Representation Of Humans’ Weakness In King Lear
Thomas Edison, an American inventor, and businessman, once said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time” (brainyquote.com). In Shakespeare’s King Lear, Lear is guilty of being quick to give up on others, one of them being his daughter, Cordelia. In a similar fashion, Gloucester acts upon pride through his feelings of embarrassment toward his son, Edmund. Like all heroes in tragic stories, these characters have one fatal weakness — their pride. It seems that those who remain arrogant and cruel are the ones who end up stumbling into misfortune, pain, and ultimately death. Lear’s transition into madness illustrates the consequences of his ignorance and blindness; these character flaws ultimately led to his downfall and loss of the ones he loved most.
In the play, King Lear’s crisis is driven by a family quarrel, and Lear’s most traitorous subjects are his own beloved daughters. King Lear’s fall from grace is due to his impulsive decision making and his inability to consider the consequences of his actions. The opening act introduces Lear while he is deciding how he should split his land. He questions his three daughters, “Which of you shall we say doth love us most? / That we our largest bounty may extend” (1.1.52-53). When it is Cordelia’s turn, rather than expressing her love for Lear, she is honest. Ironically, Goneril and Regan are rewarded for their flattery, and Cordelia, who could not express her love for him was punished. The situational irony at this moment highlights the ignorance of King Lear and is amplified when Cordelia ends up being the only one to stay loyal to him. The two eldest daughters whom he had praised for their flattery actually ended up betraying him, as a result of his blindness towards their false motives. Lear’s inability to see the wrong in his decisions and the ulterior intents of others makes him vulnerable and easy to take advantage of. Gloucester falls into a similar conflict as Lear with his son Edmund, who is a constant reminder of Gloucester’s infidelity. He expresses his humiliation in response to Kent’s question, “Is not this your son, my lord?” (1.1.8). He admits in embarrassment, “His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge. I have so often blush’d to acknowledge him that now I am braz’d to’t” (1.1.9-10). The reputation of being socially inferior along with his father’s disapproval of him sends Edmund to seek revenge. Like the two eldest daughters, Edmund manages to fool Gloucester into thinking that Edgar was planning on killing him. Gloucester’s blindness lies in his lack of awareness to the duplicity of his own sons and his inability to see the falseness of Edmund’s accusations. In an instance of situational irony, Gloucester only manages to see the truth when his eyes are gouged out by Cornwall. In the end, Gloucester lets his weakness overcome him and he gives up by trying to kill himself by jumping off of a cliff. However, dramatic irony plays out in this scene when Gloucester does not actually kill himself because he was tricked into thinking that he was on the edge of a cliff when he actually was not. Both characters are flawed in their way of thinking and they allowed their blindness to consume them, resulting in their tragic fates.
In Shakespeare’s King Lear, both Gloucester and Lear seem to learn their lesson only when they realize what they have lost. In order for these characters to change, their eyes needed to be opened to the truths that had been masked before them. Blindness is a recurring motif throughout the story that stems as a consequence of the characters’ mistakes. Shakespeare uses this literary device by constantly reminding the characters to see. This can be demonstrated when Lear tells Kent to “get out of [his] sight” (1.1.165) and when Kent tells him to “see better” (1.1.166). The constant use of sight throughout the play is like indirectly implying that the characters need to take a second look, but King Lear and Gloucester cannot understand these warnings. When Gloucester states that “[he has] no way, and therefore [wants] no eyes” (4,1,2268), it foreshadows the moment when he would lose his eyes which would then ironically allow for him to see better. The turning point that drives Lear to madness is when he comes to the realization that he is at fault for entrusting his kingdom to the people that did not care about his existence. His fault lies in the fact that he did not see how naive he was because he chose not to see it. The pride from being king is what led him to believe that he is great and he is always right, which is why he also banished Kent, who took Cordelia’s side in the beginning of the play. Once Lear was willing to see how wrong and gullible he was, he came to the revelation that one’s blindness is not only the inability to see the circumstances but that blindness is also induced by the denial of reality.
The characters reach a closing when they each come to terms with their mistakes and continue on from them. The play ends in tragedy, with the loss of many characters, including that of Cordelia. Lear expresses his grief by questioning, “Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, / And thou no breath at all?” (5.3.3495-3496). The loss of the only person who truly loved him takes a toll on his happiness. Lear was not long ago reunited with Cordelia, but the tragedy of her death was necessary because it exposed the reality that pride not only affects oneself, but it also harms others. Suffering necessary for the characters because it is what prompted the desire to change. In contrast to Lear and Gloucester, Kent, Albany, and Edgar were characters that did not let pride consume them, and they all emerged as honorable men. Edgar showed his unconditional love for his brother even after all the evil he had done by offering a sign of peace: “Let’s exchange charity / I am no less in blood than thou art Edmund” (5.3.3323-3324). Albany showed selflessness by helping Lear and Cordelia when they had been captured. After the death of Lear and his three daughters, Albany gave his power to Edgar rather than claiming it for himself. Finally, Kent stays loyal to Lear even after being banished by disguising himself as Caius.
The tragedy known as King Lear demonstrates humans’ weakness is not by failing but by giving up. In relation to society, many are guilty of letting their pride and selfishness make them lose sight of who they really are. Once they see the truth, they feel defeated. And instead of emerging as a better person, some choose to give up on themselves as Gloucester had. Characters like Lear and Gloucester are pertinent, as they allow the audience to see the consequences of allowing pride and suffering to overtake one’s life. The support from Edgar, who was a Christ figure that ultimately saved Gloucester from his suicidal thoughts, represents the support of family. Edgar is a symbol that no one has to suffer alone and that the bond of a family can never be broken. The play ends in a depressed, sorrowful mood with many deaths including those who were guilty and innocent. Life does not always end happily ever after and the only thing one can do is to learn from those past mistakes.
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