The Dynamics in Relationship Between Lear and Gloucester
Through experience and suffering, one tightens one’s grasp on reality. In William Shakespeare’s King Lear, the characters’ impressions of their society change as their status changes. Lear’s and Gloucester’s views of their once perfect society is forever tainted when they see the corruption and deception that is going on around them. King Lear becomes a victim of corruption when all of his power and status is slowly stripped away from him by his two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan. Gloucester also witnesses the deceptiveness of his world when his bastard son, Edmund, betrays him and robs him of his possessions. It is only after their downfall that they discover how corrupt and deceptive the social structure is.
Lear realizes that he is flawed by the corrupted society. He answers, “Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality” (IV.vi.132) when Gloucester asks to kiss his hand and show him respect. Lear acknowledges that his hand smells, and cleans it. The fact that he “wipe[s]” it shows that the smell is a bad thing and it is not something that he is proud of having. The “smell” might be an appalling odor that he has acquired on the outside, or it might be something intrinsic; Lear is decomposing from within because he is emotionally distressed from the disrespect shown to him by Goneril and Regan. The “smell” is a physical indication of his spiritual corruption, which is caused by the deception. Lear is ashamed of his “mortality” because it shows his weakness. “[M]ortality” can mean that Lear is no longer a powerful king, and has been brought down to the level of just another human being. He, as a mortal, is subject to death like everyone else; death as a betrayal of the body is similar to Goneril’s and Regan’s betrayal of Lear. The fact that his own daughters turn against him shows the corruption in the society. Lear wipes off the smell of mortality because he realizes this, and is ashamed of it.
Even love is a part of the deceptiveness in Lear’s world. Lear, in his madness, tells Gloucester “No, do thy worst, blind Cupid I’ll not love” (IV.vi.136). Out of Lear’s madness comes reason: in this line, Lear thinks that love is “blind” because his love for his daughters prevented him from seeing their true intentions. He is also so flattered by the false love of Goneril and Regan that he cannot see how true and dear Cordelia is. When Lear says he’ll “not love,” he is implying that he has learned from his mistake and will not be deceived so easily again. Insanity thus increases his awareness of the truth. Love is perceived as a pure and genuine thing, but Lear finds out how deceptive it is in his world.
Gloucester notices how Lear is devastated by the corrupted society. He calls Lear a “ruined piece of nature” (IV.vi.133). According to the footnote, “piece” can mean either a “fragment” or a “masterpiece”. Lear was a masterpiece when he was a powerful and respected king, but now he is ruined by his blindness to his daughters’ deception. Now that he has become a victim of the corruption, he is a mere fragment of what he used to be. Lear is “ruined” when he loses Cordelia, his status, his kingdom, and everything else that was once his. He is both physically and emotionally destroyed by the injustice that was brought upon him by his own flesh and blood. Here, “nature” can refer to his society, or to the natural world. He was once the ruler of his own kingdom, but now he is only a part of it, and is subjected to others like Goneril and Regan, who are higher than him. If he is a part of the natural world, he is vulnerable to the chaos that may occur from the absence of regulatory laws or lack of authority. Either way, Lear is living in a world that is spoiled by the corrupted ways of its people. Gloucester realizes that Lear is a victim of corruption.
In the passage, the senses are disordered, suggesting that the social structure is damaged. The physically blind Gloucester answers Lear, “I see it feelingly” (IV.vi.146). Since Gloucester is physically blind, he has to “see” things by some other means. Now that he cannot “see” anything, he is not able to make quick judgments, and thus becomes wiser. According to the footnote, “feelingly” can mean “by touch” or “painfully”. Gloucester saying that he sees things by touch indicates that he has discovered how to use his other senses. His statement can also mean that he has come to a painful conclusion about what is going on in the society. Being blind helps him “see” things in a new perspective. He is able to observe who people are beyond the surface and gain deeper insight into the deceptiveness and corruption around him. With this new insight, Gloucester becomes aware of the false deference that Edmund showed him. Gloucester’s physical blindness symbolizes his and Lear’s emotional blindness to their children. They finally notice the corrupted social structure only once they lose everything.
Lear and Gloucester are no longer blinded by the corruption and deception going on in their society. Lear, pointing out the fact that Gloucester has no eyes or money says, “Your eyes are in a heavy case, your purse in a light, yet you see how this world goes” (IV.vi.144-5). Here “purse” refers to their wealth and eminence. Not having the money and status that they used to possess allows them to “see” how the “world goes” from a different perspective; they discover that their social structure is corrupted and deceiving and no longer see it as a perfect place they once lived in. Now that they are poor, powerless men, they witness how people treat those who are higher in status and those who are lower in status; Lear and Gloucester eventually notice how deceiving people really are and how differently their society treats them based on their status. The passage after this one shows that people’s wealth shields them from all the unpleasant things. If they have money and status, they are immune to punishment, and if they are poor, they are severely chastised for everything. When Lear and Gloucester were wealthy, they did not notice the corruption going on because they were protected from it by their high status. After Lear and Gloucester lose all their power and money, they see the reality of life. Gloucester and Lear must pay a heavy price to gain a different perspective and better insight into the social structure.
Lear and Gloucester are able to see the truth about their society only after they have been ruined. From their children’s false deference they learn how deceptive the social structure is. The anger that Lear felt when he was deceived led to his insanity, and from that he was able to see things much more clearly. Gloucester had to pay a heavy price for that deeper insight; he was physically blinded as a result of Edmund’s betrayal. When they had high status and wealth, they were shown false deference and were blinded from the truth, but as the two men lose everything, they gain a better understanding of what society is really like.
The Shaping of the Play by Settings
Shakespeare’s two plays King Lear and Macbeth take place in two contrasting settings that, from the first scenes, influence the characters’ paths and shape the course of the plays’ events. The action of both plays alternate between the settings of the harsh barren heath and the castle, where acts of malice are carried out. The heath and other natural settings are notable for being uninhabited and exposed to the severity of the elements, which are in direct contrast to the sheltered castles and palaces of the noblemen. As in many of Shakespeare’s plays, the natural exterior setting and the man-made interior architecture illuminate the inhabiting characters’ psychological states and inner motives. In addition, as the characters move in and out of each setting, they either rise to higher psychological understanding or succumb to the destructive power of their own minds. In King Lear and Macbeth, the heath serves as a ground of opportunity for the characters to gain insight into their desires and themselves as human beings, while their return to their castles always provides grim resolutions to any hope gained while out in the ruggedness.
As the site for banishment, the heath in King Lear strips the characters down to their raw selves and with the freedom they gain, they also gain insight and subsequently redemption. While they are wandering on the heath, the two characters who go through the greatest transformations, Lear and Gloucester, have had everything taken away from them and are left with nothing. They are but “uncovered [bodies at the] extremity of the skies” (3.4.100) at which “through the / sharp hawthorn blows the cold wind” (45). The desolate landscape and the old men’s desolate hearts have them at the ultimate state of nothing that pervades the play. It is in this state, however, that both characters come to see everything. Out on the heath where their previous positions of power no longer have no power, Lear and Gloucester have become “poor naked wretches” (28). Yet in this change, Lear has gained sight; he has not only realized that Regan and Goneril are where “madness lies” (21) – with Shakespeare punning on “lie” to refer both to the direction of madness as well as the sisters’ deception – and that as a king, he has taken too little care of his people (33), but he also arrives at the conclusion that “unaccommodated man is no more but […] a poor, / bare, forked animal” (105). By coming out to the heath, Lear has learned his greatest lesson of the nature of love and offers himself to the audience as a man on his way to redemption.
Similarly, Gloucester’s wanderings on the heath allow him to see what his previously existing eyes caused him to overlook. The disguised Edgar by his side opens for him many opportunities based on the barrenness of the land, such as convincing him that they are so high up on a cliff that “the murmuring surge / that on th’unnumbered idle pebble chafes, / cannot be heard” (4.6.20). The expansiveness of the heath and the freedom it gives the characters results in the little moments of appreciation for life that Edgar has instilled in Gloucester, which eventually lead up to Gloucester’s gratitude towards Edgar once he reveals himself.
In Macbeth, the heath is the setting of the first scene and continues to play an important role in the rest of the play. Although the heath and cavern are, literally, the brewing grounds for what can be considered evil, in contrast to the good that comes of it in King Lear, they nonetheless serve as grounds of opportunity. For Macbeth, opportunity comes in the form of ambition. The heath in Macbeth is foremost a natural place where the supernatural can thrive, which in turn results in the actions of the Macbeths as terrible as the heath is foul. A setting so foggy and filthy (1.1.12) is suitable for the witches “so withered and so wild in their attire, / that look not like th’inhabitants o’th’earth” (1.3.41). The alliteration in Banquo’s description of them emphasizes just how unsettling they might look. As Macbeth enters the foggy heath, his mind fogs up as well. This sudden psychological change is aggravated by the witches’ repetitive speech, as they exclaim, “all hail, Macbeth […] Hail!” (48-65) continuously. The confusion and curiosity Macbeth experiences as a man of great ambition puts him in a vulnerable state, ideal for implanting the idea of regicide into his mind. By contrast to the influence of the heath on characters in King Lear, the forces of the heath In Macbeth reduce insight, yet instill ambition.
Macbeth leaves the heath and is shortly crowned Thane of Cawdor, but left with “horrible imaginings” (1.4.141) and “dull brain” (153), yet “Vaulting Ambition” (1.7.27). His overwhelming desire for the power of king and his growing guilt that manifested itself in the form of Banquo’s ghost brings him back to the heath to a cavern in demand of more insight. His speech juxtaposes violent natural phenomena, such as “yeasty waves” and blown down trees (4.1.53-55), with the destruction of the symbols of human civilization, including toppling castles and sloping palaces (57-58). Such images of tumult reflects his inner turmoil, and possibly also the discord of breaking natural laws Macbeth causes as a result of acting upon supernatural prophecies to obtain power. Macbeth’s visit to the heath only fuels his ambition, however, as it presents him with further opportunities, and he leaves with murdering Macduff on his mind.
In King Lear as well as in Macbeth, the destructiveness of power can be seen through the characters who remain in the castle throughout the entire play. The castle is a setting of direct opposition to the heath. The castle represents civilization, social structure, and order, and Shakespeare uses the castle’s connection to humanity to depict the corruptive and disintegrating nature of power among people; Regan, Goneril, Cornwall and Edmund are never seen outside the castle. It is no coincidence, then, that these four characters are all ill-fated, for they each die at each other’s hands inside the castle. In contrast, the transformed Lear who has returned from the heath is willing to accept his fate in jail by sharing love with Cordelia. His new understanding of the inherent senselessness of power is seen in his vision of “wearing out / In a walled prison packs and sects of great ones” (5.3.17), whose deceit “ebb and flow by the moon” (18), a symbol of inconstancy.
If the heath in King Lear provides vision and the illusion of hope, then the castle destroys the latter, for Gloucester, Cordelia and Lear’s return to the castle only results in their deaths. The remaining characters are left with nothing – the same nothing Lear and Gloucester had when they were banished into the heath.
The two castles in Macbeth, Iverness and Dunsinane, are similar settings that depict the corruptive nature of power. Lady Macbeth, a significant female character in Shakespeare’s plays overall, never leaves the castle. Despite Macbeth’s nature being “too full o’th’milk of human kindness” (1.5.15) in comparison to his wife’s strong personality, the “thick night” (48) of the castle deems itself far more debilitating than the fog of the heath and of Macbeth’s mind. Lady Macbeth is so consumed by the darkness of her guilt and the castle that in her last scene, she holds a candle while sleepwalking for she must have “light by her / continually” (5.1.19). Her last lines indicate that she has succumbed to the enveloping darkness of the castle, for the “gate” (57) and her “bed” (58) are objects within its walls that are grand items belonging to people of power. She dies within the castle, while Macbeth, who is frequently out pursuing ambition, is able to die back on the battlefield.
As tragedies, King Lear and Macbeth both depict characters falling in and out of madness, which the setting directly parallels. The heath, with all its bleakness, offers characters freedom for development. It is healing in King Lear yet corruptive in Macbeth, for the opportunities it provides is arise from the characters’ minds. The castle, however, in all its grandeur, stands for power in society itself, with only the capacity for destruction.
Shakespeare, William, and Robert S. Miola. Macbeth: An Authoritative Text, Sources and Contexts, Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. Print.
Shakespeare, William, and R. A. Foakes. King Lear. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2004. Print.
Insanity n Correlation with Social Expectations in King Lear
In Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke described the effect a complete perversion of social order had on its citizens. He watched as the French Revolution shredded a monarchy, publicly slaughtered tens of thousands, and replaced the old order with a new one. Burke described how this fresh structure decimated the minds of many, so set in their ideals of social roles that a radical change could only drive them mad. Their resistance to a new ideal tore through their beliefs and shoved them to the brink of insanity. This same effect can be seen in the mind of Shakespeare’s King Lear. A man, an archetypal king, who was so immersed in his ideals of hierarchical social roles that any deflection from these roles pushed him to the outreaches of his mind. He had very little concept of the more natural human bonds that exist between people, the bonds that Shakespeare so beautifully defines. Because of this, when the roles he invests his life in shatter, Lear can only grasp the rung of insanity. From this insanity, however, he discovers the natural bonds that stretch longer and much more deeply between humans. King Lear’s madness was a passage that destroyed his ideal of the social role and replaced it with the discovery of the more natural human bond.
To understand this delineation, one must first comprehend Lear’s ideal of the social role. He is a king, or better yet, the king. Upon entering the play, Lear states, ‘Attend the lords of France and Burgundy, Gloucester.’ (I,i-34) His first words are a command, and are replied with, ‘I shall, my lord.’ Lear is to be unquestionably obeyed. His appearance in the entire first scene is grandiose. He makes large commandments, pulling out a map of his lands and dividing them between his daughters like a god. He even refers to himself in the implied collective, using the words ‘we, us, and our to refer to his own actions: Tell me, my daughters/ Which of you doth love us most,/ That we our largest bounty may extend… (I,i-51-52) He is ultimately self-centered, and justifiably so. Monarchical social roles hold the King at the very apex. His most apparent views of this hierarchy in roles are seen within the request just quoted. Lear demands that his daughters publicly display their competing love for him through speech. It is a ridiculous request from anybody but a King. What he is asking is inherently good; he is a father looking for the natural love his daughters should hold for him. However, he is attempting to embrace this love through the lens of his social ideals; that is, his daughters should express this love as subjects to their king. King Lear is obviously immersed in the ideals of a hierarchical order and the social roles this implies, the rejection of which will lead directly to his descent.
The descent into madness begins with the replies to the aforementioned request. His first two daughters respond with loquacious, false speeches about their unquenchable love for their father. Lear is extremely pleased by this, as the speeches fit his idea of his social role in relation to his daughters. These two daughters, Regan and Goneril, feel nothing for the natural human bond and are merely filling their roles. They receive their prize. Cordelia’s response, however, is far from filling a duty. When asked what she can say to draw a more ‘opulent’ response than the other two, she merely states, ‘Nothing, my lord.’ (I,i-88) Lear is infuriated. She is asked to explain. I love your majesty/ According to my bond, no more nor less…You have begot me, bred me, loved me. I/ Return those duties back, as are right fit,/ Obey you, love you, and most honor you. (I,i-93-97) She does not respond as a king’s offspring, but only through her ‘bond’ as a loving family member. It is an honest response, one Shakespeare uses to define the natural relationship between a father and daughter. Lear, however, cannot accept this and quickly banishes her from his life. He disclaim[s] all my paternal care,/ Propinquity and property of blood,/ And as a stranger to my heart and me/ Hold thee from this for ever. (I,i-111-14) Though he loved Cordelia the most, her rejection of a social ideal caused Lear to forever loathe her. Cordelia’s rejection, and Lear’s inability to accept it, was his first step onto the slippery slopes of insanity.
Other rejections of set social roles soon follow. When his most loyal companion Kent steps out of his role as merely a subject and argues with Lear’s rashness, he is exiled. Lear will not accept argument; ‘Come not between the dragon and his wrath.’ (I,i-122) In a matter of a few passages, Lear loses his most loving and loyal companions. And only because a couple characters stepped outside of his social ideals. He then requests that his two ‘loyal’ daughters house him and his hundred knights for the remainder of his life. This retention of knights despite his retirement furthers his downfall. His daughters will not house him along with a retinue of obnoxious knights. They do not follow their role as princesses to a king by disallowing this retinue. The fault here, however, lies largely with Lear. Trying to explain his need for the knights, he states, ‘O reason not the need! Our basest beggars/ Are in the poorest thing superfluous./ Allow not nature more than nature needs,/ Man’s life is cheap as beasts’s.’ (II,iv “259-261) Lear cannot accept life without affirmation of his place in the hierarchy. There is no reason for the knights other than his impenetrable idea of social order. Without this order, humans are merely beasts. This idea will change after his madness, but now he is destroyed. Regan and Goneril, lacking any type of natural familial bonds to their father, connive against him: ‘O, sir, to willful men/ The injuries that they themselves procure/ Must be their schoolmasters. Shut up your doors.’ (II, iv-297-299) This is not something one should say about a king, and certainly not about a father. They are acting as machines, embracing no love for their own father. Neither social role nor natural bonds are seen within the evil. And it rips Lear apart.
The social order crumbles. He is no longer a king; in the blistering tempest, ‘Here I stand your slave/ a poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man.’ (III,I-19-20) A social role reversal begins to twist Lear’s mind; as the fool states, ‘…thou mad’st thy/ daughters thy mothers…’ (I,iv-164-165) The reversal seen in his family spreads through Lear’s mind. In one of the most inherently ironic scenes of Shakespeare, a once-powerful king is bearing a wild storm with only a fool and a lying subject. Lear is self-destructing into madness: ‘The tempest in my mind/ Doth from my senses take all feeling else/ Save what beats there…’ (III,iv-12-14) His realization that he is not at the top of a pyramid has shattered him. Shakespeare’s epitomizing speech of role reversal is given through the fool’s mouth:
When priests are more in word than matter;
When brewers mar their malt with water;
When nobles are their tailor’s tutors,
No heretics burned, but wenches suitors
When every case in law is right,
No squire in debt nor no poor knight;
When slanders do not live in tongues,
Nor cutpurses come not to throngs;
When usurers tell their gold I field,
And bawds and whores do churches build-
Then shall the realm of Albion
Come to great confusion.
Then comes the time, who lives to seet,
That going shall be used with feet. (III,ii-81-94)
The speech portrays the ultimate reversal. The fool, a symbol of wisdom throughout the play, describes the crumbling social order that is so structured in the king’s mind. Lear’s entire world has been flipped, his ideals crushed, and he certainly has come to great confusion.
And then he changes. The madness that penetrates Lear’s core enlightens him. In the first acknowledgment of anybody else’s feelings that come from Lear’s mouth, he says, ‘Come, your hovel./ Poor fool and knave, I have one part in my heart/ That’s sorry yet for thee.’ (III, ii-71-73) It’s a momentous occasion; Lear has found a human bond between himself and his fool. He speaks not as a king to his subject, but as one friend to another. He tells Kent, ‘When the mind’s free/ The body’s delicate.’ (III,iv-11-12) The king knows he has discovered something new, something even more powerful than ranks, roles, and order. When he steps inside of the hovel, he sees the ragged condition a poor, insane man. Another epiphany smacks him: ‘How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,/ Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you/ From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en/ Too little care of this!’ (III, iv-31-34) A powerful revelation for an English king… A man who so shortly before cared only about his power and kingship now condemning himself for the conditions of the poor! Lear’s madness hasn’t been cured, it has altered him to a state of clarity. When asked by the fool to tell me whether a madman be a gentleman or a yeoman, Lear replies, ‘A king, a king.’ (III,vi-10-11) The poor man, whose life he earlier referred to as cheap as beasts, is now ordained with the title he once held so dearly for only himself. He is discovering the equality between humans, and the natural bonds that exist. He has realized that, Through tattered clothes small vices do appear;/ Robes and furred gowns hide all. (IV, vi” 162-3) This statement is in stark contrast to his defense of the hundred knights. The robes and furred gowns of his life, his kingship, hid from him the true bonds that exist within humanity. His idea of social order devastated, Lear’s new perspective is one of love, respect, and friendship.
Lear then applies this discovery of natural bonds to his most loving daughter. In one of Lear’s most heartfelt speeches, and in a moment of clarity, he tells Cordelia,
Be your tears wet? Yes, faith. I pray weep not.
If you have poison for me, I will drink it.
I know you do not love me; for your sisters
Have (as I do remember) done me wrong.
You have some cause, they have not. (IV-vi-72-77)
He has realized his horrendous mistake. His only feelings for his daughter are those of love. She is not the daughter of a king; she is his only love. He dreams about spending the rest of his life in prison, ‘We two alone will sing like birds in the cage./ When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down/ And ask of thee forgiveness.’ (V,ii-8-11) His earlier metaphor for himself as a ‘dragon’ is diminished to a ‘bird’. The ideal of the King and his followers has been utterly decimated, and all that’ left is a lonely father craving his daughter’s love and forgiveness.
The passage through madness was one of enlightenment. Like those watching the destruction of the social structure during the French Revolution, Lear saw his structured world crumble and those he thought close reverse their social roles. More importantly, the kingship he held so dearly was revealed to be a false idea. Lear realizes that ‘nature’s above art in that respect’ (IV, vi-86) Natural bonds are more important than artificial ones. Shakespeare isn’t denying the importance of the social bond; in fact, as Kent’s character depicts, social order and bonds are vital. However, complete adherence to these ‘roles’, with no respect for the more natural bonds between fellow humans, is ultimately destructive. We must embrace our natural love for another before we can respect the inherent structure of all societies – or possibly use that love to shatter this structure.
The Gap Between Generations
A key motivator to the horrific violence and machiavellian betrayal that is present in King Lear is inter generational rivalry. In modern England the older generation held power and authority over the young, yet in Shakespeare’s Jacobean tragedy one can see the younger generation, led by Goneril, Regan and Edmund through their attempts to seize power, and overturn the natural order. Contrastingly one too can also see representations of the younger generation being far less subversive, with even some characters in the younger generation being characterised by their quest to preserve the natural order and prevent further destruction to the status quo.
Goneril and Regan, two members of the younger generation can be read as highly subversive characters characterised by their threatening autocratic personas. This is something introduced in the very first scene of the play with the sisters deceiving Lear with ‘glib and oily art’ in the highly public ceremony before confirming to ‘hit together’ in a private duologue, a sign of the viciousness which shall characterise them till their deaths in scene V. A key example of the ruthless behaviour used by the sisters to destroy the status quo is in Act 4 with Goneril discovering that her husband Albany is reluctant to fight Lear and Cordelia. Goneril subsequently notes to Edmund that she must ‘change arms at home and give distaff / into my husband’s hands’. Here Goneril simultaneously rejects the status quo role of the obedient wife and reverses it. This gender role reversal comes through the suggestion of giving ‘distaff’ to Albany, a reference to the stick commonly used for the spinning of wool, thus aligning Albany, her husband with the domestic role in the relationship. Furthermore, this point is emphasized to greater extent in the Folio publication of the play where Goneril’s dialogue reads ‘change names’ rather than ‘arms’ suggesting that the roles in the marriage are so reversed that she should in fact be called the husband, and he the wife. One could consider Goneril’s lines here to be an attack at the patriarchal nature of English society at the time, a world where men held typically held the power over women something depicted in the first act of the play through Lear’s offering up of Cordelia to France and Burgundy, with Lear even claiming ‘her price is fallen’. Another example, of the sisters being presented as ruthless, selfish and set on subverting the status quo comes in their involvement in what many consider to be the most horrific scene in the play, the blinding of Gloucester. In act 3, it is Regan who first suggests a method of punishing Gloucester for his betrayal urging that they ‘hang him instantly!’, yet the brutality is further built upon by her sister demanding in sickening fashion that they ‘Pluck out his eyes!’, a medieval punishment typical for rape, perhaps because of the sight was a key sense in provoking men to lust. Further emphasis of the machiavellian individualism of the sisters is gained through harsh sounds of the verb ‘pluck’ mirroring that of the brutal action. This is too achieved in the Shakespeare’s manipulation of the blank verse, with the sister’s lines coming together to form a line of complete iambic pentameter revealing their brutal synchronicity. This vindictive assertiveness of the sisters would of been shocking to a Jacobean audience with renaissance models of femininity requiring women to be passive and submissive, a theory turned on its head by the sisters violence and aggression in their destruction of the status quo.
Whilst one must note the vicious tyranny of Goneril and Regan, to say that the entire younger generation are presented as ruthlessly selfish in their aim to overturn natural order would be overlooking the role that Cordelia and Edgar play in the production. Whilst Cordelia’s appearances in the play are rare, appearing merely at the beginning and the end of the play, she is characterised by her saintliness. Lear, for example, in Act 5 describes her voice as ‘ever soft/ gentle and low- an excellent thing’, this line is something one struggles to imagine Lear using in relation to his other ‘dog hearted’ daughters, with the adjectives providing relief in a play full of hate, and aggression. Furthermore, amid Cordelia’s reappearance into the play in Act IV scene VII, Shakespeare aligns her character with the sound of music, with Lear urging she come nearer where ‘louder the music there’ This association of character with music signals the sense of harmony and natural oder returned to Lear through Cordelia, further contrasted to the sounds of the ‘[storm]’ of Act 3 sounds used by Shakespeare to mirror the chaos and confusion brought to the kingdom by Goneril and Regan. This interpretation is exaggerated in the quarto version of the play with Kent and a gentleman stressing Cordelia’s feminine beauty and modestly alongside the pain she feels when hearing about Lear’s suffering. It is therefore commonplace for critics to describe her as the truest character of the play with John Cunningham noting that she carries out her ‘natural duty of protecting and sheltering Lear’, an act that would certainly present her in positive light in front of an audience of the time with her acts of obedience to her elders perhaps curing the anxieties of the Jacobean age in which social and religious change was prevalent with the medieval world and traditional assumptions being under intense scrutiny.
Edgar too is a character that critics such as Rebecca Warren have considered ‘an agent of justice’ whom through his protection of his Father Gloucester and rise to Royalty at the play’s conclusion, he rises above the malevolent actions of his brother and Goneril and Regan, restoring order back to the Kingdom. Some have deemed Edgar’s actions so bold in fact in his attempted preservation of the old order that Valentine Cunningham has labeled him ‘the male double of Cordelia’. In Act IV scene VI Edgar defends his father Gloucester, from the vicious new order presented her in Oswald demanding he let ‘poor volk pass’. In his defence however Shakespeare presents his Edgar’s remorse, something absent in the his brother and the sisters. This remorse is shown through the line ‘I am only sorry/ He had no other deathsman’. This is crucial in the understanding of Edgar as a just character, with revengers in Jacobean dramas such as Vindice in ‘The Revenger’s Tragedy’ having sinister motives, but Edgar is presented as a benign figure seeking justice not out of self interests but out of a sense of righteousness. Edgar’s rise to King in the final scene must be deemed appropriate, especially by the Jacobean audience at the time to whom the King was not merely royalty, but a ruler on behalf of God. It is fitting therefore that Edgar is one of few characters in the play who has committed no crime against his family or the state, never questioning the authority of his elders and taking action when necessary.
Edmund, by contrast is certainly an example of the younger generation’s malevolent side, paralleling many villains in Jacobean drama, he is furious about the ‘plague of custom’ regarding his illegitimacy that keeps him on the edge of society. Throughout the play he is uncompromising, machiavellian and vicious in his aim to overturn custom. In Edmund’s claim that ‘Nature, art my goddess; to thy law/ My Services are bound’ the audience gains an understanding of the principles to which Edmund shall operate by. Nature is a brutal, anarchic force and by mirroring himself to it, Edmund foreshadows the subversion of the traditional order he shall aim to achieve in the play. Shakespeare uses Edmund’s first soliloquy to show his thirst for the destruction of the status quo ‘I grow, I prosper;/ Now, gods, stand up for bastards!’. This line is crucial in our understanding of Edmund’s views on natural order given even the subtle use of plural ‘Gods’ rather than God demonstrating contempt for the typical monotheistic views of the time. Furthermore, the mid line caesura would provide emphasis for this crucial line with his controversial words ringing out across the theater. This has been replicated in many film and TV productions of King Lear with Edmund often shot in a close up whilst delivering this soliloquy, achieving a similar effect of encouraging the viewer to see how persuasive and passionate a villain can be. Whilst at the time, this line would of been highly shocking, amongst modern audiences these lines may raise sympathy for Edmund, given his clear wronging in society, however Shakespeare soon rids the audiences of these feelings through Edmund’s methods employed to pursue it. His ‘framing’ of his Brother, betrayal, and torture of his father are considered deeply sinful and shocking amongst any audience. In act III scene III Shakespeare uses monosyllables to strengthen and dramatise the brutal overturning of the natural order that Edmund intends through his plan to betray his father to Cornwall, when she claims that ‘The younger rises when the old doth fall’. This line is crucial in understanding the intergenerational rivalry as a key motivator of the play. In early modern England the older generation held power and authority over the young. This could lead some members of the audience to sympathise with Edmund’s desire to get some power for himself, if not necessarily the machiavellian tactics he employs to do so.
In conclusion, certainly members within the younger generation are presented as ruthlessly individualistic, and determined to overturn status quo, however, to say that this is true for the entire generation in the play would be overlooking the efforts of Cordelia and Edgar. These are characters defined by the struggle in the play to undo the overturning of order done by their siblings and restore status quo to Lear’s divided Kingdom.
Lear’s Tragically Unjustified Destiny
“Cordelia is about as far from being a Cinderella figure as it is possible to imagine. She is one tough, ruthless cookie, and utterly her father’s daughter.” Explore and discuss.
Cordelia differs from the traditional ‘Cinderella figure’ primarily because she does not in any way experience a sense of justice. Unlike in the Cinderella folk-tale, where good is rewarded and evil is punished, King Lear is devoid of all notions of ‘fairness’ at the hands of the pagan gods that many of the characters fatalistically call upon throughout the play. Lack of ‘poetic justice’ is seen by some as part of the ‘definition’ of a tragedy; King Lear takes this to the extreme. The end of the play brings with it a sense of absolute futility: Lear dies in a state of bewilderment, wondering what it has all been for, and bemoaning the injustice of life. He says of Cordelia’s death, ‘Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, / And thou no breath at all?’ (V:iii lines 306-7), and dies before he can find an answer. The mental state of despairing confusion in which Lear dies is more tragic than the death itself, because it amplifies the already huge sense of injustice. This is accentuated even further when seen in the light of Edmund’s statement that ‘The wheel is come full circle’ (V:iii line 174). The cyclical nature of life will cause the events of the play to be repeated unless something has been learned from them. Whether there is hope depends upon one’s estimation of Edgar’s character: I believe that the outlook is bleak.
While Cordelia undoubtedly displays traits that link her character to that of Lear, I think that they are fundamentally different on several levels, especially at the start of the play. She is stubborn and proud, like Lear, but importantly she is neither rash nor impulsive, and does not react in the extreme manner that he does when challenged or insulted. Whereas Lear’s reaction is to lash out and punish in order to maintain his level of power in a scene, shown by his banishment of Kent and of Cordelia in the first scene of the play, Cordelia has a more even temperament and is better inclined to try persuasion and sound reasoning in order to win someone over, as in I:i, where she argues with Lear as to the value of her love without becoming angry, but protests little when her fate is revealed. That is not to say that Cordelia is pliant – far from it. It is her strong sense of pride and an unwillingness to ‘devalue’ herself by playing Lear’s egotistic game which leads to her banishment and arguably precipitates many of the events of the play. These differing attitudes of wrath and persuasion are equally calamitous and ineffective in the context of the play: Lear’s anger is one of many personality flaws that cloud his judgement and encourage rash decisions, while Cordelia’s changeable stubbornness leads to her banishment, but does not cause her to contest the decision.
Although, morally, refusing to flatter Lear is the correct action for Cordelia to take, is undeniably admirable, and shows an impressive strength of character in defying the tyrannical king, it can also be seen as self-indulgent, arrogant and overly proud to contest and, effectively, humiliate her father in public. She would do better, knowing Lear’s likely reaction, to swallow her pride at this point and comply with the vain whim of an aging man, one who she loves dearly and presumably therefore would not have to lie to flatter him. Cordelia pretentiously picks up that the question posed her by Lear is not ‘How much do you love me?’ but ‘What can you say to draw / A third more opulent than your sisters?’ (I:i lines 81-2), i.e. ‘What can you say to better their flattery’. Lear misconstrues her answer, but she makes no effort to explain herself. It would be kinder to him for her to answer differently, saving him from his scheming older daughters, but Cordelia thinks only of herself at this point, selfishly preserving her integrity and moral dignity at all costs. Far from being a ‘Cinderella figure’ caught up in circumstances beyond her control, Cordelia can decide which route to take, and does so unscrupulously and unremorsefully.
Lear and Cordelia are therefore both egotistical, but in different ways. Cordelia is fervently protective of her dignity and honour; she uses personal pronouns nine times in lines 219-228 of act one scene one, during a speech that expresses concern not for that fact that she has been exiled, but that the true reason of her banishment is made known so that people may not think her guilty of an ‘unchaste action, or dishonoured step’ (line 224). Her concern is in the wrong province. Lear’s egocentricity is of a subtly different nature, as he thinks not in terms of purity but of ultimate power. Although the Divine Right of Kings did not exist in the pagan world of the play, it was a major issue for the Jacobean audience and manifests itself unconsciously in the character of Lear. In assuming that he can relieve himself of the responsibility of kingship while retaining the glory, power and respect, Lear shows that he is thinking only of himself and ignoring the inevitably disastrous results of splitting the kingdom will have for his subjects. His psychological problems begin when, having given up the post of king, he finds that he no longer holds the power that he is used to, and his usual method of solving disputes by punishment or exile is no longer possible. Not surprisingly for one who has been in control for so long, Lear finds the experience of being subordinate a testing one, and only after a great sacrifice on his part and that of others does he resolve his inner troubles. The difference between Lear and Cordelia in this is that she has insight at the beginning of the play, and foresees the coming troubles, saying ‘Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides’ (I:i line 276), but does not do anything, whereas Lear gains his insight too late, when it is of no use. They are both therefore tragically impotent, a feature common to many of the ‘good’ characters in the play in their different ways. One of the main themes of the play, and a problem which runs through the course of history, is the need for a compromise between Cordelia’s persuasive stubborn insight and Lear’s quick acting but unguided wrath. The opportunity for this medium seems to me to be lacking in the characters remaining at the end of the play, giving little hope for the future.
Cordelia clearly inherits some features of her personality from her father, as already mentioned, but her character as a whole is much more complete than that of Lear. She is part of the younger generation who are ironically far wiser and certainly shrewder than the majority of the older generation. However, for all this, they are ultimately no better. While she is not perfect, Cordelia does not suffer from inferiority complexes as Lear does after giving up his crown, and she has a strongly compassionate side. This feature is lacking in Lear until he recognises Cordelia once again in IV:vii. We see evidence in this scene and scene four of the same act of the love Cordelia has for Lear, a pure and ‘true’ love, as Cordelia says in I:i, the love which she was loathe to dress up in word play for fear of debasing it. She talks of ‘My mourning and important tears’ (IV:v line 26), and how ‘No blown ambition doth our arms incite, / But love, dear love, and our aged father’s right.’ (IV:v lines 27-8) this is an instance of pure, unconditional love, rare in this play, so full as it is of scheming and calculated feelings and expressions. Cordelia knows that in bringing an army to England she is treading a very dangerous path and her actions will likely be taken as an act of war, as a powerful ruler looking to capitalise on the disarray of a divided kingdom. Cordelia is stressing in these lines that it is nothing of the sort, but in fact a manifestation of pure and unwavering love for her father. One great tragedy is that Lear is responsible for Cordelia’s death: she is there solely because of him. Furthermore, Cordelia is killed just as Lear is developing a state of mind in which he can truly appreciate her love, so they are robbed of the good that comes of Lear’s madness. He says on being sent to prison, ‘We two alone will sing like birds I’ the cage. / When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down / And ask of thee forgiveness’ (V:iii lines 9-11). Lear doesn’t mind being in prison, as long as he is with Cordelia, and he has her forgiveness. The final cruel injustice of Cordelia’s death directly causes Lear’s death, because it renders his ‘rebirth to sanity’ as futile as the rest of the events in the play. Without her, he has no raison d’être, and he ‘faints’, as Edgar says. As Kent notes, ‘He but usurped his life’ (V;iii line 317): Lear was holding onto life through sheer force of will, and as soon as his will is broken, as it so utterly is by the tragedy of Cordelia’s death, his body expires as well.
Other examples of pure love such as Cordelia’s are France’s love for Cordelia, Edgar’s love for Gloucester, to a point, and the Fool and Kent’s love for Lear. This unreserved love is impossible for Lear at the beginning of the play. Certainly he is not completely cold, but the love he bears is heavily repressed, often confused, and even misplaced. This leads him to lash out and hurt those who he truly loves; his love is easily turned to hate, possibly because his arrogant egocentricity is in fact concealing a certain level of insecurity and fear of commitment. Lear’s role as king has meant that he has had to remain impersonal and removed from his subjects, and even from his family. He is unsure of himself in personal relationships, and needs to be told that he is adored, hence the apparently vain ‘love contest’ which starts the play. This need leaves him prey to self-advancing Machiavellian schemers like Goneril and Regan, and goes some way to explaining why he is a poor judge of character. The experience of madness, of being reduced to the ‘basest and most poorest shape’, as Edgar says (II:iii line 7), strips him of the complications of the kingly persona. It shows him what it is like to be ‘unaccommodated man’, to have only the things absolutely necessary for the sustenance of human existence, something he had no concept of before. The tragedy is that this comes too late: really Lear needed this knowledge when he was still king, as it is useless in his position after his ‘semi-abdication’. This knowledge does however allow him to be reconciled with Cordelia, if only for the very short while between their meeting and her death. The change in Lear shows us that there is a parental link at the source of Cordelia’s compassion, but the unloving coldness of Goneril and Regan lead us to believe that it must be a weak one. That Cordelia can be strong and yet compassionate is a major factor in determining our liking for her.
Unlike Cinderella, who was in effect an innocent bystander while predestined events shaped her life and her fortune, Cordelia’s existentialist attitude combined with her strong sense of duty and honour are key in determining the course of events, which amplifies the tragedy of her fate. Cordelia is a tough character, strong willed and somewhat self-centred like her father, but ultimately she is a better person than he at the beginning of the play, being insightful, loving and pure where he is blind, vain and corrupted by power. Indeed Cordelia is the only character with true power (she is Queen of France) that that power does not corrupt, and therefore the sole prospect for future peace and diligent rule in England. Edgar is too weak and stupid, and although he has improved to an extent by the end of the play, and shows that he can act quickly when he appears to slay Edmund, he lacks the insight required to make a truly effective ruler. His descent into a false ‘madness’ is the Shakespearean equivalent of burying his head in the sand, a tendency that does not bode well for his rule to come. This is yet another element of the tragedy of Cordelia’s death. It is the death of hope.
Character’s Journey Through Madness to Maturity
As one of the most significant moments in Shakespeare’s King Lear, the scene described in Act 4, Scene 6, lines 131-146 provides insight into the parallels within the play and offers a definition of true meaning through irony. King Lear is the focus of this passage, and it is here where he hits the pinnacle of his transition from madness to maturity. Furthermore, the passage reveals parallels between Lear and Gloucester, their children, and their respective situations. The two can be compared and contrasted to further a reader’s understanding of how they influence the play as a whole. Accordingly, Shakespeare’s use of language allows several inferences to be made during the course of the scene.
Lear opens the passage with the line, “Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality” (4.6.132), introducing the fact that he wants to rid himself of all traces of humanity. By doing so he brings himself to a “common” level, allowing himself to appear as though he has been fully overtaken by madness. Going insane has shattered his ties with the norm. This madness, however, serves as maturation in Lear’s case; finally, he realizes the mistake he made in banishing Cordelia. At this point in the play, Lear has hit the height of his insanity as well as the peak of his wisdom. He calls to his fool – the only person in the play from whom he takes advice – signifying their shared sensibility.
The transition to Gloucester shifts the point of view, as Gloucester thinks on a completely literal plane. “Oh ruined piece of nature” (4.6.133), he calls to Lear, remarking not only on his own glory, but on Lear’s, as well. His eyes have been gouged out of his head, and although he thinks he has survived a terrible fall, Gloucester is humbled by his mortality. He notes that “this great world / Shall so wear out to naught,” as though he and Lear are the only people in the world that have not been consumed by treacherous materialism. No one knows what is “right” anymore, and the world will inevitably rush towards an apocalyptic end because of the disappearance of morals and ethics.
Lear’s outlook has changed so much that Gloucester must ask, “Dost thou know me?” The maddened Lear responds to Gloucester by saying, “I remember thine eyes well enough.” Lear suggests that he remembers how Gloucester used to be, and notes that Gloucester cannot be easily fooled by physical perception. He says, “Dost thou squinny at me?” (4.6.135) when it is clear that Gloucester cannot use the power of sight to determine who is speaking to him.
Now that Lear has moved past appearances, he continues by saying, “No, do thy worst, blind Cupid; I’ll not love” (4.6.136). Lear refuses to love anyone again, even Gloucester – though he may think that he has some parallel with Lear. Regan and Goneril broke his trust, and Lear has realized that it was he who drove away the one daughter who truly loved him. Lear matures because of his realization about how Cordelia differs from her sisters. Gloucester relates to this because it was Gloucester’s poor judgment that caused his good son, Edgar, to leave. Both Lear and Gloucester were manipulated by children that did not truly love them, underscoring the theme of appearance versus reality.
Later in the passage, Lear edifies Gloucester by telling him to “Read /thou this passage. Mark but the penning of it” (4.6.136-137). Vision in King Lear is often skewed and untruthful. Multiple times the words “eyes,” and “see” appear in a passage, yet contradict their literal meaning and impose closer, emotional attachment. Gloucester must use his heart and mind to see the reality of his loved ones and the world that surrounds him. Here, however, he fails to grasp this point and retorts with the line, “Were all thy letters suns, I could not see” (4.6.138).
Shakespeare’s playful mention of Edgar in the passage provides another parallel with the rest of play. Edgar, who is the rightful son of Gloucester, has hidden himself from his father, recalling how Cordelia has been banished by her father. He speaks in a saddened tone, “I would not take this from report. It is, /And my heart breaks at it” (4.6.139-140). Edgar, like Cordelia, has only true love for his father. He leads Gloucester off a cliff so that his father will believe that it is his divine right to survive. Edgar, like many other characters in the play, takes on multiple guises to establish a relationship with his father. As Poor Tom he induces compassion in Gloucester, and then aids Gloucester and Lear as the Fool. Edgar also becomes a nobleman who teaches his father the value of life after leading him off of a cliff.
Although Cordelia does not pursue a near-death experience or disguise herself for her father’s benefit, she does parallel Edgar by constantly ensuring that she is updated on her father’s status. Kent is Cordelia’s messenger, just as Poor Tom is Edgar’s connection to his father. She and Edgar are unlike Goneril, Regan, and Edmund; their siblings do not care about their fathers’ conditions, and scheme to rid the great men of their power.
Lear also exhibits his newfound maturity to Gloucester when he says, “are you there with me?” However, Lear’s statement suggests that Gloucester is prioritizing wealth over what is truly important: how he defines himself. Lear tells him that “Your eyes are in a heavy case, your purse in a light.” This imagery suggests that were he placed on a scale, Gloucester would find that his wealth and social standing would outweigh his physical being. The fact that Lear is trying to rid Gloucester of his shallow nature reveals that Lear has found meaning in life, and is finally able to understand the difference between what is seen and what is meant.
The focus of this passage is on Lear’s sudden maturation. The irony inherent in the fact that his maturity arises as a consequence of his madness is revealed through his relationship with the Fool. As in most of Shakespeare’s plays, the Fool is the wisest character of all, bestowing truth and knowledge onto the King. As mentioned previously, the Fool, the King, and Edgar are connected by parallel ideas of maturity through madness. Lear is the prime example of this, as he finally understands the implications of his decision to favor Goneril and Regan over Cordelia. Gloucester’s reconciliation with Edgar does not occur until the end of the play, but this passage serves to foreshadow that event.
Shakespeare’s King Lear is a prime example of the theme of appearance versus reality. The real truth lies within what most people would disregard as insanity, capturing Shakespeare’s ability to use irony to suggest that judgment should not be based on appearances.
A Theme Of Blindness Versus Insight In King Lear
The characters in King Lear are what make up the themes, the plot and the story. In this novel, a reoccurring and relevant theme is blindness versus insight. “There’s a big difference between good, sound reasons and reasons that sound good.” this quote vocalized by J. Lyman MacInnis applies to King Lear and other characters in this book. The quote refers to the contrast between a reason an individual may think is good and a reason that is good and this connects to various characters bad reasoning, decision making, and blindness which has led them to their own destruction and downfall.
In the first act, King Lear is introduced as a raging angry man, who is blind to see the truth and honesty in Cordelia’s love, his youngest daughter out of three. Cordelia refuses to display love and affection to her father in public and deceive like Goneril and Regan did to gain his affection and favoritism. He ends up giving up the kingdom to Goneril and Regan and refuses on giving Cordelia his kingdom. “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty According to my bond; no more nor less.” “Good my lord, You have begot me, bred me, loved me… Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters, To love my father all.” These quotes from Act 1 displays Cordelia being loyal and honest towards her father and she tells him that she will always be there for him no matter what and that she loves him as any daughter should. Even Kent recognizes and sees the truth in Cordelia’s love and tries to open Lear’s eyes to see more clearly. Kent trying to get Lear to look and see better portrays Lear’s metaphorical blindness in the play. King Lear is blind and deceived from Regan’s and Goneril’s fake love that Cordelia’s love and affection appear to be nonexistent in comparison. His irrational thinking and poor reasoning lead to his downfall and madness later on when he decided to divide his land in two and gave one half each to his manipulative and deceitful daughters. Clearly, Lear didn’t think through his decision wisely and suffered the consequences of giving up his power further in the novel. Lear serves as a form of walking reminder of the tragic errors of blindness that he’s committed.
Blindness versus insight is a reappearing theme in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Blindness and poor decision making has led the characters of King Lear to total chaos and destruction. The blindest character of all was unquestionably King Lear. King Lear is a prominent example that novel incorporates this theme into. The root of all Lear’s problems is based on his lack of good judgment. The tragic decisions and mistakes that King Lear made in misunderstanding his daughters established a type of figurative blindness — a lack of insight into the true characters of those around them. King Lear and other characters in this novel lack of insight have created the themes, conflict, and plot that makes up the story.
A Theme Of Redemption In King Lear
In King Lear, William Shakespeare displays two similar characters with many vices. Lear is a foolish, gullible king who has many tragic flaws including moral blindness, vanity and greed. Furthermore, Gloucester is an egocentric man that suffers from moral blindness and is living in his sin of adultery. Both characters lack in reason and restraint but ultimately go through an alike journey of loss to reach redemption. Through their loss of privilege, alienation and suffering Lear and Gloucester are able to acknowledge all their vices and take responsibility for them which ultimately allows them to redeem themselves.
Lear and Gloucester are both men who have lived with status and with that comes a great deal of privilege. Only recently released of his role as a king, Lear continues to want status so he wishes for 100 knights, but his evil daughters reduce his knights to nothing and Lear is forced into the wilderness. In the wilderness, Lear gets a glimpse into the life of the poor and begins his journey to redemption. Lear says, “Poor naked wretches…O, I have ta’en too little care of this!” Lear, realizing the horrible conditions the poor are living in admits that he did not take care of the poor as a king, he begins to realize his flaws as a king as well as care for others eliminating his vanity. Likewise, Gloucester is deceived and betrayed by his son Edmund who claims his title as well as his sight. This loss of privilege triggers something inside Gloucester which allows him to see how poorly he treated the poor, Gloucester says,
“He has some reason, else he could not beg.
I’ the last night’s storm I such a fellow saw,
Which made me think a man a worm. My son
Came then into my mind, and yet my mind
Was then scarce friends with him. I heard more
Gloucester admits that he regrets calling the poor man he saw a worm as he did not acknowledge his condition, he recognizes his moral blindness and begins to change his outlook on those of lower class. Through this loss of status, Lear and Gloucester are able to appreciate the world beyond the privileged one they know and take a step towards redemption.
Lear and Gloucester are betrayed in the play by their children which leads them to be alienated from society. Upon finding out that Goneril and Regan have reduced Lear’s knights to nothing Lear rages in the storm and says, “I am a man more sinned against than sinning.” Lear acknowledges that he has sinned but also that he has made many mistakes as a parent which made his daughters evil and thus allowed them to sin more against him. Lear takes responsibility for his role in making Goneril and Regan evil which is supported by his earlier speech in which he says, “But yet thou art my flesh, my blood, my daughter; or rather a disease that’s in my flesh, which I must needs call mine.” Lear is able to understand his misconduct which consequently brings him closer to redemption. Similarly, once Gloucester gets his eyes plucked out he isolates himself in Dover and says, “If I could bear it longer and not fall to quarrel with your great opposeless wills, my snuff and loathed part of nature should burn itself out. If Edgar live, O, bless him!”. Gloucester realizes the wrong in his sin of adultery and recognizes that his sin and lack of restraint, the loathed part of nature, should be burnt. He also realizes that he did not treat Edgar properly as he was quick to believe Edmund without any reasonable information. Taking responsibility for his wrongdoings leads Gloucester further along the path of salvation. As a result of their alienation, Lear and Gloucester become aware of their mistakes as people and as parents and it prompts them to move towards redemption.
Lear and Gloucester each experience a type of suffering, where Gloucester deals with physical suffering, Lear deals with psychological suffering however both types allow the characters to realize all their vices. After being deceived by his daughters Lear undergoes a lot of psychological suffering while trying to understand how he got to this point which rids him of his moral blindness. Lear says, “Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art. Off off, you leadings! Come, unbutton here.” Lear is looking at Edgar and realizing that an unaccommodated man is what a true human is, not disguised by the things of civilization, and consequently is able to see all his vices. Now recognizing all of his vices Lear tears off his clothes metaphorically casting off his vices and bringing him to redemption. Whereas, Gloucester gets his eyes plucked out after being betrayed by his son Edmund and endures a great deal of physical suffering which allows him to regain his moral sight. Gloucester says, “I have no way, and therefore want no eyes; I stumbled when I saw.” Gloucester realizes that when he had his sight he did not morally see and made many mistakes. The physical removal of his eyes allegorically represents the removal of his vices and allows Gloucester to finally reach redemption. The suffering of Lear and Gloucester, although different, allowed them to realize all their vices attain salvation.
It is evident that through Lear and Gloucester’s loss of privilege, alienation and suffering, one can attain redemption. Once a character with many tragic flaws, Lear is able to realize his vices and change to redeem himself and ultimately die an honourable death. Moreover, Gloucester a man ignorant of the wrongness of his sins and suffering from moral blindness is able to go through a similar journey as Lear and once he redeems himself dies when and how God intended him to. In King Lear, William Shakespeare uses the characterization of two alike characters to emphasize how loss allows even the most vice-filled people to transform and redeem themselves.
Analysis Of How Characters In Shakespeare’s King Lear Are Responsible For Their Actions
William Shakespeare’s King Lear follows the philosophy, that ultimately we all control our own destinies. All through life, one will in general experience changes dependent on choices they make that lead them to how they came to be. A poor judgement of character refers to the inability to tell whether an individual is genuine, solely based on a characters opinion. The character fails to own their wrongdoings, never feeling responsible. The definition of blindness usually refers to a literal or figurative inability to see. Shakespeare puts this recognition to address when he utilizes visual impairment as a reason for debasement in his play King Lear. The visual impairment utilized by Shakespeare is to a lesser degree a physical blemish than it is a psychological one, with hindrances, for example, absence of sensible judgment and indiscreet activities. An example of the blindness Shakespeare uses in today’s society is when you love someone and cannot see any fault or wrongdoing as a result of the depth of your love. In the following essay, we will be looking into King Lear, and the portrayal of how Characters in Shakespeare King Lear are responsible for their actions and the choices they make throughout the play, by first looking at his judgement of character, further elaboration and qualification will be made looking into his portrayal of blindness, and lastly, how he acts on anger, allowing his judgement to be clouded by indignation.
Firstly we must assess the extent of Lear’s own responsibility for his downfall, through his actions and character shortcomings. A subject noticeable in the play is that of ‘judgment of character’, and it is in the ‘affection test, and it is in the ‘love-test’ of the opening scene that Lear’s judgement of his daughters is tested. The two elder, Goneril and Regan, behave in an obsequious way in order to gain advantage towards their father, claiming
“Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;
Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;
No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour;
As much as child e’er loved, or father found;
A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable;
Beyond all manner of so much I love you.”
Cordelia merely says,
‘Miserable that I am,
I can’t hurl my heart into my mouth.
I adore your greatness as indicated by my bond;
no more nor less”.
Lear neglects to understand that this articulation is increasingly legitimate and basic than those of Goneril and Regan. His actions in the first scene cause a move of intensity among Lear and his two residual daughters and appear to shape the establishment for his fast approaching ruin. By banishing Cordelia he debilitates as opposed to fortifies his control over his daughters, as Goneril and Regan are now well-placed for their struggle for supreme power. All through the play, King Lear is continually searching for clarification from his girls, requesting that they demonstrate to him the amount they adore him. Lear constantly looking for qualification, he poorly judges his daughters character’s, not realizing there is a possibility his daughters are not truthful, which does happen. He is to blame for not seeing this, being naive to the fact he has been deceived.
Secondly, Lear’s lack of self-knowledge and understanding is often presented through ‘sight’ and ‘blindness’ imagery. When wronged or challenged, Lear dismisses them with ‘Out of my sight’, marking his refusal to look on those who have questioned his judgement. Moments before his banishment, Kent urges the King to reconsider his rash actions, ‘See better, Lear.’ and then adds ‘let me still remain/the true blank of thine eye’ – that Lear will begin to see things accurately by looking through Kent. When one of Lear’s servants, Kent, says
“And in thy nest consideration check this hideous rashness.
Answer my life, my judgement,
thy youngest daughter does not love thee least,
nor are those empty-hearted whose low
sound reverb no hollowness”.
Lear is being naive and not seeing that he is pushing the people that care and love him the most away, and keeping the people that are lying to him, like his two other daughters are Cordelia has his told her father how much she loves him. Her speech is honest, but less persuasive than her sisters’. He banishes her from his sight and from the kingdom altogether. When Lear’s faithful servant Kent tries to reason with him Lear also banishes him. Kent tells him to ‘See better’ meaning that he needs to open his eyes to the mistake he is about to make. Lear later regrets this as his other two daughters betray him. Lear is blind to things right in front of him, his blindness and stubbornness adds to the reason he is responsible for his actions throughout the book. It can be argued that King Lear’s blindness was the direct reason behind his entire downfall and tragic death. His blindness led him to the decisions he made, and his blindness being a part of an individual’s whole self, further explains Lear’s responsibility for his actions.
Lastly, this essay will discuss the nature of a person, specifically how King Lear acts on anger and how ones upbringing plays a significant role in how they act and respond, making them responsible for their actions, simply a character flaw very person has. The downfall of Lear starts at the beginning of the play, when he rejects his favourite daughter, and hands the kingdom to his other two daughters. In fact, fate backfires on Lear, and is given to the good, which includes Kent and Albany. When Lear says, “The terrors of the earth! You think I’ll weep. No, I’ll not weep”, he is saying that in spite of the punishments he has gotten, he is trying to not let it get to him, still managing to keep himself sane. King Lear is the only person who can be accountable for his own decisions. Lear tends to act very impulsively throughout the play, acting out of anger. Examples of this can be when he gets angry and banishes his loyal friends and family, cursing the Gods and even killing a guard. Lear has issues with controlling his rage, which contribute to his misfortunes. He refers to himself as a dragon at the opening of the book. If Lear had been able to manage and control his anger better, many mistakes could have been avoided. ”Peace, Kent! Come not between the dragon and his wrath.’ In this line he is referring to himself as a dragon. A dragon is a symbol of evil, representing acting on anger and someone in need of strength. King Lear is to blame for his own downfall, because he is temperamentally wrathful and arrogant. Lear dividing up his kingdom and resigning power, also factors into his downfall, decisions he made, and he is to blame for. He fails to realize he is to blame for any decision, first blaming his daughter Cordelia, next General and Regan, and lastly the Gods, referring to himself as a ‘poor old man’. He neglects to take blame for seeing his own faults.
Throughout the book King Lear by William Shakespeare, by analyzing King Lear we see how characters are responsible for their own actions, through poor judgement of character, blindness, and how these are connected to a person as a whole. William Shakespeare’s King Lear follows the philosophy that in the end, we all control our own destinies, resulting in each character being responsible for their actions. King Lear’s downfall is believed to be the fault of his two malicious daughters, Regan and Goneril. However, it is in fact the fault of King Lear himself for his misfortunes due to his poor judgement of character, blindness, and how he acts on his temporary anger. King Lear is responsible for any actions he made, and although he fails to realize it, he is to blame for his downfall.
Subversion Of The Old Order In King Lear By William Shakespeare
The tragedy ¨King Lear¨ by William Shakespeare, allows us to delve into different topics that were present in The Early Modern England. One of them is the ability to dramatize the breakdown of Providentialism. King Lear successfully managed to accomplish it in various ways. At the same time, other characters displayed their way of challenging the old order. Throughout this essay I am going to explore aspects, reasons and consequences of character behavior and, finally, conclude why and how the old order is subverted.
Lear´s tendency to believe that gods are going to take his side leads him to take abrupt decisions about giving away his inheritance. The idea of praising gods, reveals the true nature of Lear, which shows signs of blasphemy, as he swears by different gods, ¨Now, by Apollo¨. He expects that the higher power will lead his daughters to pay for the betrayal and greediness, but meanwhile he is allowed to turn his daughters into objects of his discipline. Yet when Kent tries to enlighten Lear that his decisions have gone awry, Lear stubbornly takes it as Kent being disrespectful and warns him, ¨That thou hast sought to make us break our vows¨. Lear also dramatizes the breakdown of Providentialism, when giving up his inheritance while he is still alive. The Fool, on the other hand, warns him of his possible foolishness and its consequences, ¨Fortune, that arrant whore, / Ne´er turns the key to th´poor¨. However, as the play progresses so does Lear´s `perception of the reality. He starts to acknowledge that gods are not treating him as goodly as expected and claims, ¨you see me here, you gods, a poor old man¨. In addition, Lear starts to question his existential matters, as gentleman say about Lear, ¨Bids the winds blow the earth into the sea / Or swell the curlèd water ‘bove the main, / That things might change or cease¨. It leads Lear to think that gods are indifferent to humanity, ¨as flies are wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport¨. Unfortunately, only by losing everything, he is capable of admitting the reality as it is, ¨He finds truth only in madness, which represents the upheaval of the semiosis he has rejected.¨
Furthermore, some of the characters challenge the old order. For instance, Lear is misogynistic and he discriminates women. He wishes to fathom the daughters love and intentions in terms of materialistic forms. Lear gives away his inheritance to daughters that are gifted to speak, but has no good intentions. Lear acknowledges betrayal claiming, ¨O, how this mother swells up toward my heart! / Hysterica passio, down, thou climbing sorrow! / Thy element’s below! — Where is this daughter? ¨, showing disgust towards women and calling them a sickness. Moreover, Cordelia is not capable of expressing her love verbally and thinks to herself, ¨What shall Cordelia speak? Love, and be silent¨. Cordelia has her own principles and wants to be honest, in this manner she challenges the old order and is seen as disrespectful by her father and other characters. Edmund goes against the Providentialism by acting selfish and being a complete ¨bastard¨. Although not a reason to be excused, he acts these ways, because his father has been disrespectful and mocking him many times as Gloucester claims, ¨I have so often blushed to acknowledge him that now I am brazed to it¨.
At the end of the play the old order is most likely to be subverted, taking into account that characters that challenge it, dies with their values. With Lear´s death, the values cannot be passed forward or re-established. This is because Edgar, who takes the crown, has played many roles in the play and has shown different sides of him as being honest and powerful man, later on he acts inadequate ways, hiding as poor Tom and not revealing his personality to his father as he says, ¨You´re much deceived. In nothing am I changed / But in my garnments¨. His actions were not always fair to others and sometimes were full of uncertainty, which leads us to ambiguity of the order that Edgar would establish.