King Lear, Searching For Vision Essay, Research Paper
King Lear, Searching for Vision
Through the course of the play, King Lear goes through a process of attaining self-knowledge, or true vision of one?s self and the world. With this knowledge, he goes through a change of person, much like a caterpillar into a butterfly. In the beginning, King Lear?s vanity, and the image and exercise of power dominate his person. But a series of losses (based on his own bad decisions), a “fool” of a conscious, a powerful storm, a “supposed” crazy man, and the death of the one who truly loved him, clear his vision and allow him to see the himself and the world as they truly are. The pain and suffering endured by Lear eventually tears down his strength and sanity. Lear is not as strong, arrogant, and filled with pride 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.
In the beginning, King Lear shows his need for praise is how he chooses to divide his kingdom among his daughters. The one who praises him with the most “gusto” shall receive the largest area of land. This is even more evident when you consider that he already has divided up the kingdom before the praising even begins. As evident as he gives each daughter her land before hearing the next daughter?s praise. Thus the who thing is just a show and an ego boost to himself. It is because of his love for praise that makes him react so strongly to Cordelia and Kent when they do not act as he would like them to. It could be said he is like a child who doesn?t remember all that his family has done for them, but only sees them saying no to a piece of candy. In the play, this is shown in his banishment of Cordelia and Kent. Kent is probably one of the most loyal people in the room (not to mention his kingdom), and it is Cordelia that truly does love Lear. But because they choose not to contribute to this “ego trip”, they are banished. In fact, he threatens to kill Cordelia if she is found in ten days. Lear says,
“Upon our kingdom; if, on the tenth day following,
Thy banished trunk be found in our dominions,
The moment of thy death. Away! By Jupiter,”
This shows that at the beginning of the play, King Lear feels that his image is more important than the life of his favorite daughter. This hunger for “image attributes” is further shown when Kent presents himself to King Lear after being banished, but in disguise. Kent wants to gain employment as a servant to the King uses Lear?s gullability to praise in order to win the position. In this case, it?s the image of autority that Kent appeals to. The dialog is as follows:
Lear: Does thou know me, fellow?
Kent: No, sir; but you have that in your countenance which I would fain call master.
Lear: What?s that?
As with many of today?s corporate jobs, saying the right things to those in charge can get you many things regardless of your qualifications. Because Kent tells Lear that he “radiates” authority, Lear gives him a chance to serve him.
“King” Lear continues to show his need for “ego reinforcement” with his keeping of a hundred “knights”. These “knights” are hardly around for noble deeds as one might assume knights to be doing. They are in fact are merely Lear?s fair-weathered friends who eat, drink, and go hunting with him. They provide a blanket of security by always praising Lear, and leaving him someone he can exercise command over. His need for them becomes more apparent when Goneril suggests that not keep them. Lear becomes extremely angry with her which is shown when he asks the gods to render Goneril unable to bare children. Lear says;
“Hear, Nature, hear! Dear goddess, hear!
Suspend thy purpose, if thou dist intend
to make this creature fruitful!
Into her womb convey sterility!
Dry up in her the organs of increase;
This is a rather unpleasant thing to say to your own daughter, not to mention one you just gave half your kingdom to, just for suggesting you don?t keep a band of hoodlums around. In fact he continues to suggest that if she should have children, let them be perverse and unnatural. Though this appears to happen in nature, I feel it?s a rather poor choice of outcome for one?s grandchildren. J
The turning point for Lear is when he is outside in the storm. After unhappily leaving Gloucester?s castle, Lear and the Fool find themselves outside in a fierce storm. It is through his anger over his last confrontation with his “family” and the power of the storm that begin the process of change within Lear. This change which at it?s heart is a change of vision (this is true for most of the characters in this play). What must change is how Lear sees himself, his children, and the world around. At the beginning of Lear?s time in the storm, he is seeing the treachery of his daughters Regan and Goneril. This truly creates the anger within him. He expresses his anger at the storm by trying to coax the storm to be even more fierce to him. Lear says that since those who owe him everything are so harmful to him, why shouldn?t the storm which owes him nothing be any less?
But it is also here that Lear begins to see himself not as the “Almighty King”, but as “a poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man.” Though he still believes himself to be not at fault in any way. This is especially shown when Lear says, ” I am a man more sinned against than sinning.”
After this though Lear begins another change, and that is thinking of others instead of just himself. This first person, is the Fool. Lear worries if the fool is cold out in the storm, and begins to see how precious necessities can be if you suddenly are without them. This caring for others continues just before entering the hovel. Lear know begins to just think of those around him, but humanity as a whole. He begins to think of the poor who brave storms like this with the little that they have. Lear says,
“Poor naked wretches, whereso?er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you”
Lear, then gains the self knowledge of how he has not helped the poor. He says that he must be exposed to the same harshness they have endured. He believes this will be part of some heavenly justice.
Continuing on the lines of humanity, Lear begins to see humans as no more than animals, except that we where clothes. Because Lear has prided himself on his image, and clothes play a very important in the visual image of kingship, this is a very important revelation for Lear. At this point though, his sanity takes yet another step away as he tries to take off his clothes to try to truly be the animal that he is. These “steps” continue as Lear holds a trial using the animals in the hovel to represent his daughters. He even believes that his own dogs are against him. Though his sanity may be decreasing, his self realization and true understanding of people seems to increase.
The final leg of Lear?s journey of self-knowledge is taken with his “true” daughter, Cornelia. It is here that he is once again referred to ask “King” by one of his daughters. Though is standing is no longer that of ruler. Upon waking to Cordelia?s voice, Lear is in a state of dillusion, but also of great humility. He offers to drink poison if she so wishes it, for he knows he has punished her when it was her sisters who should have been. Lear show more of his humility when he ends the scene asking his daughter cordelia to “forget and forgive. I am old and foolish.” He continues to ask forgiveness when, as they are taken away as prisoners, he says,
“When thou dost ask me blessing, Ill kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness.”
Finally, when Lear returns carrying the body of Cordelia, he once again realizes that he his just another animal on the planet. He does this very subtly when he says, “Pray you, undo this button.” This is a brilliant way of making that point because it ties together the end with the time in the storm. During the storm, he had asked Kent, the Fool, and Edgar to “come unbutton here.”
The self-discovery of Lear is not just the discovery of one man?s self, but the discoveries of everyone down the chain. Gloucester loses his status and eyes but learns the truth about Edgar and Edmond, 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. But if non of these events had taken place, than none of them would have gained the knowledge of themselves or of each other. Though most eventually paid for this knowledge with their lives, what would their lives have been without it?