King Lear Essay, Research Paper
William Shakespeare?s King Lear tells the account of the tragic downfall of two men, King Lear and the Earl of Gloucester, from power. Their ordeal stems from their own inability to judge the true intentions of their children. While the deceitful kin gain power and authority, the true and honest are banished. In order for the King and the Earl to realize their errors, they must first experience a great deal of pain and suffering.
When King Lear decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters to rid himself of stress and obligations to allow himself to make an ?Unburthened crawl toward death? in peace, he figures his power can best be split by the flattering words of his girls (I,i, 43). ? . . . Which of you shall we say doth love us most, that we our largest bounty my extend . . .?(I,i, 53-54). This leaves the door wide open for the imposturous words of his older daughters, Goneril and Regan, since his test cannot filter out mere flattery from true love. Although his loyal servant, Kent, warns him of his folly, ?see better, Lear, and let me still remain the true blank of thine eye,? he, like Cordelia, who refuses to succumb to such a porous examination, is banished (I,i, 161-1).
Gloucester, likewise, makes such an error in judgment when his bastard son, Edmund, who is envious of his father?s love for his brother, frames Edgar. The Earl is at first shocked and disheartened by the forged letter, wrongfully condemns Edgar without so much as speaking a word to him. All the while, Edmund professes his love and honesty to his father. However, when Gloucester exits, so does Edmund?s sweet-talk, for his immediate remarks thereafter ridicule him (I,ii, 128-144). Gloucester, as well as Lear, will not become aware of his deception until the power has shifted to the ?unnatural? kin.
Lear, having enjoyed a life of power and authority, must now experience humility and madness in order to understand not only which daughter truly loved him most, but also to understand himself. ?Here I stand . . . a poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man? (III,ii, 19-20). Through humility and madness, alike, Lear learns compassion, revealing itself in him when the once mighty king tends to the well-being of his fool (III,ii, 68-73). In his insanity, he strips bare so as to unburden himself of his clothes: ?Off, off, you lendings!? Lear remarks in order to owe ? . . . the worm no silk, beast no hide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume!? (III,iv, 106-111). It is in the king?s naked folly that he begins to genuinely gain wisdom.
Gloucester?s path to awareness, however, is quite different. While Lear?s flaw came from an excess of pride, Gloucester?s comes from his inability to see. In one of the more noticeable ironies in the play, the Earl pays for his enlightenment with physical blindness. Upon losing his sight, Gloucester calls for what he thinks is his faithful son, to which Regan replies, ?out treacherous villain, thou call?st on him that hates thee?
(III, vii, 88). Finally, Edmund?s imposture has been exposed to Gloucester and his mistake was realized.
Gloucester meets his tragic ending when Edgar reveals himself to his father. Whereupon, being lifted so suddenly and sharply out a deep depression by the news that his true son still loves him, caused his heart to burst. ?But his flawed heart-Alack, too weak the conflict support-?Twix?t tow extremes of passion, joy and grief, burst smilingly? (V,iii, 198-201).
Like his friend?s heart, Lear?s also cannot bare the extreme emotion, however, his being of sorrow, upon finding his loving daughter hung from his foolishness. His honest servant, Kent, understanding he has had his share of pain in life, remarks: ?Break, heart; I prithee, break? (V,iii, 313).
Throughout much of his life, King Lear had a life of privilege and flattery, believing, therefore, himself to be wise and loved. Not until he took the perspective of humility, though, did he properly gage the position he once held: ?Plate sin with gold, and the strong lance of justice hurtles breaks; Arm it in rags, a pygmy?s straw does pierce it? (IV, vi, 167-9).
-The Tower of Power