The Significance Of Act 1 Scene 1

Of King Lear Essay, Research Paper

The Tragedy of King Lear- The importance of act 1 scene 1 William Shakespeare, the greatest playwright the world has ever seen renowned for his ability to portray extremely realistic characters and the poetic verse that fills his plays. His plays have been classified into three main categories the tragedies, the comedies and the historic plays. Of his tragedies the play that left the most impact on a viewer was, in my opinion King Lear. The play was probably performed in the Globe first, but the first recorded performance was in the court of King James I in 1606 on St. Stephens’s day. There seems to be an irony behind this, since St. Stephens’s day is a festival in the Christian calendar that stressed the folly and worldliness of man, which is exactly what Shakespeare attempts to do through King Lear. There is some controversy as to the actual happenings towards the end of King Lear’s life. One theory of Geoffrey of Monmouth is that King Lear after being stripped of all his rights by his elder daughters flees to France after which he is restored as King and Cordellia becomes his successor. Other theories include the suicide of Cordellia, but Shakespeare’s principle source for the play was “The chronicle history of King Lear”. Other possible influences for the play could have included the folk tale of Cinderella and the Salt and the story of Agamemnon and Iphegenia, both which deal with Parent child relationship’s which is one of King Lear’s important themes. King Lear is more than the story of a Monarch and his divided realm; it deals with the facts of life and problems plaguing parent child relationships which more than ever have relevance to present times. The first scene of the play thrusts the audience into the plot with its fast development. Kent’s very opening line is a foreteller to conflict between the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall when he speaks of the king preferring Albany to Cornwall. The conversation that follows between Kent and Gloucester about Lear help reveal the unpredictability and irrationality of Lear. The following lines spoken by Gloucester reveal the theme of parent child relationships when he speaks of his “bastard son” Edmond he says ” I have so often blushed to acknowledge him, that now I am brazed to’t”. He later refers to him as “Whoreson”. The change in language used after the arrival of King Lear from conversational to verse shows today’s reader the structured society of that period and the importance of a King and Kingship on the whole. King Lear’s opening speech further reveals his irrationality and eccentricity portraying him as egotistical and self-centered. What sort of a father would ask three of his daughters to “say doth love us most” to inherit wealth or lands? Gonerill reaction is ‘too good to be true’. She speaks in Hyperbole, which illustrates her superficiality to all except King Lear who is blinded by his ego and self-deception, which does not allow him to perceive the truth. Gonerill’s speech depicts herself as a sharp person who can easily manipulate language for her convenience. The lines “I love you more than word can wield the matter” show these characteristics. Regan speaks truly when she says; “I am made of that self-mettle of my sister”. Her lines portray her as one who lives in Gonerill shadow and one who follows her elder sister, especially in her superfluous and shallow character. As her sisters are occupied expressing artificial love for their father Cordellia, one who truly loves her father is lost and doesn’t know what to do. This is evident in what she utters aside phrases like “Love, and be silent” and “I am sure my love’s more ponderous than my tongue”. Both quotes are directed towards shunning of Regan and Gonerill’s reaction to King Lear. King Lear address to Cordellia “What can you say to draw a third more opulent than your sisters” show that he is already biased towards her, knowing that she loves him most. This is possibly a reason why the elder sisters do not love the king, since he has shown bias towards Cordellia throughout their childhood. Cordellia effective response “Nothing” to King Lear’s question strikes the King’s ego and he refuses to listen to all reason, even when she points out “Why have my sisters husbands, if they say

They love you all?” When Lear disowns Cordellia his most loyal subject and friend Kent tries to open his eyes to the truth. Kent reacts to Lear’s “Come not between the dragon and his wrath” by telling Lear to check his “hideous rashness”. This exposes the fact that Kent is extremely close to Lear to be able to use such language and tone of voice with him, after all he is still King. Kent still attempts to unfold the truth to Lear as says “See better Lear” but Lear’s madness doesn’t allow Kent to succeed and Lear banishes Kent. After which he calls on Burgundy and France to inform them of the happenings. Burgundy reacts by rejecting the “dowerless” Cordellia. France on the other hand shows insight and excepts Cordellia describing her as “Fairest Cordellia, that art most rich being poor, Most choice forsaken, and most loved despised”This form of speech where opposites are used as contradictions is known as Oxymoron. From this scene a parallel can be drawn between Gonerill, Regan and Burgundy as superfluous characters, shallow human beings marred by greed and a lust for power. This scene mainly serves as an introduction to each character. It introduces Kent as loyal and more rational than Lear. It introduces Gloucester as a man affected by the worldly and physical aspects of life. Not much can be inferred of Edmond other than the fact that his relationship with his father does not appear to be one of love and filial devotion, and Gloucester does not give their relationship any reason to be so as he repeatedly insults his bastard son. The three daughter’s characters are exposed. Gonerill appears to be domineering, superfluous and shallow and Regan is portrayed as a follower of her sister. Cordellia is viewed as the ever-loving daughter who will not stoop to the levels her sisters have, since her love cannot be expressed in words. Her answer to the King “Nothing” is so much more effective than the long-winded speeches of Gonerill and Regan. The most important revelation of this scene is the character of King Lear. Lear is a hot headed, irrational, rash man who cannot differentiate between truth and deception. He is so caught up in this world of being King that he forgets that before being King he is a human being. In every Shakespearean tragedy there is a flaw in the lead character that results in his downfall and the downfall of all around him. In the case of Hamlet it was indecisiveness “To be or not to be? To do or not to do?” etc. In the case of King Lear it is King Lear’s ego and self-deception that cause his downfall and we get an inclination to what this tragic flaw is in the first scene. The first scene also serves as an introduction to the themes and plots of the play. The plot between Gloucester and Edmond is introduced in a vague manner in the sense that we know there is a poor relationship between them. Towards the end of the scene the conversation between Gonerill an Regan reveal another plot as they disclose their intentions of dealing with their senile father – ” We must do something and i’th’heat”.The main themes of the play are revealed, the theme of Blindness and Self deception are revealed via King Lear’s behavior and the theme of parent child relationships are revealed through Gloucester and Edmond, and King Lear and his daughters. One of the most important themes of the play of Appearance versus Reality, Lear’s inability to see through Gonerill’s manipulation of words and Cordellia truth as untenderness all illustrate this theme. The scene also reveals a problem that will grow later on in the play of the reversal of roles and the establishment of abnormality. The banishment of Cordellia and Kent is a good example of this. The scene in totality serves as introduction to the play and everything related to the play, such as setting- the dark ages- with a lot of reference to the moon and darkness.



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