd use them so That heaven's vault should crack. She's gone for 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 the stone, Why, then she
lives." (Act V, Sc iii, Ln 306-312) All of this pain that Lear suffered is
traced back to the single most important error that he made. The choice to give
up his throne. This one sin has proven to have massive repercussions upon Lear
and the lives of those around him eventually killing almost all of those who
were involved. And one is left to ask one's self if a single wrong turn can do
this to Lear then what difficult corner lies ahead that ma cause similar
alterations in one's life. Reference List Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Eric
A. McCann, ed. Harcourt Brace Jovanovick Canada Inc., Canada. 1988. There has
been many different views on the plays of William Shakespeare and definitions of
what kind of play they were. The two most popular would be the comedy and the
tragedy. King Lear to some people may be a comedy because they believe that the
play has been over exaggerated. Others would say King Lear was a tragedy because
there is so much suffering and chaos. What makes a Shakespearean play a comedy
or a tragedy? King Lear would be a tragedy because it meets all the requirements
of a tragedy as defined by Andrew Cecil Bradley. Bradley states that a
Shakespearean tragedy must have to be the story of the hero and that there is
exceptional suffering and calamity slowly being worn in as well as it being
contrasted to happier times. The play also depicts the troubled parts in his
life and eventually his death that is instantaneous caused by the suffering and
calamity. There is the feeling of fear in the play as well, that makes men see
how blind they are not knowing when fortune or something else would be on them.
The hero must be of a high status on the chain and the hero also possesses a
tragic flaw that initiates the tragedy. The fall of the hero is not felt by him
alone but creates a chain reaction which affects everything below him. There
must also be the element of chance or accident that influences some point in the
play. King Lear meets all of these requirements that has been laid out by
Bradley which is the most logical for a definition of a tragedy as compared to
the definition of a comedy by G. Wilson Knight. The main character of the play
would be King Lear who in terms of Bradley would be the hero and hold the
highest position is the social chain. Lear out of Pride and anger has banished
Cordelia and split the kingdom in half to the two older sisters, Goneril and
Regan. This is Lear's tragic flaw which prevents him to see the true faces of
people because his pride and anger overrides his judgement. As we see in the
first act, Lear does not listen to Kent's plea to see closer to the true faces
of his daughters. Kent has hurt Lear's pride by disobeying his order to stay out
of his and Cordelia's way when Lear has already warned him, "The bow is
bent and drawn, make from the shaft." Kent still disobeys Lear and is
banished. Because of this flaw, Lear has initiated the tragedy by disturbing the
order in the chain of being by dividing the kingdom, banishing his best servant
and daughter, and giving up his thrown. Due to this flaw, Lear has given way to
the two older daughters to conspire against him. Lear is finally thrown out of
his daughters home and left with a fool, a servant and a beggar. This is when
Lear realizes the mistake that he has made and suffers the banishment of his two
eldest daughters. Lear is caught in a storm and begins to lose his sanity
because he can not bear the treatment of his two daughters as well as the error
he has made with Cordelia and Kent. Lear also suffers from rest when he is
moving all over the place and the thing that breaks him is the death of his
youngest daughter Cordelia. This suffering can be contrasted with other happier
times like when Lear was still king and when he was not banished by his two
daughters. The feeling of fear is when Lear is in the storm raging against 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 them and that he didn't deserve
what he has received from his two daughters. The fear is how Lear in a short
period of time went from king to just a regular peasant and from strong and
prideful to weak and unconfident. This shows that men do not hold their own
destiny and that even though things may be great now you can be struck down just
as fast as was to Lear. The fall of Lear is not just the suffering of one man
but the suffering of everyone down the chain. Gloucester loses his status and
eyes, Cordelia and Kent banished, and Albany realizing his wife's true heart.
Everything that happened to these characters are affected by Lear in one way or
another and that if Lear had not banished Cordelia and Kent then the two sisters
would not be able to plot against their father. Without the plot of the two
sisters then Gloucester would not of lost his eyes to Cornwall and his status
because he was guilty of treason. There is an element of chance in the play in
which Edgar meets Oswald trying to kill his father because he is a traitor.
Oswald is slain asks Edgar, "And give the letters which thou find'st about
me to Edmund Earl of Gloucester. Seek him out upon the English party."
Edgar finds a letter to Edmund from Goneril about the conspiracy to kill Albany.
This part in the play affects the outcome of Goneril and Edmund in which will
lead to both of their deaths. The pain and suffering endured by Lear eventually
tears down his strength and sanity. Lear is not as strong, arrogant, and
prideful 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 has completely lost his sanity
with the loss of his daughter Cordelia and this is the thing that breaks Lear
and leads to his death. Lear dies with the knowledge that Cordelia is dead and
dies as a man 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
no more, never, never, never, never, never!" King Lear has met all the
requirements that Bradley has stated as a Shakespearean tragedy. Lear has a
tragic flaw which is his pride that prevents him to see the true faces of
people. He also initiates the tragedy by the banishment of Cordelia and Kent as
well as dividing the kingdom. Lear has also suffered and endured the pains of
his error which leads to his death and which is contrasted to that of happier
times. There is the feeling of fear in the play which is of a King losing his
crown and becoming a peasant. Lear has also created a chain reaction that
affects everything down the chain. The element of chance is also introduced in
the play with Edgar and Oswald, Oswald possessing the letter to Edmund. And the
final part is the death of King Lear dying in suffering of the death of his
daughter Cordelia.
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