King Lear from Marxist viewpoint
In the world, there are many different outtakes on society. One of them is a Marxist view of the world. A Marxist believes capitalism can only thrive on the exploitation of the working class, but more importantly, creates a mentality towards society of “us and them”. While reading the play King Lear, a Marxist would consider it to be a reflection on the focus of traditional feudalism versus the “new” capitalism. King Lear in this play is an absolute monarch who has lost touch with his people and with his own understanding.
The Marxist reading would attempt to take an understanding to the play with the idea that the rich are hindered by their material goods, and must drop to the level of the poor to understand the truth. At the beginning of the play, King Lear himself represents monarchy in it’s purest sense of absolute power. Lear along with Gloucester represents the “old order”, the royals who demand loyalty and service to themselves.
These characters believe in obedience from their subjects, and when they do not receive this, they become enraged and throw their power around. The first example given in the play is when King Lear does not receive an answer that he wanted from his daughter Cordelia in the “love test”. Lear immediately disowns and banishes her from the kingdom. When his loyal servant Kent sticks up for Cordelia and questions the actions of the king, he is banished. Similar to Lear, when Gloucester suspects his son Edgar is untrustworthy, he also flies into a rage. This Marxist view would also look at Lear’s realization of this in Act 3 Scene 4, that he has taken “too little care” of the “poor naked wretches” in his kingdom. These examples further would have a Marxist consider King Lear to focus on Lear as a feudal lord whose concern for personal power led either to unfair relationships with his subjects or straight up neglect.
At the same time, Gonerill, Regan, Edmund, and Cornwall have similar characteristics to the middle class, who rise to competition with the feudalists for power. The “middle class” had a different, realistic view compared to the feudalists. For example, in the conversation with Gonerill and Regan, Lear wishes to age with the dignity and respect he had as king, but also to keep his hundred knights, as they were one of the few placeholders of authority that Lear had left. On the other hand, Gonerill and Regan both saw the “riotous knights” as rowdy and unnecessary, trashing their castles rather than a need. Overall, both daughters ignore the “effects of courtesy, dues of gratitude” that shapes the feudal system which Lear follows.
Cordelia compared to the other daughters is viewed positively by a Marxist, as she is the most humane of all the characters at the beginning of the play. The audience is encouraged to have empathy for her due to her unjust treatment by her father and secondly by how positive the other characters view her. Kent prays, “The gods to their dear shelter take thee”, while the king of France, who has then married Cordelia, says that he would marry her even without her dowry. It is obvious to the audience that compared to her sisters’ speeches, Cordelia’s love is true, which is why “no words can truly describe my love”.
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