Analysis Of The Tragedy “King Lear” By William Shakespeare
King Lear, one of William Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, follows a society in a series of terrible events. As with all tragedies, there exists a tragic hero which, according to Aristotle’s theory “Poetics”, is a literary character who makes a judgment error that inevitably leads to his/her own destruction. The tragic hero is the character who possesses a fatal flaw that initiates the tragedy and all the sufferings that follow. In this play, the tragic hero is assuredly, King Lear. Kings Lear’s egotism, severity of his punishment and awareness/consciousness of his mistake are characteristics that qualify him to acquire the title of “the ultimate tragic hero”. Shakespeare conveys Lear as a tragic hero who ended up meeting his demise due to his tragic flaws.
As with all tragic heroes, Lear’s tragic fate was triggered by his lack of insight and heightened ego. Lear carries immense insecurity and egotism as he announces that he will offer the largest share of kingdom to the daughter who “doth love [him] most” (I, i, 50). He expects his three daughters to present him rivaling speech and declarations of love in order for him to puff up his ego more. Lear is looking for empty words and flatteries rather than true and honest affirmations of love. Goneril and Regan both proclaim in fulsome terms that they love him more than anything in the world, while Cordelia speaks from her heart in honest terms that she loves him exactly as a daughter should love her father. Valuing self-importance above all else, Lear is blind to the loyalty and love of Cordelia and instead, perceptive to the flattery of his two vile daughters, he banishes Cordelia out of his kingdom.
Lear’s lack of insight and blindness to realize Cordelia’s sincerity ultimately leads to his downfall. Furthermore, Lear is infuriated when Kent objects and protests to his decision of banishing Cordelia. Kent proclaims refuting the king’s decision, “Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least, / Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sounds / Reverbs no hollowness” (I, i, 152-154) Kent has insight and understands that Codelia’s words have expressed true loyalty to her father. He warns lear to see better and gain some insight. However, Lear’s huge egotism blinds and covers his sense of judgment. This fatal flaw of insecurity and egotism induces Lear to make error in his judgment, resulting in the improper division of his kingdom and the loss of his two most loyal companions – Cordelia and Kent. The consequences of Lears misjudgement error build up throughout the play, leading to Lear’s ultimate tragic fall.
Lear loses his authority, family and sanity due to hiss error of judgement and his lack of insight. His punishment exceeds his error. Lear loses his authority when he misjudges his daughters. He transfers his royal authority to his two daughters, Goneril and Regan, and they deceitfully use this power against him. Goneril no longer loves him “beyond all manner” and Regan no longer is “an enemy to all other joys” as they have professed in the beginning (I, i, 60 and 72). Instead, Goneril reprimands her father for the way his servants and knights have “infected” her home (I, iv, 226). Regan follows and insists that “The old man and his people/ Cannot be well bestowed” (II, iv, 278-280). His daughters no longer even respect him. Lear has now also lost his identity as a father, since he even confesses that “[He] should be false persuaded [he] had daughters” (I, iv, 216-217).
Troubled and confused, Lear reveals his weakened sense of identity and is stripped of authority as king and lost authority as a father over his own flesh and blood. He misjuddges Cordelia, hs only true daughter and has to live with the unwholly deserved consequences. King Lear’s banishment from his daughters houses, undoubtedly has tremendous psychological effect on him. The effect of Goneril and Reagan ingratitude is so profound on Lear that he looses his sense of his self and becomes insane. Kent tells us how Lear suffers on the heath: “all the power of his wits have given way to his impatience” (III, vi, 4). His children whom he gave everything have turned their back immediately on him when they got their promised land and power The theme of madness is explored deeply in Act III as King Lear is driven, to madness.
Lear’s madness is a result from the betrayal of his daughters.He has sincerely been led astray in his trust and loyalty and thus plunges into a darkness and a madness which the storm, the hovel, and the night quite literally and symbolically portray. Vividly Shakespeare portrays the transformation of man into storm and storm into man as Lear goes mad. Lear’s madness resulted from his daughters betrayal who he misjudges to be honest daughters. Lear’s tragic flaw lead to his own destruction and insanity. He lost everything including his own children. King Lear claims that he is a man “more sinned against than sinning” (III, ii, 58). This proves that Lear is a tragic hero because Aristolt explains that a “tragic hero’s misfortune is not wholly deserved and that the punishment exceeds the crime. It is true that Lear has made a mistake and misjudges his three daughters, but his punishment was unquestionably more severe as he loses his power, his daughters and his sanity all at once.
However, ironically it is through this suffering that Lear acquires ‘reason in madness’ (IV, vi, 162-163). It is through suffering that Lear is redeemed as a character. Through his physical suffering Lear experiences moral regeneration. Lear gains self-awareness and acknowledges his vulnerability.Lear’s madness changes him, as he starts to sympathize with Poor Tom, a homeless beggar in the midst of a horrid storm. Lear is in the same situation as Poot Tom, who is out in the cold rain with no home or shelter. He gains the capacity to empathise with others as he can see that the impoverished citizens of his kingdom stand no chance of survival. He realizes that he had the resources to help these people when he was in power but ignored them. He sheds his clothes and exposes himself to the elements in an attempt to identify with the most vulnerable in society (such as Poor Tom/Edgar): “Take physic pomp,/ Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel/ That thou may shake the superflux to them/ And show the heavens more just” (III, vi, 33-36).
Lear’s madness allows him tocomprehends the issue with much more wisdom and knowledge than before. Edgar Edgar is amazed by the fact that Lear is making these comments, as he is unmistakably insane. He even uses the statement ”reason in madness”, to perfectly explain the fact that Lear is proving himself to be more wise than before despite his insanity. This isn’t the only instance where Lear demonstrates improved wisdom throughout his spell of madness: Lear’s heroic status is underscored in his newly acquired humility as he acknowledges his mistreatment of Cordelia: “I did her wrong” (I, v, 21) and in his sincerity in trying to make amends. He acknowledges his foolishness and pleds for Cordelia’s forgiveness as he says, “Pray, you now, forgive and forget” (IV, vii, 84). Lear grows in humility and wisdom and ennobled by his suffering. He gains self-awareness, perceiving himself to be a “foolish fond old man” (VI, vii, 58). Lear’s anagnorisis underscores his essentially tragic status. This reveals Lear’s new regained understanding of himself and his admittance to his faults, a sign of the first step towards self-awareness and insight. The tragic hero, Lear, finally realizes his tragic flaws and uses the consequences to be insightful.
Lear misjudging his chilfren due to his blindeness ultimately lead to his loss of authority, family and sanity. But, through his insanity he realizes the errors in his ways and shows more insight and growsas a father. Shakespeare converys Lear as a tragic hero who possesses all of Aristotle’s requirements of a trgic hero. “It’s a tragedy, it’s a classic tragedy. In a way, he’s got a character flaw that is going to cause his destruction, and it’s not going to come from the outside; it’s going to come from the inside of him,” (Bennet Miller).
“King Lear” By William Shakespeare
King Lear is perfect William Shakespeare’s play that displays what power has impacts on those who wields it. It started when King Lear decided to divide his country to his children. As a result, it causes countless prices when he favored wickedness over truth. In this essay, I will be explaining in details of how power corrupts us to see the truth by using King Lear, Gloucester and Regan and Goneril. As a king, he has the power to impact on every person in his country. The power blinded him from the truth when he banished Cordelia. “My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty according to my bond;” According to this quote, it is true that we all love our parents because it is our duty to do so, but we cannot love them more than our bonds. King Lear failed to understand it and got angry towards her, giving her nothing and leaving the country to the hands of false empty flatteries, Regan and Goneril. A loyal servant, Kent, warned Lear, he was set aside. “When power to flattery bows? … Thy safety being the motive… See better, Lear; and let me still remain the true blank of thine eye.” In this quote, Kent told Lear to realize the truth and insisted him to be by his side to right his wrongs, but Lear refused to do so.
Meanwhile, the story tells us about Gloucester who has 2 sons. He also has a great power and wealth. Unfortunately, he was also blinded from the truth when he believed the Edmund’s lies. “If the matter were good, my lord, I durst swear it were his; but, in respect of that, I would fain think it were not.” In this quote, Edmund lied that Edgar was plotting against him and Gloucester believed him since he was afraid of losing his power and wealth. This led him to chase after Edgar and later being thrown into the street with his eyes grouched out. Only when he lost his sight and wealth, he learnt the truth about Edgar.
Regan and Goneril were both wicked from the start and the power boosted their evilness and blinded them. “As you are old and reverend, you should be wise…” The quote shows that Goneril is rude towards her dad whom should be taken care of, but she treated him with disrespect. When Lear went to Regan, she acted like Goneril. “I pray you, father, being weak, seem so. If, till the expiration of your month, you will return and sojourn with my sister, …, said Regan.” This proves that they no longer love or respect their father once they have power and no longer treated Lear as a father or a king. Power has even turn them against each other, ending them dead.
Overall, the story is the perfect example of misusing power. Both King Lear and Gloucester were powerful at the start of the story. Because of their misusage of power, they suffered greatly and blinded them from the truth. Even for the sister, power corrupted both of them, turning against each other and disrespecting their father.
King Lear By Richard Eyre
One of the William Shakespeare’s greatest play, King Lear, teaches us a valuable lesson of how power can corrupt people. Over the decades, there has been various types of movies narrated from the play. Although both the movie and the play have the same plot, the play is better than the movie directed by Richard Eyre. In this essay, I will be stating the similarities and differences of both and why the play is better.
The movie and the play display the characters effectively, showing their strength and weaknesses. For example; King Lear. In the play, we realized Lear’s stubbornness through his dialogues such as “Nothing will come of nothing… Come not between the dragon and his wrath…” In the movie, it was also shown by refusing to look and listen to his loyal servant. Also, symbols were used both to symbolize characters’ altitudes and feeling. One perfect example would be the storm which is present in the play and the movie. Enraged by the betrayal of his daughters, Lear left out of the castle and into the storm where he met with Poor Tom and admires him due to his lack of wealth. This represent the madness increasing in Lear.
Aside from the obvious differences such as the appearance of the characters and special effects, there are extra scenes that made the film to go off track of teaching a moral lesson. For example; Gloucester’s personality. In the movie, he acted differently from what we know him in the play as carefree and humorous person. “There was good sport at his making … This knave came something saucily to the world” shows that he looks down on Edmund, but he did not intend to harm Edmund with his words. However, in movie, he was uptight and harsh, giving no eyes contact to Edmund or joking with him. This is a huge let down since we would not feel sorry for Gloucester in the movie, compare to the play. As a result, we would learn that we reap what we sow in the movie rather than learning power corrupts people when they favor the wicked. Furthermore, there were many other clips that changed the story plot of the play such as Edmund and Cornwell plotting against Gloucester and Edmund pushing sick Regan aside.
According to the similarities and differences, the play is much more suitable and enjoyable to read. Not only it enhances our imagination, it also teaches us the true moral of the story that justice in the system. In the play, it is clearly stated who died and lived. “I might have saved her; now she’s gone for ever! Cordelia, Cordelia! stay a little…, said King Lear… Your lady, sir, your lady: and her sister by her is poisoned; …” The quote shows that in the end wicked died along with the good and it is impossible to tell which side won. However, in the movie, it ended with four corpses being taken into a tunnel which did not state who died.
Overall, the movie and the play were both successful in establishing characters’ personalities. However, the movie edited plot makes the viewer confusing and failed to teach us the true moral of the story. Therefore, play is more educational as it increases our imagination.
Gender Issues in Dora And King Lear
Gender and Sexuality in Freud’s Dora and Shakespeare’s King Lear
The central aim of Sigmund Freud’s work is to characterize and treat hysteria. In Freud’s theory, homosexual desire comes to prominence in every person’s life, and the role it plays differs in cases of typical and atypical development. In order to evaluate the symptoms and motives of a hysteric patient, Freud emphasizes understanding the role of homosexuality and homosexual desire in a patient’s life. In Freud’s psychoanalysis of Dora, it is clear that he would consider it reductionist to view Dora simply as an object with self-contained symptoms and hysteria. To the contrary, he examines her hysteria with respect to her personal relationships, motives, and desires. In result, Freud’s Dora reflects many of his beliefs about gender and sexuality. Similarly, Shakespeare’s King Lear is rich with themes of gender and sexuality. The purpose of this paper will be to examine Freud and King Lear’s respective presuppositions about gender and sexuality. To examine this, Freud and King Lear’s projections regarding Dora and Cordelia’s gender and sexuality will be of particular interest.
As the symptoms of hysteria have not been classified into a clinically recognized mental disorder, it is fair to say that Freud was dealing with issues of his time and providing input into the two-way street that characterized the patient-analyst relationship. By this model, the actions of the analyst and the expression of symptoms influence one another. Neither the development of psychoanalysis or the expression of hysterical symptoms occurred in a vacuum. Each was influenced by the other, and each was heavily influenced by the broader societal context in which they existed. In the same way that the expression of schizophrenic hallucinations reflects the input of the environment, so it is assumed that the expression of other mental disorders reflects the input of the environment. In this respect, the analysis of Dora exemplifies what Michel Foucault calls a discourse (Parker 271). In the two-way street that characterizes Freud and Dora’s relationship, it is Freud’s input that is of particular interest. The purpose of this analysis will be to examine Dora, and to describe what, specifically, Freud supposes to know with respect to gender and sexuality. In another sense, it will examine how Freud “produces the gender that it (he) purports to describe,” (Parker 271). Freud’s views of Dora’s agency with respect to her relationships and alleged desires betray his presupposed knowledge about gender and sexuality and will create the basis of this analysis.
From a feminist point of view, there is a nearly unlimited number of ways in which someone can exhibit gender (Parker 185). Similarly, in queer studies there are a nearly unlimited number of ways in which someone can exhibit sexuality (Parker 185). Freud’s perception of sexuality plays a significant role in the way that he sees patients. Freud alleges that Dora has both a strong homosexual attraction to Frau K, and a heterosexual attraction to Herr K.
In Dora, Freud’s view on sexuality seems to vacillate. It is unclear whether Freud views homosexuality in itself as a problem. Although his view on homosexuality isn’t necessarily accepting, he doesn’t seem to condemn it in itself, or view homosexuality in a grown person as anything other than a symptom of an overarching problem. In Dora, Freud writes that, “We shall also expect to find a stronger disposition to homosexuality in the nature of a neurotic. Indeed, this must be so, because I have never psychoanalyzed a man or a woman without noting a very significant homosexual current in my patient,” (Freud 51). From reading this, one gets the sense that Freud does not view homosexuality as anything other than a common symptom of a neurosis. In asserting the commonality of homosexuality, Freud goes so far as to say that, “It has long been known, and often pointed out, that in boys and girls who have reached puberty clear signs of attraction towards their own sex are normally observed,” (Freud 50). Freud’s statement does imply that homosexual attraction is a natural phenomenon. The implication that same-sex attraction is a natural tendency was likely seen as progressive in Freud’s time. Freud even states that his audience likely found homosexuality “repulsive” (Freud 42). In order to calm those of his readers which may be repulsed by his discussion of homosexuality, Freud writes that, “We must not forget that what seems to us the most repellent of these perversions, sexual love between men, was not only tolerated in a people as culturally superior to us as the ancient Greeks, it also performed an important role in society,” (Freud 42). By placing homosexuality in a historical context, Freud gently encourages his readers to be wary of their own negative assumptions regarding homosexuality. While in some places Freud seems refreshingly open minded about homosexuality, his association between homosexuality and mental disorders has likely had a stigmatizing effect. Additionally, Freud makes a major assumption about Dora in regards to her attraction towards Herr K. When Dora discusses the scene in which Herr K attempted to kiss her, it is Dora’s word against Herr K and her father’s word. Freud assumes that not only did Dora want this to happen, but it is a total fantasy. These two assumptions serve as expressions of Freud’s heteronormative assumptions. Because he figured Herr K to be a healthy and attractive man, it seemed unimaginable to him that there is a possibility that Dora was not aroused by him and did not desire his advances. Freud’s views on sexuality seem to assume both homosexual and heterosexual attraction almost indiscriminately. All things considered, Freud’s analysis of Dora seems to be heteronormative in part.
When compared to Dora, King Lear seems overwhelmingly heteronormative. If, “The naturalization of heterosexuality is the assumption, typically made without thinking, that everyone is heterosexual unless labeled otherwise,” (Parker 186), then arranged marriages are an expression of heteronormativity. In scene 1, act 1 of King Lear, the king of France and duke of Burgundy arrive to discuss their arranged marriage with Cordelia. However, arranged marriages are only a single expression of the strict, heteronormative conventions and social structure present in King Lear.
As with King Lear’s dynamic with Cordelia, Freud’s dynamic with Dora is one which is rooted in a power inequality. In effect, Freud reduces Dora’s ability to disagree to a nonexistent level. Likely, this occurs for Freud’s convenience and the continuity of his narrative. Ironically, Freud writes that “In reality, however-and I am anxious to describe reality here,” (Freud 50). Freud creates the smooth continuity that characterizes his writings and persona by removing the ability for anyone to disagree with him. To the contrary, disagreement only emboldens Freud in his hypothesis and theories regarding the patient’s personal life. He is not ignorant in his own use of this tactic, as he writes, “The denial that you hear from patients after you confront their conscious perception with repressed ideas confirms the repression and its firm establishment, and so to speak tests its strength,” (Freud 49). Freud is clearly using this logic to reinforce the unequal power dynamic. The less ability Dora has to protest, the more secure Freud’s position. In a similar fashion, King Lear holds his influence over the head of Cordelia in an attempt to limit her expression to a narrow range of possibilities. It is not Cordelia’s expression that King Lear is interested in, but in meaningless flattery. Cordelia does not present her love in the extravagant way that Lear expects, but instead says “nothing” (Shakespeare 164), and that she loves him only “according to my bond, no more nor less,” (Shakespeare 164). King Lear responds by refusing to give Cordelia any land. This exchange illustrates that King Lear evaluates the relative value of Cordelia and her sisters not according to their love for him, or his love for them, but by their propensity to flatter and adorn him in what ultimately amounts to a display of submission. To conclude, there are striking similarities in the way that gender is viewed in King Lear and Dora. In both, autonomy of a woman’s expression is denied by a male, who occupies a position of inequitable power.
Furthermore, King Lear tends to use his daughters, and women in general as punching bags for his misfortune. For example, in act 3, scene 2, King Lear blames his daughters for his misfortune, and accuses them of somehow being the cause of the storm that he is in the middle of. Lear seems to shout the following lines at nature itself.
“Rumble thy bellyful! Spit, fire! Spout, rain!
Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters.
I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness.
I never gave you kingdom, called you children;
You owe me no subscription. Then let fall
Your horrible pleasure. Here I stand, your slave,
A poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man.
But yet I call you servile ministers,
That have with two pernicious daughters join
Your high engendered battles ‘gainst a head
So old and white as this. O, ho, ’tis foul!” (Shakespeare 264)
In lumping his daughters in with the natural elements that are assailing him, King Lear shows the depths of insanity that he will go to justify his irrational belief that not only is the world against him, but that it is the fault of women. The play concludes on a particularly weak note as no women are left alive at the play’s close. In refusing to flatter her father, Cordelia bravely refuses to accept her expected role as a woman in spite of the consequences.
To conclude, the role of sexuality and gender are integral to both Sigmund Freud’s case history, Dora, and Shakespeare’s play, King Lear. In Dora, Freud’s views on both gender and sexuality heavily influenced the narrative that he developed, and the way in which he saw Dora and her relationships. In regards to commonalities, both Shakespeare and Freud use gender and sexuality as an explanatory style. Dora wanted Herr K’s advances because she is a young woman. King Lear is a in the middle of a storm because of his daughters. While in King Lear, social roles regarding sexuality are static, Freud views sexuality as more fluid. Although Freud is slightly more ‘modern’ in his views on sexuality, both works could be considered heteronormative. In King Lear, heterosexuality is assumed through the process of an arranged marriage for Cordelia. In Dora, heterosexuality is assumed in Dora’s feelings towards Herr K. In both works, the existence of an inequitable power dynamic resulted in a woman’s expression being confined to a set range of possibilities. In Dora, this took place when Freud disregarded her ability to say “no”. In King Lear, this took place when King Lear refused to listen to anything besides overblown flattery from Cordelia. From a feminist perspective, denying the agency of someone because of their gender could be seen as worthy of condemnation. In the sense that the expression of a certain gender is confined to a set range of possibilities, both King Lear and Dora reflect gender as a static entity, as opposed to an entity with agency. This view is diametrically opposed to the Poststructuralist view of gender, in which, “People may suppose to know that women move, talk, and dress in a certain variety of ways and men move, talk, and dress in a different variety of ways, but the discourse of gender (including the ways that people move, talk, and dress) constructs that knowledge through repeated actions and expectations,” (Parker 271). In comparing the views of gender and sexuality in King Lear and Dora to the theory of gender inspired by Poststructuralism, Freud and King Lear’s respective presuppositions about gender and sexuality become clear.
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.
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.