King Lear Essay Essay, Research Paper
In Act 1, Scene 1 Kent says, “See better, Lear.”
How does Lear ?see? more clearly by Act V Scene 3, and what has led him to this?King Lear of Britain, the ageing protagonist in Shakespeare?s tragic play undergoes radical change as a man, father and king as the plot progresses when forced to bear the repercussions of his actions. Lear is initially portrayed as being an egotistical ruler, relying on protestations of love from his daughters to apportion his kingdom. Lear?s tragic flaw is the division of his kingdom and his inability to see the true natures of people because of his pride while his scathing anger is also shown to override his judgement. He wrongfully disowns his youngest and most truthful daughter Cordelia, preferring his elder daughters, Regan and Goneril, because of an eagerness to be flattered, and they ironically turn out to be evil. He displays inadequacies as a father through lack of knowledge concerning the true characters of all his daughters, and as King through the sudden dividing of his land. Lear loses his sanity when he cannot cope with the insensitive treatment from his two elder daughters. His madness is a learning experience, as he realises his earlier mistakes in the play, including his mistreatment of Cordelia. When he does regain sanity, he is a much wiser and enhanced man, father and king.
Kent, one of Lear?s followers, is the first person to directly tell the King that he has made mistakes concerning the partition of his sovereignty. Unlike Lear who shows blindness in judgement and lack of paternal knowledge of his daughters, Kent is able to see through the superficiality of the elder daughters? confessions of love. He believes that Cordelia is wronged when she receives nothing and is exiled, and condemns the King for his actions “When majesty stoops to folly. Reverse thy doom”. Kent believes the King is blind of the consequences of his decisions, voicing “See better, Lear”. Lear displays intense outrage at Kent, “Come not between the dragon and his wrath”, and later says “The bow is bent and drawn; make from the shaft”, indicating he does not want his authority to be challenged. Kent is shown to be faithful to Lear by confronting him about his sins, and like Cordelia is banished because of his honesty.
The Fool in the play serves as Lear?s conscience and social commentator, conveying his poignant messages to the King in cryptic riddles. He says “give me an egg, nuncle, and I?ll give thee two crowns”, and “thou hadst little wit in thy bald crown when thou gavest thy golden one away”, commenting on Lear?s lack of judgement in dividing his land. Throughout the play, the Fool observes the disorder that Lear has not only caused to himself but also his entire kingdom while constant references made by him sarcastically indicate the King?s foolishness. The Fool says, “she will taste as like this as a crab does to a crab”, telling Lear that Regan?s nature will be no different than Goneril?s. The Fool is partially comparable to Cordelia, in that he is a truth-teller like her and is firmly obedient to him, although the Fool is never reproved for his words, unlike Cordelia, because he is “all-licensed”. The fool?s role in the play is as an adviser to the King, but the King does not heed his cryptic messages, therefore seeing the outcomes of his actions.
The hostility and disrespect shown by Lear?s two elder daughter?s Goneril and Regan to the King is eventually the turning point for him, which instigates his descent into madness. Goneril, with whom Lear initially resides, complains to him about his train of one hundred “disordered and debauched” knights. This challenge of authority, which Lear is desperate to maintain, infuriates him, because the knights are the last vestiges of his power. After cursing his oldest daughter following her verbal assault against him, Lear storms out of her house, claiming, “Yet I have left a daughter”, indicating his other daughter Regan will receive him lovingly. Lear is still shown to be blind to the fact that his two elder daughters are alike in personality, which he will soon discover.
Regan is Lear?s last resort, which is why he is initially hesitant to show the animosity towards her that he previously conferred to Goneril, even when he realises her attitude mirrors that of Goneril?s. Lear?s questions concerning Kent (now in the stocks) are continually disregarded, showing his lack of influence. Lear?s blindness, being a recurring theme, is emphasised when he foolishly says “I can be patient, I can stay with Regan / I and my 100 knights”. He cannot comprehend that love is not a commodity, and cannot be bought with money, which is evident when he says, “I gave you all”, to which Regan viciously replies “And in good time you gave it”. The arrival of Goneril signifies the decisive moment for the disturbed King, whose status and authority become severely diminished by his manipulative daughters. He is rendered powerless when his daughters mutually attempt to reduce Lear?s train of knights to zero, “What need one” being Regan?s last question to Lear before he departs the castle. Goneril?s and Regan?s autocracy and vindictive attitudes towards Lear exasperates him and prompts him to correctly profess, “I shall go mad”, before leaving the castle to enter the storm and his madness.
It is during madness when Lear commences to change in character, by starting to recognise his past mistakes. The storm is a metaphor of Lear?s madness, being a parallel to the mental conflict of Lear. His actions have led him to improperly govern his land, and through the storm nature reproduces the same anarchy. Lear realises that he cannot control his surroundings, “you owe me no subscription”, which he yells to the storm. But there is partial acknowledgement of his sins, through his proposal “Singe my white head”. Lear?s realisations about nature are his first steps to greater self-awareness. Lear is initially extremely vengeful, becoming obsessed with the ingratitude of his daughter?s and the concept of personal justice. Lear still shows egotism and a non-recognition of his sins when he proclaims “I am a man more sinned against than sinning”. Although still submerged in madness, a change in Lear?s character is evident when he is concerned about the Fool, “In, boy; go first. You houseless poverty”, realising the necessity of shelter.
The arrival of Poor Tom has a significant effect on Lear. Lear becomes concerned with the plight of homeless people, “O, I have ta?en / Too little care of this”. He is able to look beyond appearances and see the fundamental nature of man in his insanity ? a flaw in his character initially. He tries to minimise the differences between himself and the “unaccommodated man”, by taking off his clothes. He asks “Is man no more than this”, and says “humanity in its essence” when confronted with Poor Tom. Lear has become more compassionate to those around him. It is clear that Lear is considering issues he had not been interested in as ruler, showing a deeper understanding of himself and his surroundings.
Lear?s trial of his daughters is a mad spoof of the love test at the beginning of the play. But when in madness Lear?s verdict is not entirely incorrect, now seeing the true natures of his daughters, although he still overcome by vengeance. After the trial, Lear is absent from the play for some time, although there is some discussion about his mental state. Through conversation between the Gentleman and Kent, Kent says, “A sovereign shame so elbows him?These things sting / His mind so venomously that burning shame / Detains him from Cordelia”. It is obvious that Lear has started to fully comprehend his earlier mistake of disowning Cordelia. When he meets Gloucester, Lear wears a crown of weeds, symbolising his alliance with nature, and his rejection of authentic crowns, while also being engrossed with thoughts of moral justices at the sight of the blinded Earl. Lear?s ability to see clearly becomes more apparent when he talks to Gloucester, coming to the conclusion that it is man?s destiny to suffer and endure “Thou must be patient. We came crying hither”. Lear realises that he is suffering for his past mistakes, but he is still engulfed by madness, “I am cut to the brain”. Lear?s insanity is a learning process, because he needs to suffer to understand himself and his surroundings better.
Lear?s meeting with Cordelia signifies his return to sanity and clearer vision on his behalf concerning his prior transgressions. He is portrayed as being more humble, loving and perceptive, realizing “I am a very foolish fond old man”. He is no longer vengeful, and even when British forces capture Cordelia and Lear he is philosophical. He is content to go to prison with her, so that they can be removed from the superficialities of politics and cares of the court. Cordelia becomes his only concern, and he is intent to bond with his her, “We two alone will sing like birds i? the cage”. Through his rendezvous with Cordelia, it is evident that Lear is no longer the harsh and critical person at the beginning of the play, but rather self-critical and humble.
King Lear is a symbolic portrayal of a man?s passage through hell so as to expiate his prior transgressions. Lear is originally shown to be a blind and irresponsible father and ruler, obsessed with appearances also showing malicious anger. His tragic mistake is the dividing of his kingdom, whereby his elder two daughters receive land, and his youngest daughter Cordelia is exiled after not complying with him. The elder daughters eventually conspire against him committing numerous sins as the play progresses, while Cordelia is depicted as the daughter who really cares about Lear. After the mistreatment to Lear by his elder daughters, Regan and Goneril, who initiate his decline into madness, Lear experiences drastic changes in his character, becoming more self-aware and generous. The storm serves as a metaphor to his insanity, as Lear considers issues he had not previously cared about as ruler. Characters including the Fool, Poor Tom, Gloucester, Kent and Cordelia are deeply loyal to the King, content to help him through his mental anguish. This leads to a greater understanding of himself and his surroundings, as he reassesses himself and society through his suffering in madness.