In King Lear And Oedipus Rex Essay, Research Paper
Throughout history, the absence of truth has caused turmoil between various groups. However, when a false sense of reality is established, the revelation of the truth brings further turmoil to the involved parties. In King Lear, William Shakespeare conveys the concept that the absence of truth causes a state of disorder. Sophocles further elucidates the chaotic nature of a false sense of reality in Oedipus Rex. Deceptive actions lead to future turmoil. An atmosphere of disorder is also created by the inability to see present truths. The unwillingness to accept the true order of events further creates a state of chaos. Failure to seek out truth creates chaos.
Deception impairs the pursuance and recognition of truth. Oedipus is incipiently shown to be an honourable and righteous king. He wants the best for his kingdom. He shows his distinction by listening to the needs of his people. Oedipus searches for the truth concerning the murder of the former king. He believes punishing the assassin will restore order. His admirable intentions are shown when speaking to the chorus, “You shall see how I stand by you, as I should, / Avenging this country and the god as well, / And not as though it were for some distant friend, / But for my own sake, to be rid of evil.” (Sophocles, 138-141). Oedipus desires the best future for his kingdom and is willing to fight to eliminate the problem causing the disruption in order. Upon the will of the gods, he is determined to seek the murderer of Laios and bring him to justice. He does not realize that he is the chaotic figure, whose unpunished act of regicide has angered the gods. Although he pledges to seek out the truth, others deceive him. The king and queen who raised him do not tell him that he is adopted. Oedipus is therefore unable to quickly see the truth of his heritage. He is raised under a false pretext, which leads to future disorder. When a drunken man negates his legitimacy as the son of Polybos and Dorian of Corinth, he questions the king and queen, “they stormed, calling it all the slanderous rant of a fool” (749-750). They lie to Oedipus to protect him, but they are actually sheltering him from truth that could save Thebes. His kingdom is in a state of chaos due to his inability to recognize the truth. Angered at the unpunished murder, the gods create a state of turmoil in Thebian society and in nature. Infants die, herds are plagued with infirmity and there is no trust within the empire. Although Oedipus’ pursuit of truth has honourable intentions, the deception of others causes the reality he seeks to seem even harsher and more unbearable. In contrast to Oedipus, deception in King Lear leads to the pursuit of truth. The Earl of Gloucester proves his righteous nature by respecting both his sons in equal measure, even though his youngest, Edmund, is a bastard. His pursuit of truth is made evident when Edmund hides a letter from him, claiming it to be of no importance: “No? What need then that terrible dispatch of / It into your pocket? The quality of nothing hath not / Such need to hide itself. Let’s see. Come, if it be nothing, I shall not need spectacle” (Shakespeare I, iv, 32-35). Edmund’s deception causes Gloucester’s curiosity for the truth. Gloucester seeks the true nature of matters and believes that everything of importance should be made evident, in order to avoid chaos. Although his intentions are honourable, he is blinded by Edmund’s deception. His son relates falsehoods concerning Edgar’s supposed plot to kill his father and assume his position as Earl. Gloucester hesitantly believes his bastard son and passes harsh judgement on his other son, causing Edgar’s isolation from society. Further disruptions of order later occur, such as Edmund’s ascent into the position of Earl. The turmoil leads to treasonous accusations against Gloucester, whose eyes are ultimately removed in a malicious fashion. When he reaches a greater state of isolation, Gloucester realizes the crimes he has committed against Edgar and experiences remorse. When a disguised Edgar and an old man try to help him, the blind Gloucester says:
“I have no way, and therefore want no eyes;
I stumbled when I saw. Full oft ’tis seen
Our means secure us, and our mere defects
Prove our commodities. O dear son Edgar,
The food of thy abused father’s wrath;
Might I but live to see thee in my touch,
I’d say I had eyes again!” (IV, i, 18-24).
Edmund’s deception blinds the former Earl to the good nature of his other son. He now realizes that he has wronged Edgar. The removal of his eyes, and his descent on the Great Chain of Being, make Gloucester aware of his errors. The chaotic events that succeed Edmund’s trickery are severe. When the truth is concealed by deception, disorder follows.
Deception against truth establishes unavoidable chaos, while blindness to present realities creates turmoil that can be eluded. William Shakespeare conveys his protagonist, Lear, as being blind to reality. His inability to see the true nature of his daughters’ love for him causes a state of disorder. He plans to divide his kingdom amongst his three children, allotting the larger sections to the one who proclaims the deepest love for him. His first two daughters, Regan and Goneril, elaborately describe a false state of devotion for their father. He then asks Cordelia, his favourite, to profess her love for him. He is insulted when she replies:
You have begot me, bred me, loved me; I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honour you.
Why have my sisters’ husbands, if they say
They love you all? Happily, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty.
Sure I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all.
(I, i, 98-106)
Cordelia is honest with her father, and relates the falsehood in her sisters’ professions of love. Lear is blinded by the eloquent words of his other daughters and is insulted that his most beloved one does not love him with all her heart. He does not realize that complete devotion to someone other than one’s spouse is impossible, if the marriage is to work. Lear overreacts and disowns Cordelia, unable to see the legitimacy of her words. Regan and Goneril’s professions prove to be false, and Lear suffers disrespectful treatment from both. Goneril incipiently shows the falseness of her professed devotion for the king. Prior to Lear’s arrival at her castle, she says to her servant, “Put on what weary negligence you please / You and your fellow. I’d have it come to question. / If he distaste it, let him to my sister / / Old fools are babes again, and must be used / With checks as flatteries, when they are abused” (I, iii, 13-21). She treats him like a child and shows irreverence for his needs and dignity. His daughters’ statements of love are false and bring about turmoil. He banishes his only faithful daughter, and with the absence of this element of truth, chaos subsequently occurs. His blindness causes a state of disorder. The truth of his eldest daughters’ false love for him is too painful to bear, leading to his deterioration. Lear is unable to see truth past deception, while Oedipus cannot see evident realities. He intends to seek out the truth, but what he learns he does not believe. Teiresias, a universal figure of truth, is called by Oedipus to divulge the identity of Laios, the former king’s, murderer. He hesitantly tells Oedipus that he, himself, murdered the former king. Upon learning the identity of the murderer, Oedipus says to Teiresias, “If Kreon, whom I trusted, Kreon my friend, / For this great office which the city once / Put in my hands unsought-if for this power / Kreon desires in secret to destroy me! / / Well you and your friend Kreon, it seems to me, / Will suffer most” (371-390). Oedipus is blinded by his rage and does not consider the possibility that he, himself, is Laios’ assassin. He does not explore every possibility in pursuit of the truth, which he promises his people he will do. He further shows his unwillingness to see the truth by trying to eliminate the forces that are challenging his false sense of reality, Kreon and Teiresias. The truth that Oedipus seeks is not of the nature that will set him free of the chaos of the kingdom. Upon Oedipus’ accusations of Teiresias’ role in the murder of Laios, Teiresias says, “You yourself are the pollution of the country” (336-339). Oedipus is the cause of the chaos in his kingdom. The king seeks information that will accommodate his false sense of reality and is blind to the truth. The inability to see obvious truth causes further disorder.
In contrast to the disorder created by blindness towards truth, attempts to change destiny directly cause disorder. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, the need to accept fated events is conveyed. Oedipus pledges to seek out and abide by the truth. He does not like what he learns and tries to change his fate. As a young man, Oedipus goes to the shrine at Delphi and questions his future. He relates the prophecy learned to his wife:
I should lie with my own mother, breed
Children from whom all men would turn their eyes;
And that I should be my father’s murderer.
I heard all this, and fled. And from that day
Corinth to me was only in the stars
Am I evil, then? It must be so,
Since I must flee from Thebes, yet never again
See my own countrymen, my own country,
For fear of joining my mother in marriage
And killing Polybus my father
May I never see that day! Never!
Rather let me vanish from the race of men
Than know the abomination destined me! (759-802)
Oedipus learns his fate and chooses not to accept it. He tries to alter his destiny by removing himself from his homeland. He does not realize that he cannot escape his destiny. After he becomes king of Thebes, and the reality of the fulfillment of his fate is brought to light, he still refuses to acknowledge it. His denial makes the actualization of reality more chaotic. Teiresias recognizes the inescapable nature of the truth. Before relating the identity of the murderer to Oedipus, he says, “How dreadful knowledge of the truth can be / When there is no help in truth! I knew this well, / But did not act on it: else I should not have come” (305-307). Teiresias’ reluctance to state the truth to Oedipus is due to its harsh nature. He realizes the ease with which the truth can be sought. The true measure of righteousness extends from the ability to accept and abide by the truth, regardless of its unpleasant nature. Oedipus’ refusal to accept reality leads to the queen’s suicide and his public disgrace. The lingering chaos in Thebes stems from his prior and present unwillingness to accept the truth. With the unpunished murder of Laios and Oedipus’ position as king, the gods are unhappy and help create chaos in nature and the kingdom. Like Oedipus, Edmund refuses to accept his fate. His rejection of his predestination further elucidates the chaotic nature of denial. After deceiving his father in an attempt to assume a higher stature, he says:
This is the excellent floppery of the world, that,
When we are sick in fortune, often the surfiets of our
Own behaviour, we make guilty of our disasters the
Sun, moon, and the stars; as if we were villains on
Necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion (1, ii, 118-122)”
Edgar does not acknowledge his destiny and believes human actions determine future occurrences. He presumes he has the power to change his low rank as a bastard son through manipulation. This leads to more chaos. When Edmund relates his father’s assumption of guilt to Edgar, he says:
I promise you, the effects he writes of succeed
Unhappily: as of unnaturalness between the child and
The parent; death, dearth, dissolutions of ancient ami-
Ties; divisions in state, menaces and maledictions against
Kings and nobles; needless diffidences, banishment of
Friends, dissipation of cohorts, nuptial breaches, and I
Know not what. (I, ii, 143-149)
Edmund further deceives his brother with false prophecies about the future state of the kingdom. He uses elements of chaos to describe the chaotic future of Thebes. Edgar accepts these prophecies as the state of the future due to his father’s false suspicions against him. Edmund does not realize that the chaos he describes occurs after he manipulates his brother and father. Chaotic occurrences include Edmund’s position as Earl, Edgar’s pretext as a beggar and Gloucester’s attempt at suicide. Refusal to accept fate leads to chaotic occurrences.
The incapability to pursue the true nature of matters leads to chaos. In Oedipus
Rex and King Lear, The characters’ failure to preserve truth precede a state of disorder. The deception of others, blindness to the truth and failure to accept fate cause chaos. The pursuit of reality is not always fulfilling. When damaging truths are learned, the effects provide more harm than prosperity. To live in a false sense of reality may prove to be favorable, but cannot be perpetually maintained. In 1917, Czar Nicholas II of Russia was arrested by V. I. Lenin for his crimes against his country. The Czar believed that hisvarious actions as a monarch were favorable and did not accept the belief that hiskingdom was in a state of turmoil. At the time, communism was on the rise, while his people were starving and his German wife was perceived as an enemy. The Utopian world in which he lived shattered and he was led into prison and later killed. Truth becomes increasingly painful to bear when it is not sought out and becomes evident too late. A knowledgeable state of being may incur hardships but is ultimately more beneficial.