Oedipus And King Lear Essay, Research Paper
Characters That Reveal the
“Whole of Reality”
In Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, Kalidasa’s Sakuntala and the Ring of Recollection, and Shakespeare’s King Lear, there are characters that help the hypothetical figure see the “whole of reality”. In Oedipus the King the characters Jocasta and Tiresias allow Oedipus realize his tragic flaw. The same can be said of Kent in King Lear. Also, in Sakuntala and the Ring of Recollection the ring that was given to Sakuntala is the catalyst that allowed King Dusyanta realize that Sakuntala was indeed his wife. These characters serve three important purposes in their respective plays (although a ring is not usually considered to be a character). First of all, they are crucial in shaping the plot of the play. Secondly, they are important in revealing to the audience the flaws of the main character. Lastly and most importantly, they are a symbol of truth and through them the ostensible figure is able to see the “whole of reality”.
In Oedipus the King, Tiresias is introduced early in the play. At first he refuses to tell Oedipus what he knows about the death of Laius. He says, “Let me go home. That way is best, for you, for me. Let me live my life, and you live yours.” (37). This is important in that Tiresias offers Oedipus a way to avoid the truth and suffering that
comes with it. If Oedipus would just accept this the truth would never be revealed. Instead Oedipus’ true nature is revealed as he becomes angered and demands the truth that he should not want to hear. Tiresias then proceeds to openly accuse Oedipus of killing King Laius. He is the only character in the entire play to do so as he says, “I say you, you are the killer you’re searching for.” (40). At this point in the play Tiresias has turned Oedipus from the investigator to the accused. Oedipus is very defensive and instantly tried to blame someone else. The reader has not yet been told that Oedipus remembers killing an old man at the crossroads many years before. The fact that Tiresias has accused Oedipus of murder does hint to the audience that he is indeed doomed. From this point on Oedipus constantly strives to cut through the mystery and seek the truth. It is obvious that Tiresias’ accusation of Oedipus is the main spark that fuels Oedipus to search for and reveal the truth of his past and of his parentage. Tiresias’ words expose a nerve in Oedipus and plants a seed of doubt as to whether he actually did kill King Laius. It is Tiresias who most clearly sets Oedipus on the road to self-destruction.
In comparison, Shakespeare’s King Lear has Kent playing a very important roll in revealing to Lear the truth of his tragedy. Kent is a symbol of loyalty and truthfulness throughout the play. Kent is the first person in the play to warn the King of his rashness and the first to plainly state the truth. He tells Lear, “Reverse thy doom, and in best consideration check this hideous rashness?thy youngest daughter does not love the
least.” (1.1). King Lear promptly banishes Kent, which is another example of the King’s character flaw of being rash. Kent knows that Lear has made a terrible mistake and does
everything possible to get Lear to see the “whole of reality”. He disguises himself in an effort to help his King. By coming in disguise as a worthy servant, Kent aims Lear towards the truth. He does not outright tell Lear of his follies as he did earlier, but steers Lear to listen to the Fool and ultimately grasp the truth and consequences of his tragedy. Kent is also able to contact Cordelia, which is very important. Kent’s connection with both Cordelia and Lear is a symbol that the two will once again reunite and a reconciliation process will take place with King Lear. Kent throughout the play remains Lear’s most loyal and wise friend and is an important character in revealing the truth to King Lear.
In Sakuntala and the Ring of Recollection, Sakuntala is given a ring by King Dusyanta. This ring means to symbol the bond of love and marriage that keeps them together but, when she loses the ring, it becomes the only thing keeping them apart. When the curse is put on King Dusyanta, he is unable to recognize Sakuntala until he sees the ring. Priyamvada says, “He [Durvasas] refused to change his word, but he promised that when the king sees the ring of recollection, the curse will end.” (1206). Because of this, King Dusyanta is unable to see that Sakuntala is his wife. She is desperately in need of something to jog his memory because the words she says have no
good result. The ring is the only thing that allows King Dusyanta to see the “whole of reality”. Their love may have never been reconciled if the ring had not have been found.
These figures are crucial to the plot of the play. They help to reveal the flaws of the main characters to the audience, and symbolize the truth. Without these crucial characters the “whole of reality” may have never been revealed.
Sophocles. Oedipus the King. New York:
Oxford University Press, 1978.
Kalidasa. Sakuntala and the Ring of Recollection.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
28 June 1999.