Similar Themes in the Movie “King Lear” and “About Schmidt” Essay
The film that I consider to contain similar theme as the ones in King Lear film is the movie tilted About Schmidt. Some of the most noted themes in both the movies include justice, loyalty, family conflicts and power struggles. It is clear that both the film directors have used these themes in order to develop the plot of the respective movies and, at the same time, be in a position of expressing the ethical teachings to the respective viewers.
Similar themes in the movie King Lear and About Schmidt
The theme of power is directly explored in the film About Schmidt when the main character Warren R. Schmidt is so much determined in adopting a young Tanzanian boy (Ndugu Umbo), and thus, he makes sure that the young African boy receives the very best care that he can get, especially after he retires from his position as an actuary with a leading insurance company. The adoption of Ndugu Umbo is a sign that he tries to escape from the reality and accord himself some duties that will make him be in a position of power (Begley 40 -53).
While in the film King Lear, the theme power is depicted when the three daughters of King Lear struggle to appease their father King Lear in order to be in a position of taking over his kingdom. The three daughters, Cordelia, Goneril and Regan, compete amongst each other in order to be favored by their father to take over the kingdom (Danby 50).
Two daughters, Goneril and Regan, are wiling to do anything just to be named the next heir to the thrown, that is why they try to deceive their father by showing that they love him unconditionally, thus making King Lear foolishly make them his heirs leaving out his other daughter Cordelia who truly loves him (Foakes 89–90).
Another most notable theme in the two films is family conflicts. An example of family conflict as depicted in the film “king Lear” is the conflict between Lear and his daughter Cordelia, whom he does not like and wants to be close to after she is not in a position of not showing him that she loves him more than everything in the world. This makes him very furious with Cordelia to the extent of denying her a share in his kingdom and, at the same time, denouncing her as his own daughter (Ball 42).
Another incident of the family conflicts is the growing hate between the two sisters, Goneril and Regan, who are in love with the same man, Edmond, and thus, they have to use all the resources they have in order to win his affection. This eventually results in a major tragedy between the two sisters. In the second movie About Schmidt, family conflict is depicted in several occasions.
The first incident in the movie is at the funeral of Schmidt’s wife when his daughter accuses Schmidt of disrespecting her mother; this is by buying her mother a cheap casket (Begley 40 -53). The next instance of family conflicts is when Schmidt is discouraging her daughter, Jeanine, from marrying her fiancé Randall; this is because he thinks that the marriage between them will end up like the one he shared with his wife which was full of deceit.
Loyalty is also another important theme that is portrayed in the two films. But the sense of loyalty I have found in depicted movies is loyalty in a negative way, that is disloyalty. Cases of disloyalty in the movie King Lear is clearly portrayed when the two daughters of Lear (Goneril and Regan) pretend in front of their father that they are very loving and caring.
They do this so that their father could consider them as the next heirs of his kingdom. They successfully portray a trait, and thus, they end up inheriting the throne from their father (Lear) (Danby 50). In the film About Schmidt, 2002 cases of disloyalty are experienced.
The most notable incident is just after the death and burial of Schmidt’s wife when Schmidt is busy cleaning the room of his wife. He stumbles upon a pile of love letters that his wife had been receiving from her lover; this is a clear indication that his wife was not loyal to their marriage. This incident completely changes Schmidt’s perception of life, and thus results in him persuading his daughter not to marry her fiancé Randall because she might end up being betrayed by him in the marriage (Begley 40 -53).
The two films have expressed similar themes that are considered to be the most ideal in developing the stories, from the beginning, conflict and eventually to conclusion. The writers use a cast that properly exposes the different themes and eventually comes up with the most ideal stories, incidents of family conflicts.
Injustice, disloyalty and power struggle form the basis of these stories, and thus, the writers use these themes plus other minor ones in order to come up with the plot of the stories. It will eventually ensure that some ethical teachings are acquired by the respective viewers of the films.
Ball, David. Backwards & Forwards. Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983. Print.
Begley, Louis. About Schmidt. London: Arden, 1996. Print.
Danby, John. Shakespeare’s Doctrine of Nature: A Study of King Lear. London Oxford University Press, 1949. Print.
Foakes, Allan. King Lear. London: Arden, 1997. Print.
About Schmidt. Dir. Payne, Alexander. Prod. Michael Besman, Harry Gittes & Rachael Horovitz. DVD, 2002. New Line Cinema.
King Lear: Summary of the Plot, Analysis of Characters, Main Themes, and Personal Opinion Essay
The struggle for power constitutes a root reason for conflict in Shakespeare’s King Lear, wherein a royal family betrays their ties for the sake of authority and order. Chaotic events of the post-Medieval rule are perceived through the prism of jealousy, betrayal, and dishonesty. A brief overview of the plot, characters, and central themes of the play provides sufficient evidence to argue that Shakespeare aims at encouraging the readers to disregard the quest for power in favor of family ties.
Summary of the Plot
The story began when the aging King Lear decided to transfer power to his grown-up daughters, diving the kingdom in three equal proportions. As explained by Al Zoubi and Al Khamaiseh (2018), during the ceremony, Goneril and Regan, the oldest and the middle daughters, use flatter and insincere speech to prove their love to the father. Meanwhile, Cordelia, the youngest daughter, chooses to remain without power than be dishonest with Lear (Al Zoubi and Al Khamaiseh, 2018). When the king makes a decision to renounce Cordelia, concentrating the right to rule between Goneril and Regan, the new authority figures expel the man, forcing him to leave as an outcast. At the same time, Cordelia marries a French king and falls for an obligation to invade Britain with an intent to save her neglected parent. Despite Lear’s prior unfair treatment, the woman remains loyal to him, continuing to take care of the former ruler.
Another plotline concerns Edgar, an illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester. In exile, Edgar thrives on gaining power even in an illegal way, deciding to ally with Goneril and Regan to defeat Cordelia (Al Zoubi and Al Khamaiseh, 2018). Yet, the plan falls apart when Goneril becomes jealous of Edgard’s brother’s romantic feelings for her sister. Jealousy motivates her to poison the sibling and commit suicide afterward. Observing the chaos inside his former kingdom, Lear loses sanity, dying in Cordelia’s arms.
Analysis of Characters
A protagonist of the play, King Lear, is an elderly king of Britain. As stated by Hamilton (2017), over the course of his rule, everyone was faithful and obedient to his orders. However, the situation changes when the man passes power to his two daughters, Goneril and Regan (Hamilton, 2017). The wise king makes a fatal mistake, choosing flatter of the older children over the truthfulness of Cordelia, the youngest. In the end, Lear realizes his flaws, declaring “when we are born, we cry that we have come to this great stage of fools” (Shakespeare, 1999, p. 190). His realization, however, does not save him from insanity and death.
Shakespeare portrays Cordelia as an example of virtue and tenderness. The youngest daughter of Lear, she refuses to flatter his father during the ceremony of transferring power (Hamilton, 2017). Though the king renounces her royal status, Cordelia remains loyal to her father regardless of the unfair treatment. Through the words of his character, Shakespeare (1999, p.11) derives a golden rule for all children: “Obey you, love you, and most honor you. Half my love with him, half my care and duty.” In other words, kids should maintain respect for their parents while adhering to reasonable sense.
Goneril and Regan
Unlike Cordelia, Goneril and Regan do not share qualities of integrity and mildness. Lear’s older daughter, Goneril, uses flattery to trick her father into handing power to her during the ceremony (Hamilton, 2017). Hypocritically, she says, “Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter; Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty” (Shakespeare, 1999, p. 9). His generous gesture does not stop her, however, from insulting the king and expelling him afterward (Hamilton, 2017). Regan, the middle daughter, utilizes the same approach as Goneril to gain authority in the kingdom.
Jealousy, Greed, Infidelity
Betrayal has a central position in the story, happening inside the government and the family. As stated by Mahbub-ul-Alam (2016), Goneril and Regan’s infidelity and Edmund’s dishonesty with the officials allow the trio to gain control over the country. The group’s betrayal is fueled with jealousy and greed, which can be observed on different levels in the play. The greed for property and power, jealousy of Cordelia’s tender relationships with her father – all together contribute to the collective decision to seize the authority. Yet, in Shakespearean interpretation, the negative force, impregnated by evil, egocentric motifs, will be, sooner or later, combatted by the kindness, love, and respect.
Authority and Order
In Shakespeare’s play, the theme of authority is closely embedded both on the political and personal levels. On the one hand, King Lear represents the national ruler who commands obedience and respect from the citizens. On the other hand, the man is the head of the family who has unconditional love for his daughters. While the struggle for power is a common issue in the literature of the time, Shakespeare describes authority based on natural and divine order, wherein protagonists are morally weaker than villains (Mahbub-ul-Alam, 2016). With this example, the playwright tries to convey the idea that power is not always held in the hands of those who deserve it for their virtue and integrity.
Sanity and Madness
Another reoccurring theme in King Lear is the distinction between sanity and madness. At the beginning of the play, Lear maintains a reasonable sense despite being fooled by his daughters. Ironically, as the plot progresses, and the man discovers the truth, he loses sanity, stricken by grief and disappointment in his family. With this character’s transformation, Shakespeare underlines the imperfection of human nature, suggesting that sometimes the hardships of reality are unbearable to handle.
From my perspective, literary experts give little attention to Lear’s extreme expressions of vanity. A self-satisfied monarch is so obsessed with praise and flatter that he fails to recognize the hypocrisy in his daughters’ actions. Shakespeare’s King Lear should serve as a reminder for all government officials to disregard personal sentiment in favor of professionalism and work ethics. The author also depicts a harsh reality, wherein the strongest tie of all, family, falls apart in a quest for power. It is critical to realize that authority and greed are superficial, thus, able to bring only short-term happiness. On the contrary, qualities of compassion, honesty, and loyalty are everlasting.
In King Lear, Shakespeare narrates the story of a family whose members considered power to be more important than love, respect, and kindness. Themes of jealousy, greed, infidelity, and madness accompany the play, showing the wicked nature of humankind. With his work, the author attempts to encourage the readers to value virtue, honesty, and integrity instead of falling for superficial qualities of lust and authority.
Al Zoubi, S. M. and Al Khamaiseh, A. Z. (2018) ‘A critical study of William Shakespeare’s King Lear: plot and structure’, International Journal of English Language and Literary Studies, 8(1), pp. 14-18. doi: 10.18488/journal.23.2019.81.14.18
Hamilton, J. M. (2017) This contentious storm: an ecocritical and performance history of King Lear. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Mahbub-ul-Alam, A. (2016) ‘King Lear: amalgamation of good and evil visions’, Manarat International University Studies, 7(1), pp. 1-8. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/34527843/KING_LEAR_AMALGAMATION_OF_GOOD_AND_EVIL_VISIONS (Accessed: 15 September 2019).
Shakespeare, W. (1999) King Lear. Edited by Stephen Orgel. New York: Penguin Books.
Comparison of “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom and “King Lear” by William Shakespeare Essay
A challenge is like a change; it is inevitable. Each person should encounter at least once during his/her life. It is rarely known that each challenge carries with it a good result. Shakespeare and Albom have proved this in their works.
Tuesdays with Morrie is a script that forms part of the works of Mitch Albom, a former University graduate. Mitch Albom is the narrator of the book. In his story, Albom focuses on Morrie Schwartz, a character who stands out as his former preferred professor and friend at the University.
Albom pictures this character as one who has gone through a lot of suffering before achieving his title as professor of sociology. He is viewed as a man of wisdom, owing to the lessons he has learned from his sufferings since childhood, which he, in turn, teaches Albom.
King Lear, on the other hand, is a William Shakespeare’s book that focuses much on Lear, the aging king of England. Lear plans to partition his kingdom to each of his three daughters. He undergoes a lot of disgrace and an overall loss of his power as a result.
Shakespeare pictures Lear as one who has encountered a good deal of embarrassment and betrayals, a process that makes him gain true wisdom. Though Morrie and Lear go through different suffering processes, they both die as wise men as expounded below.
Lear stands out as a king in Shakespeare’s book. He ought to be happy and satisfied with life, but this is not the case. He is in a serous problem that he wants to solve.
He associates this problem with his ‘being a king’ where he believes that by dividing this kingdom among his three daughters, he will have gotten rid of much of this trouble. The king says, “Meantime we shall express our darker purpose. Give me the map there. Know that we have divided.
In three our kingdom; and ‘it’s our fast intent. To shake all cares and business from our age conferring them on younger strengths, while we unburdened crawl…” (Shakespeare 38-50). This depicts the kind of problem he is experiencing and his plan to end it.
Morrie, the professor, ought to, be happy as well but again his words portray some problem. He is not as happy as one can imagine.
Similarly, in his dialogue with Albom, Morrie reveals the problem he has with the prevailing culture. He says, “The culture we have does not make people feel good about them. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it” (Albom 42).
This makes it clear that the two are suffering. The two share a common need of love as the following paragraph explains.
When Lear wants to divide his kingdom to his three daughters, the only question he asks them is based on love. He has lived to see people suffer due to the lack of love. When he turns insane due to family conflicts with his daughters, he encounters loyal Gloucester, who helps him out of love.
He is yearning for this need. “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…which of you shall say you love me most?” (Shakespeare 50-55). This is no more than a hunger for love.
Morrie’s conversation with Albom pictures the same desire of love. Morrie posits, “Love each other or die” (Albom 163). This shows the basic cause of the two characters’ agonies is lack of love.
While the king desires love from his daughters, Morrie recalls his childhood life when his poor father could not provide for him and how nobody could show him tokens of love by helping him, and this is why he has learned to love. He says, “Love Wins. Love always wins” (Albom 40).
He believes that this is the basis of all the needs. Nevertheless, the two characters differ to some extent as the next paragraph clarifies.
Morrie’s dialogue with Albom depicts him as a man of dignity. He is more than a parent following the pieces of advice he gives Albom. He is more than a gentle person driven by love.
According to him, he believes that when one wrongs you, the best and worth taking the step is just to forgive, rather than revenge. He posits, “We…need to forgive ourselves…For all the things we didn’t do. All the things we should have done.
You can’t get stuck on the regrets of what should have happened” (Albom 166). He implies that there cannot be a good reason for a fight because where there is forgiveness, there cannot be a fight.
He sees no valid reason for questioning the mistreatment he got when he was a child. According to him, these were only meant to instill his present wisdom.
On the contrary, the king is very reactive when wronged. He even severely canes those who do him wrong. He knows not how to forgive. “…and Lear hits Oswald in the rage” (Shakespeare 87-104).
Here the king is in a serious fight and fact he angrily asks, “Dost thou call me to fool, boy?” to which the Fool, always wiser than he appears, replies, “All thy other titles thou hast given away; that thou were born with” (Shakespeare 164-165).
This shows how he is unable to forgive unlike his counterpart Morrie. All these encounters finally teach him. “The Fool teaches Lear several riddles” (Shakespeare 8-52). This shows how he gained his wisdom.
Though Lear acquires wisdom through in his old age sufferings as discussed above, Morrie acquires his through childhood sufferings. These two different experiences are quite relevant today.
Shakespeare and Albom are trying to teach the world that in every challenge, there exist corresponding good results. In other words, it is a lesson to be learned that wisdom, among other attributes, do not come freely. They have to be sought with a lot of struggles.
Albom, Mitch. “Tuesdays with Morrie”
Shakespeare, William. “King Lear”
Literature Studies: King Lear by William Shakespeare Essay
Written by William Shakespeare, King Lear is must-read attractive work that features the old King Lear whose role well develops the play’s main theme of tragedy. Bad luck is clear in the story through the inconsistent relationship between King Lear and his daughters as well as from the role of dishonesty and power in the play.
Heartbreaking consequences arise after King Lear’s move to divide his property between his two daughters, excluding Cordelia (Shakespeare 153). King Lear’s pride hinders him from knowing the truth about his daughters, especially Cordelia who truly loves him. The basis of the play on the Lear of Britain helps in depicting how young people rise where the old ones fall.
The Young rise where the Old fall
In Act one, King Lear states his resolution to confer power and kingship to young people. He decides to shake off all his burdens, cares, and businesses of kingship to the energetic young generation so that he can retire peacefully. King Lear is of age to retire as he has reigned over a long period. However, he faces the start of his downfall when he decides to retire and give a portion of his country to the daughter who professes best her love for him.
Due to his pride, Lear blindly divides his estate between Goneril and Regan, who only sweet-talk him, while leaving out Cordelia. This situation shows that his daughters (the young) will only rise in power and wealth upon the falling of the old King Lear.
In addition, Act 3 depicts the conflict between the young and the old generation based on the claims that foolish and old people such as King Lear do not deserve any power (Tweg 35) with reference to his two daughters, Goneril and Regan, after their success in inheriting their father’s fortunes. Through this scenario, the two daughters show the shift and rise in power from the old to the young generation.
Although King Lear’s old age does not allow him to undertake responsibilities, he feels that it will make him vulnerable. However, his daughters are happy to treat their powerless father like a baby, thus embarrassing him to show how youngsters rise when the old fall.
Edmund visualizes the conflict with his father as a generational conflict between the young and old (Shakespeare 135) because of his father’s support of King Lear even when he is against Cornwall’s wishes. The result is a social problem where few old men are in charge of power and wealth while many young people possess nothing. As a result, young people develop bitterness.
They yearn to rise when the old folks fall regardless of the means. Furthermore, the various themes portrayed in the play provide evidence of how youngsters take up the positions of the old once they fall.
For instance, the conflicts between a father and Gloucester’s sons as well as Lear’s daughters show generational differences (Tweg 30). The younger generation manipulates the older one, thus rising in wealth and power while the older counterparts are often unaware.
In my opinion, the play clearly depicts how young people replace the old once the latter category falls as evidenced by the various themes and symbolism in the play, King Lear.
Despite the challenges that the old folk face in relinquishing power to the young, it is obvious from the daily routine that young people only rise in wealth and power when the old ones fall. They are strong, unlike the helpless old generation. King Lear’s fall from power and the inheritance of his country by his daughters form the main basis for the discussion.
Shakespeare, William. King Lear, Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes Publishers, 1990. Print.
Tweg, Sue. William Shakespeare’s King Lear, Wellington: Insight Publications, 2011. Print.
Major Themes in the Play “King Lear” by William Shakespeare Essay
The theme of madness is the most powerful aspect of this tragedy. King Lear is portrayed as being insane throughout the play and his condition deteriorates towards the end (Archer, Turley, and Thomas 521). Two of his daughters recognize their father’s mental state and perhaps take advantage of the insanity to acquire power at the expense of their younger sister (Edmiston and McKibben 97). However, the two daughters attribute their father’s mental challenge to his old age. The insanity influences most of the King’s decisions as he banishes his loyal daughter and divides power between the two disloyal children (Woodford 77). The decision to disown and curse his daughter, viz. Cordelia, is uninformed, as it cannot be expected from a mentality sound individual.
Some scholars argue that both Kent and Cordelia are aware of the King’s condition right from the beginning, which explains why they remain loyal to him even as he mistreats them (Archer, Turley, and Thomas 523). The madness is connected to the trouble that befalls the King later in his helpless state as he faces all sorts of mistreatments from the two daughters whom he gives the mandate to run the kingdom. Due to his insanity, he fails to make an informed decision regarding giving away power to the self-centered daughters.
Appearance versus reality
This theme stands out throughout the play as everything works against the readers’ expectations (Edmiston and McKibben 96). In the opening scenes of the play, King Lear relies on his older daughters’ faked sycophancy, and thus he rewards them with his kingdom. In addition, against the audience’s expectations, he sends away Cordelia, who is the only loyal daughter. In addition, he banishes Kent, who is one of his closest confidantes, on grounds of disloyalty. However, his two older daughters, whom he entrusts with his kingdom, are disloyal to him (Moore 181). The two daughters, whom he entrusts the kingdom, later betray him by mistreating and neglecting him in his old age.
Edmond conspires to discredit Edgar, his brother in-law, to his father (Ioppolo 139). Based on the conspiracy, his father sends Edgar away and shifts his trust on Edmond. However, Edmond is a traitor and he is only driven by jealousy to have his brother evicted so that he can gain power in the kingdom (Archer, Turley, and Thomas 529). As opposed to the expectations of his father, Edmond later causes trouble in the kingdom. The loyal characters in the play are expected to hold the best positions in the kingdom; however, they are portrayed as the poorest, while the disloyal persons hold powerful positions. Therefore, disloyalty wins over loyalty in this kingdom.
The theme of blindness stand out clearly in King Lear in relation to the physical blindness of Gloucester, who has his eye plucked off by Cornwall and Regan due to being loyal to the King (Urkowitz 136). The physical blindness is symbolic of mental blindness in decisions made by the main characters in the play. Such blindness is especially evidenced by the shortsighted decisions made by both King Lear and Gloucester in the play. The two are blind while selecting their favorite children to reward. For example, the King expels the honest child from his palace and gives leadership to the two irresponsible daughters (Edmiston and McKibben 92).
Blindness is also evidenced by the neglect concerning one’s responsibilities. For example, Gloucester is a philanderer and his behavior leads to the birth of an illegitimate child, viz. Edmund (Woodford 167). Edmund later becomes a threat to the kingdom to the extent of attempting to attain illegitimately. On his part, King Lear is blind in addressing the needs of the people that he serves as the King. He ignores the needs of the less fortunate instead of assisting them, as expected of a servant leader.
The play portrays both King Lear and Gloucester as irresponsible persons who lack the virtue of mercy (Archer, Turley, and Thomas 522). The King, in his capacity as the head of the throne, is expected to address the problems of the poor and less fortunate groups in society. Conversely, he ignores such issues. In the play, the King does not address the key issues affecting the needy. The King is self-centered and he does not exercise the servant style of leadership as expected of him. This self-centered nature of the King leads to the failure of his throne later on (Moore 182).
The irresponsible character of the King is also seen in his decision to delegate his roles and responsibilities to his irresponsible daughters, who are equally self-centered. Similarly, they do not care about the needs of the public (Edmiston and McKibben 89). In addition, the King has the responsibility of taking care of his youngest daughter. In addition, he has the responsibility of treating his daughters as equals (Woodford 113). However, due to his irresponsible character, he forces Cordelia out of his house and forgets about her. As a parent, one is supposed to take care of his/her children regardless of whether they are loyal or disloyal. However, the King is oblivious of his duties as a parent and a role model to his followers.
Just as the King has the responsibility of taking care of his daughter, Cordelia equally owes her father the duty of taking good care of him in his weak mental state (Moore 175). However, she neglects this role. On the other hand, Gloucester has the responsibility of taking care of his wife on top of remaining faithful (Archer, Turley, and Thomas 536). Husbands are expected to remain faithful to their wives. On the contrary, Gloucester’s philandering ways lead to the birth of a love child. This child later on causes problems in the kingdom by trying to rise to power illegitimately. In addition, Gloucester overlooks his responsibilities as a father by expelling one of his sons on grounds of disloyalty and dishonesty (Archer, Turley, and Thomas 521).
Authority and Order
The theme of power is evident at the beginning of the play where King Lear is portrayed as powerful and authoritative (Ioppolo 173). The aspect of power is seen in how he conducts his business without consulting his close allies. For example, he conducts the dramatic ceremony to divide power between his two daughters in the watch of Gloucester, Kent, and others. These individuals should question the King’s decision, but they opt to remain silent and watch as the events unfold (Urkowitz 112).
Power in this tragedy is not only exercised at the national level, but also at the family level. Without consulting anyone, the King expels his youngest daughter on grounds of being disloyal to his kingship. Divine power is also evident in the play as the King seeks providential help especially after the two daughters mistreat him later in his helpless state (Edmiston and McKibben 87). The King is heard ordering divine powers to come down and take his part after having a serious quarrel with the daughters.
Finally, the theme of old age stands out towards the end of the play. Due to old age, King Lear has to give up leadership to his daughters by claiming that he does not want to go to the grave burdened (Moore 169). King Lear has the sense that old age forces one to surrender some responsibilities as a way of preparing for death. Goneril and Regan recognize their father’s old age. They argue that his madness is mainly due to his age. Seemingly, the play suggests that old age deserves respect as Lear calls upon the gods to look at his old age and intervene in overcoming his tribulations (Archer, Turley, and Thomas 518).
However, the two daughters do not respect the fact that their father is old, and thus he deserves respect. On the contrary, they insult, ridicule, and neglect him. In addition, they do not take instructions from him, which leads to the fall of the kingdom. Madness and old age stand out as the most critical factors that influence the King’s decisions (Edmiston and McKibben 87). The two factors cause the King to make uninformed decisions leading to the downfall of the kingdom soon after his retirement. The old age contributes to the severity of the King’s mental illness.
Archer, Jayne, Richard Turley, and Howard Thomas. “The Autumn King: Remembering the Land in King Lear.” Shakespeare Quarterly 63.4 (2012): 518-543. Print.
Edmiston, Brian, and Amy McKibben. “Shakespeare, rehearsal approaches, and dramatic inquiry: Literacy education for life.” English in Education 45.1 (2011): 86-101. Print.
Ioppolo, Grace. A Routledge Literary Sourcebook on William Shakespeare’s King Lear, New York: Psychology Press, 2003. Print.
Moore, Peter. “The Nature of King Lear.” English Studies 87.2 (2006): 169-190. Print.
Urkowitz, Steven. Shakespeare’s Revision of King Lear, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. Print.
Woodford, Donna. Understanding King Lear: A student casebook to issues, sources, and historical documents. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing, 2004. Print.
Society Role in Literature: King Lear and Things Fall Apart Essay
It is imperative to mention that the role of society in literary works is a fascinating topic that is actively discussed by many scholars. Moreover, one of the most important aspects that must be discussed is the way authors use societal changes and conditions to express their ideas and emotions. A play titled “King Lear” by William Shakespeare and a well-known novel “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe can be viewed as one of the best examples of these techniques. Both works are regarded masterpieces and had an enormous influence on modern literature and have inspired numerous authors. An analysis and comparison of these pieces would help to get a better understanding of the connection between societies and plot.
It is necessary to mention that there is a significant dissimilarity between the play and novel because of the focus on societal changes. Some parts of these works are used to distract the reader from societal problems that the characters had to deal with in the stories. For instance, Achebe has frequently focused on positive aspects such as traditions and values. On the other hand, Shakespeare utilized personal situations and dialogues. Another aspect that is worth mentioning is that there is a particular similarity between King Lear and Okonkwo, central characters. Both of them are influential, but they are affected by their surroundings and situations and they have made several questionable decisions over the course of these two pieces. The difference is that the leader of the plan is much tougher physically and emotionally, and it is evident that he would not give up his values and morals.
One of the most significant aspects that should be discussed is that the changes to the society have been quite significant over the seven years that he was absent, and the author has utilized this situation as a plot device. On the other hand, the society in Shakespeare’s novel did not change at all. The reasoning behind this approach is that the author wanted to highlight situations that the characters had to go through, and how they have impacted the lives of those individuals. King Lear has weakened significantly, and numerous problems have affected his mind and the process of decision-making. One of the biggest dissimilarities is that King Lear had to go through several challenges, and it has had an enormous impact on his perception of surroundings. For instance, he was able to identify the difference between what is important and what is not in the final scenes, and it is evident that his character is no longer the same as he used to be.
Other societal aspects in King Lear also should not be overlooked. The author has viewed it as an outstanding opportunity to criticize some of the issues that were present at that time. Differences between generations are regarded especially problematic by Shakespeare, and he wanted to ensure that the audience understands that it could lead to severe consequences. Some of those disagreements are not significant, and problems could have been easily avoided. “When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools” is a critical line (Shakespeare, 2007, p. 168). Moreover, it indicates that the author recognizes that the society that he lives in has numerous problems, and it is not likely that the situation is going to change anytime soon. Furthermore, it can be seen that it is one of the core themes in this work, and this factor should be taken into account.
Also, another factor that is worth mentioning is that conditions in the society have an enormous impact on the level of comfort of both characters. The situation was especially problematic for Okonkwo because he was used to being a leader, and was not ready to deal with such enormous changes. However, he was tough emotionally and did not change as an individual. He was determined to live according to his principles, and nothing could alter his perception. It is paramount to mention that he had to go through several internal struggles, but he did not want to show his emotions because he thought that it was not a right thing to do. He understood that he has a lot of responsibilities and his people trust in him and his decisions. Moreover, indecisiveness was not acceptable, and he has become a victim of circumstances. The problem is that he was not capable of dealing with such dramatic changes, and he was not that kind of person to accept this situation.
Achebe (2010) draws the attention of readers with the line stating “then they came to the tree from which Okonkwo’s body was dangling” (p. 189). It is necessary to mention that it was a crucial point in the story because a central character has demonstrated behavior that is not acceptable in his tribe. However, this decision was justified in his mind because he could not live in this society any longer. He understood that he may not do anything against intruders without support from his people, and believed that he was betrayed. The problem is that this approach may seem especially cowardly and selfish. He made the decision to take his life to protect his values and to show that he will not be forced to obey. On the other hand, Lear could not handle betrayal, and he did not expect that his daughters would act like this. The situation has a lasting impact on the character, and it can be seen that he starts to behave irrationally in some cases. King Lear was not the same at the end of the story because of all the pressure and tension and dies as a result. Also, it is necessary to mention that Shakespeare thought that bureaucracy would hurt the society, and he wanted to draw attention to this problem.
In conclusion, it is evident that the difference between these two pieces is quite significant. Moreover, one of the vital aspects that should be taken into consideration is that the dissimilarity between the roles of society is also tremendous. It is necessary to understand that Okonkwo was disappointed in his people and did not want to accept this situation. King Lear also had to deal with numerous changes, but they were mostly personal and were influenced by many internal and external factors. Shakespeare has focused on the critique of issues that were the most problematic at that time, and Achebe has used it as a plot device to move the story forward. Overall, it is necessary to understand that the analysis of these aspects can be vital, and would help to get a better understanding of these works and ideas suggested by the authors.
Achebe, C. (2010). Things Fall Apart: A Novel. New York, NY: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
Shakespeare, W. (2007). King Lear. Minneapolis, MN: Filiquarian Publishing LLC.
King Lear – Dramatic Impact
The final scene in the play offers the audience closure, and could be seen as the climax to events. The extract begins with death already a clear undertone to proceedings; with Cordelia being dead in Lear’s arms. Shakespeare creates an impact through the use of the characters themselves, the action that occurs in the extract, the situation that unfolds and the tension built up during these situations.
The extract begins with Lear drawing attention upon himself with the use of repetition and exclamatives ‘Howl, howl, howl, howl!’ this gives an immediate impact and tension with regards to what is to follow.
The words are particularly interesting as they not only express Lear’s anguish, but also have an imperative feel to them, especially with the exclamation giving the impression of a command. This leaves the audience questioning whether Lear has really developed and changed at all during the duration of the play.
This can be explored further with Lear’s repeated use of the first person singular ‘I’, which shows yet again that it is the way in which problems affect him rather than all the characters as a whole.
It is particularly poignant when Lear first says ‘you murderers’ and later ‘who are you?’ to Kent. The lack of recognition of Kent, the man who has served him so loyally would stir up emotion in the audience. Aswell as denouncing Kent as a murderer along with everyone else in Lear’s presence. These factors combined create strong emotions adding to the catharsis felt and plant a fear for what more there is to come.
The imagery used is also very powerful in creating tension such as ‘That heaven’s vault should crack’ I believe it is a metaphor for expressing Lear’s discontent with the Gods, as religion was much more prevalent for Elizabethans this would be especially striking and powerful. Shakespeare also uses irony such as ‘Cordelia,Cordelia, stay a little’. It is ironic that in the first act Lear dismisses Cordelia and know the situation has been subverted, and he is left willing her to breathe. The whole situation of Cordelia dying in her fathers arms creates a strong sense of pathos which would be highly impacting for the audience. More so an Elizabethan audience who are not accustomed to witnessing such an ending, during that time it was more common for poetic justice to be served and the ‘good hearted’ characters to live while the evil characters perish.
The final speech by Lear is what I believe to be the most saddening and yet enlightening parts of the whole play. He questions ‘ Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life’. This again questions the way in which the gods are working through the use of animal imagery, giving an idea that Lear has lost faith in religion. There is also the pun of my ‘poor fool’ which gives way to questions regarding Cordelia being the Fool in disguise as they never appear on stage together at any one time. The repetition of ‘never’ shows denial and would be disturbing for the audience to watch this powerful king broken, on his knees showing signs of madness and instability. The only comfort is that it could be thought that Lear dies with some sense of relief as he believes Cordelia may still be alive shown with ‘Look on her: look, her lips’.
A lexis of passing can be seen such as ‘promised end’,’dead’,’absolute’ and ‘life’. This gives closure to the play, which would likely stir discontent amongst the audience who are not ready to end in this fashion thus adding to the overall impact.
Overall the extract uses a theme of death and madness to convey a cruel closure that leaves much sympathy and regret towards the characters actions. The unspoken characters such as Edgar and the paralinguistics of such characters would also add to the tension of such a scene, especially after the events that unfolded previous to this finale. The different images and attitudes exposed as the extract closes comes together to create a memorable and impacting scene. Also read about role of the fool in King Lear essay
The most interesting aspect of the extract is the use of repetition to portray grief and madness. Goffmans theory of ‘face’ was useful in seeing how Lear loses ‘face’ as he is taken over by grief and how other characters such as Kent never lose ‘face’ or loyalty. Aristotle’s version of tragedy was also important is spotting the clear sense of pathos created. Harmartia was also particularly striking in Lear as he chose to blame others for what was originally his actions. In deconstructing the extract I drew on possible paralinguistics that could be seen in other performances such as in a modern version of King Lear in which Lear is kneeling down, appearing very weak. I also drew on literary techniques by examining imagery, style and language and linguistic models by analysing grammar and connotations of the words. Overall my understanding and interpretation of the extract was based on both literary and linguistic approaches.
King Lear – Does the Fool present the voice of reason?
William Shakespeare wrote King Lear in seventeenth century. It is one of Shakespeare’s most horrific and bloodthirsty tragedies, with most of the main characters dead at the end of the play, the Fool included. Many believe that the play is a compound of other texts, some originally written as early as 1135 A.D. The main source Shakespeare used is thought to be The Chronicle History of King Leir, which is very similar to Shakespeare’s version, but he changed genre of the play from a tragic-comedy to a tragedy.
Shakespeare’s main change from the Chronicle History is the ending, in all other accounts Lear is restored to the throne and his daughter’s lives are spared, instead Shakespeare makes Goneril and Regan’s jealousy of each other the cause of their deaths, and the political misconceptions between the other characters the cause of death for Cordelia. Lear also, in Shakespeare’s version dies, for no apparent reason other than that he has given up to all of the hatred and pain surrounding him.
Apart from the changed ending to other scripts, Shakespeare’s main change is that of the introduction of the Fool. The main role of the Fool in King Lear is to parallel character of a court jester, or so he is seen to Lear, other characters and the audience.
As Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be seen on stage, and performed for entertainment, the Fool’s appearance is of great significance to the play and how he is seen to others from the stage can show his real meaning and his true character. The Fool primarily is seen for entertainment, he is light relief between the heavy scenes of death, adultery and jealousy. The Fool condescendingly laughs at other characters and their foolish ways,
“Thou art an ‘O’ without a figure”
he sees all that happens to them and mockingly does nothing to help them in the way they think they deserve to be helped but the Fool tells them the truth in the form of songs and rhymes, but as the other characters are preoccupied with matters concerning themselves and only themselves. His larger than life personality and his amusing clothes show the Fool’s presence on stage. The Fool is dressed like a Jester with a funny hat and shoes with bells on to mark his whereabouts, he can also be seen laughing, joking and dancing around the stage. The Fool has a skip in his step and a song in his heart for every occasion and doesn’t hold back from showing these traits in a time of desperation.
The Fool presides over the whole stage and doesn’t fade into the background; the Fool cannot be missed whilst he is performing. The main feature of the Fool would have been shown disability. He is physically disabled in some way with a probable limp; the Fool may also have a speech impediment and a different accent from the other characters. Many fools in the 17th Century were taken in by the rich and wealthy as their lives outside of the larger houses were poor, they often had no money and were usually social outcasts. Many fools were probably mentally deficient and/or physically deformed; they were exceptional in almost every respect, requiring the protection of powerful patrons to avoid social ostracism or abuse. Although the Fool is entertaining, audiences cannot but help feel sorry for him, he is disabled, poor, and often has problems with his intelligence, which are often focused on by other characters in the play.
“This man has no counsel”
This is a scathing remark from Goneril to Albany about the Fool’s intelligence and state of mind.
The other characters often see the Fool as a somewhat inanimate object, the Fool to the high-class Princesses has no purpose in their lives, has nothing they want or desire and he just gets in the way. The Fool is also seen as a madman who talks nothing but rubbish, who doesn’t understand their lives or desires. They also think he has no knowledge of anything or anyone with no respect for his betters.
The significance of the Fool is different for different characters in the play. For Lear, the Fool represents someone who is worse off than Lear in every way, he is poor, he is mad and he has no insight into how the world works.
“Thou art an O without a figure”
This of course is put wrongly upon the Fool but he can clearly see all and understand all of the other characters ideas and faults. The Fool here sees how Lear is making himself insignificant, the metaphor of the O without a figure cleverly sums this up, as Lear does not understand this remark.
Lear can look down on the Fool and feel better than him, this is a role reversal for Lear as he is used to being looked down on by many of the other characters in the play, his daughters especially.
“Yes indeed, thou would make a good fool”
This is showing the role reversal to the extremes.
But also for Lear, the Fool is an accessible form of entertainment, which answers to Lear’s beck and call and does not answer back, or so Lear thinks. Lear does not expect the Fool to tell him things that he does not want to hear and he certainly does not expect to be comforted by someone who he believes to be mad.
“If thou follow him, thou must needs wear my coxcomb, how now nuncle? Would I have two coxcombs and two daughters”
The Fool’s response to Lear’s actions over his dividing of his kingdom, here the Fool is saying to Lear that he is an idiot, and if Lear continues to act this way then he might as wear the Fool’s coxcomb and become as bigger Fool as he is supposed to be.
For many other characters in the play, the Fool holds no significance. He to them is insignificant; he has no valid opinions, not thoughts and no intelligence. Of course none of this is true, but that is the irony of the Fool, by the end of his play he is the only character left with any of these traits, although he disappears before the final act, his thoughts are carried through with both Edgar and Lear, in their thoughts and their actions. The Fool’s replacement by Edgar, in disguise as a madman, also shows the overwhelming need for only one mad person in the play; here Edgar carries through the Fool’s actions and Lear accepts Edgar as this. Lear’s reasoning by the end of the play is only lessened by the madness of others. J L Halio’s description of Lear is as follows; “By the late middle ages, the Jester was a familiar figure, and in the Renaissance the fool had become as domestic servant in the homes of many aristocrats, in Britain as well as on the continent. The motley coat, eared hood and marotte, were traditional, but fool’s may also be regarded as pets or mascots, expected not only to amuse but also to criticise”. Halio writes that Lear’s Fool enjoys a privileged status, much to Goneril’s annoyance,
“Not only, sir, this, your all-licensed fool, but other of your insolent retinue”
and his characteristic idioms suggest that he is a natural fool not an artificial one, though his perceptiveness and wit show that he is far from being an idiot or a moron, however touched he may otherwise be.
During the play, the Fool’s speech alters from plain talking to rhyming or singing.
“Mark it, Nuncle:
Have more than thou showest
Speak less than thou knowest
When this happens we can see the Fool’s true feeling’s on a situation become apparent and realise, even if Lear doesn’t, that he is showing his full truthfulness. When the Fool is talking, he is playing the part of the expected court jester, he is amusing Lear and adding his own opinion to the ideas but is only telling Lear what Lear wants to hear, so as not to be in the wrong so he cannot be punished.
“I would fain learn to lie”
shows the Fool’s wilfulness to always tell the truth, no matter what the consequences. When the Fool starts to sing however, his whole reason for conversing with Lear becomes apparent; the Fool is seeing the whole situation and giving Lear his own, whole opinion, and telling Lear the truth about his actions and decisions. When the Fool is singing, his speech rhymes, this gives Lear something to remember and something to think about, it sticks in his mind and makes him not use just his judgement but his mind as well. Also read about role of the fool in King Lear essay
“Then they for sudden joy did weep
And I for sorrow sung,
That such a King should play Bo-Peep
And go the Fools among”
The Fool, in the play, mostly represents the sheer irony of the whole play. The Fool shows the irony of Lear’s madness. The Fool is supposed to talk nonsense, which no one understands, but during Lear’s ultimate descent into insanity, he finally understands what the Fool is trying to say. The irony of this is of course is that the Fool has spoken sense from the start of the play but Lear only understands him clearly when he himself is finally mad. The Fool, though, is the only character that is willing to tell Lear the whole truth, or actually understands the extent of Lear’s troubles.
“If I speak like myself in this, let me be whipped that first finds it so”
By the time the Fool disappears, Lear sees him as the complete voice of reason.
“Can you make no use of nothing nuncle?”
So, does the Fool present the voice of reason? To Lear he does, but this is only shown when Lear himself is mad so he does not understand reason or truth. To the viewing audience, the Fool ultimately presents the voice of reason, he sees all the character’s flaws and misconceptions of each other and themselves, he continually tells the truth, and does not lie to himself about his situation or his future. He frequently condescends to other characters and criticises them for their poor decisions and actions as he is not involved with any of the other plot lines and watches intently from the sidelines.
“Why to one’s eyes of either side’s nose, that what a man cannot smell out, he may spy into”
The Fool does not only speak the truth to Lear, he also gives him advice on different situations, but with Lear’s reluctant ness to not see problems and the Fool’s poor position of a supposed madman, the advice is taken lightly and with no guts.
“..I can tell why a snail has his house.
“Why, to put ‘s head in, not to give away to his daughters and leave his horns without a case”
Here, the Fool is giving Lear the most useful piece of advice that he will receive in the entire play, he uses the metaphor of a snail to show Lear how he is viewed to other characters as small and weak, but also telling Lear that his decision to divide up his kingdom was not a wise one.
The Fool does present the voice of reason because he is the only character who is able to see every situations from every angle and able to weigh up the plusses and minuses before making a decision, he is also the only character to evolve through the play with is eyes fully open and an insight into anything and everything.
King Lear is a play dominated by the contrast between wisdom and foolishness
There are many ways in which one would agree with this statement, in that there is an evident contrast between wisdom and foolishness. We see this through The Fool, where he is rather blunt with Lear; also, with Lear we get a strong sense of his irrationality and madness which is ironic because this results in this contrast of foolishness and wisdom from The Fool. Edgar plays many roles in this play which perform such a wide array of functions. Again, we get a sense of this fool like dominance throughout the play through Edgar, as Shakespeare doesn’t spend much time establishing Edgar’s virtues before having him disguise himself as Poor Tom.
Again, Edgar is forced to assume the garb of a madman to preserve his life. Whereas, there are indeed ways in which we can disagree with this statement, in the sense that the play opens at Lear’s court. Kent and Gloucester discuss the division of the Kingdom.
There are rumours about King Lear’s intentions towards his two sons-in-law, the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall. Therefore, one can argue that the play is dominated with this idea of power and the giving of the Kingdom.
Throughout the play there is a strong sense of foolishness and madness which is primarily presented through King Lear. Right from the outset we get this sense that Lear is a complex tragic hero, who excites a variety of responses. The first reference to his foolishness is his absurd actions of Act One where he plans to divide his Kingdom between Cordelia, Goneril and Regan. The fact that he plans to do this by making them profess their love for him which will equate how much of the land they get is rather absurd, especially for the Jacobean audience, who would remember how the taxing question of the succession has loomed during the large reign of Elizabeth I. For example, take when he says to Cordelia, ‘Nothing can come of nothing’ at the start of Act One.
Here Lear gives us the indication that if Cordelia doesn’t profess her love for the King, then she will get ‘nothing’. Her refusal to participate in the love-test sets Lear onto a disastrous rage when she says ‘Nothing, my Lord’. Again, these rash actions of Lear could hint at this political insanity and potential foolishness, which arguably dominates the play. When he goes onto say in Act One, ‘O let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven!’ Lear is comparing his madness to the torments of hell and struggles frantically to retain his wits.
As a result, this sense of irrationality and foolishness dominates the start of the play. From the Feminist point of view, John Knox who was writing during Shakespeare time in his ‘First Blast of the Scottish Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women’ in 1558, said, ‘Women are weak, frail, impatient, feeble and foolish’. Again, a feminist would oppose to this maleness of traditional criticism of women; however, this is representative of the views of women during Shakespeare’s time.
How this ties into the contrast of foolishness and wisdom, is that some feminists may argue that Lear’s actions in Act One are not merely out of foolishness. Some may suggest that Shakespeare is merely trying to represent his current society of patriarchy and misogyny, as Lear treats his daughters as subordinates who must obey to his every whim. Again, one feminist critic, Jacqueline Disinberre, in ‘Shakespeare and the Nature of Women’ in 1975 claimed that ‘drama from the 1590 to 1625 is feminist in sympathy’. She argues that Shakespeare ‘saw men and women as equal in a world which declared them as unequal’. One may suggest that her views are echoed by others who argue that King Lear invites dissent from misogyny and patriarchy and can be interpreted and performed in ways that highlight and expose patriarchy as vicious and unjust.
Moreover, Shakespeare seems to intend on a serious portrayal of the madness of King Lear which wouldn’t have been something which was used in similar Renaissance dramatists, who would have used this madness for comic effect; Shakespeare, uses this madness in Lear to dominate a sense of foolishness in the play. For instance, we get his strong sense of madness when Lear says himself after he has been driven to the end of rope by the cruelties of Goneril and Regan, ‘Or ere I’ll weep. O fool, I shall go mad!’ Here Lear is raging against them, he makes the direct reference of driving himself mad because he finds it impossible to bear the realization of his daughters’ terrible betrayal. Despite his attempt to assert his authority, Lear finds that he is now powerless; all he can do is vent his rage. This results in not just a contrast between the foolishness and wisdom, but also this connection between foolishness and madness.
There are other types of madness that shed a sombre light on Lear’s insanity; for instance, we see the Fool’s professional madness in his clowning and Edgar’s fake madness with his disguise as Poor Tom. The madness of the Fool and Edgar might be intended to provide comic relief, as the Fool’s jests often lighten the tone and some Edgar’s antics as Poor Tom can seem rather amusing. However, this also provides irony, as their madness is an intentional fake madness, where Lear’s in not. Consequently, we see this contrast between wisdom and foolishness; Lear seems to be the foolish one and the fool seems to be the wise one. Moreover, the Fool plays a numbers of roles, often acting as a voice of conscience and the truth-teller. There is irony throughout because the Fool would normally be associated with being the fool one in the characters, but the irony here is that the Fool is actually the wise one when telling the truth etc. Also read about role of the fool in King Lear essay
For instance, when he first appears in the play the Fool extremely critical of Lear, ‘Dost thou call me fool boy? /All thy other titles thou hast given away; that thou wast born with’. These lines are typical of the Fool’s interaction Lear; his sarcasm is blunt and hard hitting. The Fool seems to be representative of the truth and that seems to support this idea of wisdom. However, Shakespeare challenges the reader and makes it clear that there is a contrast between the idea of wisdom and foolishness because of the fact that one wouldn’t expect a Fool to challenge and be so blunt with a person as powerful as Lear, so one can argue that perhaps the Fool is indeed the foolish one.
To conclude, there are indeed ways in which Shakespeare dominates the play with a contrast between the idea of foolishness and wisdom. There is irony throughout because of the fact that the Fool seems to be the truth-teller. Again, because of Lear’s rash actions in Act One he seems to be the foolish one, and as a result, there is a constant contrast between foolishness and wisdom. Marxist critic, Victor Kiernan argues that Shakespeare ‘must have started from something personal, some dislocation of his own life’. Consequently, one can argue that the play isn’t dominated by this contrast between foolishness and wisdom, but that it makes the attempt to highlight the society in which Shakespeare was living – a society of patriarchy and hierarchical dominance.
King Lear: The seeds of tragedy are sewn in Act 1 scene 1
According to Aristotle a tragedy should consist of a tragic hero; a character of noble status possessing a fatal flaw. He proposed that the hero’s downfall should be a result of his own actions and that he should have a chance to learn from his mistakes during the play. Aristotle’s theory of a tragic flaw is designed to allow the audience to engage with the hero, regardless of the character’s higher status or power.
This view also suggests that a tragedy is a play which causes pity and fear amongst the audience for the tragic hero; in Shakespearean tragedies the Hero’s flaw is often lust or ambition, which an audience is able to identify with therefore the hero’s demise causes the reader to sympathise with the character more.
During Shakespearean time, king ship was considered to be granted by God. As a result it was believed that the down fall of a king would result in the destruction of society.
Expanding on this further, a Shakespearean audience would have viewed the king as being incapable of making poor decisions therefore Lear’s tragedy may have been considered as an ‘accidental tragedy’. There are many events in the opening which result in a series of tragic occurrences later on in the play. When Lear gives away his authority to Goneril and Regan, he leads himself to cruel treatment. As a result, his people are also plunged into corruption and disorder. The authority that Lear represents falls apart in the very opening act making tragic events inevitable.
However, it could be argued that by dividing the kingdom before his death, Lear is preventing chaos which would occur after his death. Handing his kingdom to his daughters symbolises trust and acceptance in the first scene. It is suggested that Lear’s descent begins with the love test. “…. ’tis our fast intent To take all cares and business from our age, Conferring them on younger strengths, while we Unburdened crawl toward death. ” Lear’s need to be reassured of his own importance indicates his weakness and flaw implying he is a tragic hero and therefore tragic events are to follow.
The verb ‘crawl’ has connotations of an animal, this foreshadows the confusion and animal like mental state Lear is to be plunged into. Stanley Cavell proposed that Lear’s wish to avoid revealing his inner self and his love motivates the love test, thus causing his tragic downfall. It could be argued that the avoidance of revealing his inner self, leads Lear into a very emotional stage, therefore, it is necessary for him to give away his Kingdome and undergo the tragic events in order for him understand himself.
Paul Scofield, in Peter Brooks’ version of ‘King Lear’, presents Lear as a more dominant and less vulnerable character in the first scene. The close-up camera shot causes the audience to feel that Lear is of great importance. People who we trust usually get close to our face, so the close up shot creates a relation ship between the viewer and Lear, which allows the audience to identify with Lear more. This incorporates Aristotle’s perception of a tragic hero. However, at the same time, the viewer is made to feel more uncomfortable than at ease.
This causes the audience to discover that Lear is tired of life and consequently less thoughtful of what he’s about to do, suggesting tragic events are inevitable. From this angle it seems that Lear has less to fall, as he is already at a stage were he regrets life. This is different to many of Shakespeare’s other plays such as Hamlet, Macbeth and Othello where the protagonists begin in a high emotional position, so have more to lose and therefore further to fall.
Some readers and critics would argue that it is not entirely Lear’s love test that causes the inevitable events, but Cordelier’s refusal to go along with the love test as she is aware of the cruelty of her sisters. Psychologist, Sigmund Freud discussed, in his essay ‘The Theme of three caskets’ , the symbolism of Lear’s daughters. He proposed that they represented the three fates of Greek myth. Cordelier symbolises, Atropos the goddess of death, so consequently by rejecting Cordelier Lear rejects death.
Cordelier’s reluctance to speak is associated with dumbness, which psychoanalysts interpret as a symbol of death in dreams . This reference to death in the first scene emphasises that tragic events are unavoidable. Language in act one scene one foreshadows in King Lear the events to occur, suggesting the inevitability of tragic events. Lear’s downfall begins when he asks his daughters to show their love for him through language, the untrustworthiness of the language suggests the likelihood of tragedy. The noun ‘nothing’ is said several times in the opening.
The word creates a feeling of emptiness; an emotion that causes Lear’s madness, yet at the same time suggests that ‘nothing’ may be of more worth to Lear than everything. Gonerill and Regan say everything Lear wants to hear but Cordelier, who says ‘nothing’ is of more use to the king than his unworthy daughters. This also creates irony, as Lear is left with nothing in the end of the play and his life becomes meaningless. Critic, Plato proposed that ‘nothing’ is another word to describe chaos .
This illustrates the destruction his kingdom is to be plunged into, suggesting the inevitability of tragic events. Arguably Act 3 provides readers with a better indication of the tragic events that are to follow. The storm in Act 3 symbolises Lear’s madness and confusion: it seems to represent a physical, natural reflection of Lear’s state of mind. At the same time, the storm embodies the power of nature, which forces the powerless king to recognize his own mortality, developing a sense of humility within Lear for the first time.
This also further highlights his fatal flaw as a tragic hero. Michael Elliott, however, presents the storm as a form of justice. With a medium low- angle shot, It seems as though Lear brings the storm himself and nature is angry with the way Lear has been treated. Pauncz suggests that Lear’s madness is a result of his obsession with sexuality and that erotic imagery develops during the storm.  The mentioning of Gloucester’s illegitimate son in the beginning of the play implies that some inevitable tragic events are to follow.
In Act 5 scene 3 Edgar say’s, to his dying brother; The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices Make instruments to praise us: The dark and vicious place where thee he got Cost him his eyes. The Elizabethans used various punishments for adultery, but blinding was not one of them. However, historically Locrensian’s from Rome were thought to have used blinding as a punishment for adultery. On this level Gloucester’s blinding seems an appropriate punishment for a Shakespearean audience. His blinding symbolises his and Lear’s incapability to see the truth.
Stanley Cavell, in his essay ‘The avoidance of Love: A reading of King Lear’, suggests that Gloucester’s inability to recognise Edmund drives him to his tragic downfall, just as Lear’s inability to recognise Cordelier drives him to his fall. The audience is able to see how Lear’s downfall affects his people through Gloucester’s fall; this reflects the idea of Shakespearean tragedy and how the fall of a king reflects on his people. Gonerill and Regan are shown to be plotting against Lear at the end of act 1 scene 1, this suggests that tragic events are to follow.
The sisters also emphasize Lear’s bad judgement as well as his old age, suggesting his tragic flaw. A feminist criticism of ‘King Lear’ suggests that Shakespeare implies tragedy is inevitable, when power is in the hands of women. In Shakespearean time women had little say and power, this implies that Gonerill and Regan are incapable of coping with and handling authority therefore by handing over his Kingdome to his daughters, Lear ultimately advances his tragic downfall causing the inevitability of tragic events. Gonerill and Regan abuse their power, but so does Edmund who is a male antagonist.
This indicates, that perhaps Shakespeare isn’t implying that women cannot cope with power, but that when authority is handed to those, that God doesn’t wish it to be handed to, chaos and destruction is created. This further expresses the fact that king ship is granted by God. Some readers argue that the absence of a mother is what leads to the inevitability of tragic events. It is necessary for a mother figure in the play to ensure that Lear doesn’t become an ‘abusive patriarch’ , as well as preventing Gonerill’s, Regan’s and Edmund’s character from deteriorating.
In conclusion to my essay it is important for the seeds of tragedy to be sewn in act 1 scene 1, as this provides the audience with a sense of the inevitability of tragic events keeping them engaged with the play. Further more, by foreshadowing tragic events in the opening, the play takes into account the perception of a good tragedy made by Aristotle. However, it could be argued that the seeds of tragedy in the opening are not necessary as this makes a tragic ending more unexpected and therefore the modern day reader may find this more exiting.