A Detailed Commentary On Act 3, Scene 4 Of ‘King Lear’. Essay, Research Paper
Write a detailed commentary on the extract taken
from Act 3, Scene 4
When we read King Lear for the first time we are presented, on the whole, with a pessimistic view of men and society. In other parts of the play Regan, Gonerill and Edmund define treachery, whereas the character of Kent creates a stark contrast, showing us a strong sense of loyalty by following and supporting Lear throughout his torment. Remembering that Kent was betrayed by Lear in the first scene of the play, this emphasises the goodness of Kent s character. At the beginning of the extract Lear asks Wilt break my heart? In response to this Kent declares I had rather break mine own . This is just one of many examples in the play where Kent is willing to take Lear s suffering upon himself. Every time Kent enters we get a feeling of relief because he is there to fight evil, a personification of the rare goodness of mankind. Kent also shows his loyalty and steadfastness for his King in the way in which he tries to shelter him from the storm. When Kent says that The tyranny of the open night s too rough for nature to endure , he is really trying to make Lear think it is the storm that is to blame for his discomfort, although Kent is fully aware of the true reasons for Lear s pain.
In the play King Lear grief reaches the utmost depths that any Shakespearean character has ever portrayed. In this particular extract the storm taking place on the heath symbolises and runs parallel with the storm in Lear s soul. His mind is so wracked with the treachery of his two daughters that he actually finds comfort in nature s cruel elements. This is conveyed when Lear says that the tempest
will not give me leave to ponder
On things would hurt me more.
No matter how much physical discomfort the storm inflicts, Lear feels that in comparison to his mental torment the storm is of little consequence:
This tempest in my mind
Doth from my senses take all feeling else
Save what beats there.
At the beginning of the extract, Shakespeare uses Lear s reference to the contentious storm to show us the extent of his suffering. He tells us that the storm
invades us to the skin: so tis to thee,
But where the greater malady is fixed,
The lesser is scarce felt.
This reference to the word contentious also gives us an insight into Lear s state of mind. The continual contrast from sanity to insanity in his ramblings reflects the mood of the storm. He declares that he is a kind old father whose frank heart gave all! before going on to say that in that way madness lies No more of that . In addition to this, we see how the storm also brings about a gradual transformation in people, creating for the first time in the play an element of empathy in Lear s character. This is shown when Lear names the fool as houseless poverty , before realising that this is exactly what he has become himself. It is this realisation that leads him to reflect on how little he has ever thought of others less fortunate than himself. This is epitomised when he cries how he has ..ta en too little care of this! Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel .
During the time that this play was written, approximately 1605 or early 1606, people were very much influenced by acts of nature. There were eclipses in the sun and moon in September/October, 1605. Shakespeare himself was obviously influenced by these events and therefore the storm on the heath, a pivotal point in the play, could be construed as a punishment for the folly of a vain old King. The audience of the day would appreciate this idea of retribution, with the storm acting as a judgement for Lear s actions earlier in the play.
Although we see many foolish actions taken at the beginning of the play by Lear, our view of him is not wholly pessimistic. This is because we are shown that it is essentially Lear s naivet which has brought about his downfall, rather than any evil elements within his character. This is supported when Lear claims that he was a kind old father whose frank heart gave all , showing us that Lear does not realise it was the very action of giving all that fed his daughters lust for power and led, ultimately, to their betrayal.
It is at this point in the play when we see man not only as animal but poorer than one.
Yet out of all this decay and suffering man seems to triumph. Lear, having experienced in his personal world, the destruction of human right and order, thus gains insight into the injustices and frailties of mankind. In his madness Lear is able to see reality.