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Shakespeares king lear

Shakespeare's King Lear

Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear is a detailed

description of the consequences of one man's decisions.

This fictitious man is Lear, King of England, who's

decisions greatly alter his life and the lives of those

around him. As Lear bears the status of King he is, as one

expects, a man of great power but sinfully he surrenders

all of this power to his daughters as a reward for their

demonstration of love towards him. This untimely abdication

of his throne results in a chain reaction of events that

send him through a journey of hell. King Lear is a

metaphorical description of one man's journey through hell

in order to expiate his sin.

As the play opens one can almost immediately see that

Lear begins to make mistakes that will eventually result in

his downfall. The very first words that he speaks in the

play are :-

"...Give me the map there. Know that we have


In three our kingdom, and 'tis our fast intent

To shake all cares and business from our age,

Conferring them on younger strengths while we

Unburdened crawl to death..."

(Act I, Sc i, Ln 38-41)

This gives the reader the first indication of Lear's intent

to abdicate his throne. He goes on further to offer pieces

of his kingdom to his daughters as a form of reward to his

test of love.

"Great rivals in our youngest daughter's love,

Long in our court have made their amorous


And here are to be answered. Tell me, my


(Since now we will divest us both of rule,

Interest of territory, cares of state),

Which of you shall we say doth love us most?

That we our largest bounty may extend

where nature doth with merit challenge."

(Act I, Sc i, Ln 47-53)

This is the first and most significant of the many sins that

he makes in this play. By abdicating his throne to fuel his

ego he is disrupts the great chain of being which states

that the King must not challenge the position that God has

given him. This undermining of God's authority results in

chaos that tears apart Lear's world. Leaving him, in the

end, with nothing. Following this Lear begins to banish

those around him that genuinely care for him as at this

stage he cannot see beyond the mask that the evil

wear. He banishes Kent, a loyal servant to Lear, and his

youngest and previously most loved daughter Cordelia. This

results in Lear surrounding himself with people who only

wish to use him which leaves him very vulnerable attack.

This is precisely what happens and it is through this that

he discovers his wrongs and amends them.

Following the committing of his sins, Lear becomes

abandoned and estranged from his kingdom which causes him to

loose insanity. While lost in his grief and self-pity the

fool is introduced to guide Lear back to the sane world and

to help find the lear that was ounce lost behind a hundred

Knights but now is out in the open and scared like a little

child. The fact that Lear has now been pushed out from

behind his Knights is dramatically represented by him

actually being out on the lawns of his castle. The

terrified little child that is now unsheltered is

dramatically portrayed by Lear's sudden insanity and his

rage and anger is seen through the thunderous weather that

is being experienced. All of this contributes to the

suffering of Lear due to the gross sins that he has


The pinnacle of this hell that is experienced be Lear

in order to repay his sins is at the end of the play when

Cordelia is killed. Lear says this before he himself dies

as he cannot live without his daughter.

"Howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones.

Had I your tongues and eyes, I'd use them so

That heaven's vault should crack. She's gone

for ever!

I know when one is dead, and when one lives.

She's dead as earth. Lend me a looking glass.

If that her breath will mist or stain the


Why, then she lives."

(Act V, Sc iii, Ln 306-312)

All of this pain that Lear suffered is traced back to

the single most important error that he made. The choice to

give up his throne. This one sin has proven to have massive

repercussions upon Lear and the lives of those around him

eventually killing almost all of those who were involved.

And one is left to ask one's self if a single wrong turn can

do this to Lear then what difficult corner lies ahead that

ma cause similar alterations in one's life.

Reference List

Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Eric A.

McCann, ed. Harcourt Brace Jovanovick

Canada Inc., Canada. 1988.

There has been many different views on the plays of

William Shakespeare and definitions of what kind of play

they were. The two most popular would be the comedy and the

tragedy. King Lear to some people may be a comedy because

they believe that the play has been over exaggerated.

Others would say King Lear was a tragedy because there is so

much suffering and chaos.

What makes a Shakespearean play a comedy or a tragedy?

King Lear would be a tragedy because it meets all the

requirements of a tragedy as defined by Andrew Cecil

Bradley. Bradley states that a Shakespearean tragedy must

have to be the story of the hero and that there is

exceptional suffering and calamity slowly being worn

in as well as it being contrasted to happier times. The

play also depicts the troubled parts in his life and

eventually his death that is instantaneous caused by the

suffering and calamity. There is the feeling of fear in the

play as well, that makes men see how blind they are not

knowing when fortune or something else would be on them.

The hero must be of a high status on the chain and the

hero also possesses a tragic flaw that initiates the

tragedy. The fall of the hero is not felt by him alone but

creates a chain reaction which affects everything below him.

There must also be the element of chance or accident that

influences some point in the play.

King Lear meets all of these requirements that has been

laid out by Bradley which is the most logical for a

definition of a tragedy as compared to the definition of a

comedy by G. Wilson Knight.

The main character of the play would be King Lear who

in terms of Bradley would be the hero and hold the highest

position is the social chain. Lear out of Pride and anger

has banished Cordelia and split the kingdom in half to the

two older sisters, Goneril and Regan. This is Lear's tragic

flaw which prevents him to see the true faces of people

because his pride and anger overrides his judgement. As we

see in the first act, Lear does not listen to Kent's plea to

see closer to the true faces of his daughters. Kent has

hurt Lear's pride by disobeying his order to stay out of his

and Cordelia's way when Lear has already warned him, "The

bow is bent and drawn, make from the shaft." Kent still

disobeys Lear and is banished. Because of this flaw, Lear

has initiated the tragedy by disturbing the order in the

chain of being by dividing the kingdom, banishing his best

servant and daughter, and giving up his thrown.

Due to this flaw, Lear has given way to the two older

daughters to conspire against him. Lear is finally thrown

out of his daughters home and left with a fool, a servant

and a beggar. This is when Lear realizes the mistake that

he has made and suffers the banishment of his two eldest

daughters. Lear is caught in a storm and begins to lose his

sanity because he can not bear the treatment of his two

daughters as well as the error he has made with Cordelia and

Kent. Lear also suffers from rest when he is moving all

over the place and the thing that breaks him is the death of

his youngest daughter Cordelia. This suffering can be

contrasted with other happier times like when Lear was still

king and when he was not banished by his two daughters.

The feeling of fear is when Lear is in the storm raging

against the gods,

"I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness.

I never gave you kingdom, called you children,

you owe me no subscription.",

telling them to rage harder since he has not done anything

for them and that he didn't deserve what he has received

from his two daughters. The fear is how Lear in a short

period of time went from king to just a regular peasant and

from strong and prideful to weak and unconfident. This

shows that men do not hold their own destiny and that even

though things may be great now you can be struck down just

as fast as was to Lear.

The fall of Lear is not just the suffering of one man

but the suffering of everyone down the chain. Gloucester

loses his status and eyes, Cordelia and Kent banished, and

Albany realizing his wife's true heart. Everything that

happened to these characters are affected by Lear in one way

or another and that if Lear had not banished Cordelia and

Kent then the two sisters would not be able to plot against

their father. Without the plot of the two sisters then

Gloucester would not of lost his eyes to Cornwall and his

status because he was guilty of treason. There is an element

of chance in the play in which Edgar meets Oswald trying to

kill his father because he is a traitor. Oswald is slain

asks Edgar,

"And give the letters which thou find'st about

me to Edmund Earl of Gloucester. Seek him out

upon the English party."

Edgar finds a letter to Edmund from Goneril about the

conspiracy to kill Albany. This part in the play affects

the outcome of Goneril and Edmund in which will lead to both

of their deaths.

The pain and suffering endured by Lear eventually tears

down his strength and sanity. Lear is not as strong,

arrogant, and prideful as he was in the beginning of the

play instead he is weak, scared, and a confused old man. At

the end of the play Lear has completely lost his sanity with

the loss of his daughter Cordelia and this is the thing that

breaks Lear and leads to his death. Lear dies with the

knowledge that Cordelia is dead and dies as a man in pain.

"And my poor fool is hanged! No, no, no life!

Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,

And thou no breath at all? Thou'lt come no

more, never, never, never, never, never!"

King Lear has met all the requirements that Bradley has

stated as a Shakespearean tragedy. Lear has a tragic flaw

which is his pride that prevents him to see the true faces

of people. He also initiates the tragedy by the banishment

of Cordelia and Kent as well as dividing the kingdom. Lear

has also suffered and endured the pains of his error which

leads to his death and which is contrasted to that of

happier times. There is the feeling of fear in the play

which is of a King losing his crown and becoming a peasant.

Lear has also created a chain reaction that affects

everything down the chain. The element of chance is also

introduced in the play with Edgar and Oswald, Oswald

possessing the letter to Edmund. And the final part is the

death of King Lear dying in suffering of the death of his

daughter Cordelia.

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