One of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies ever written, King Lear, is one that deals with many aspects of human condition. It is recognized as a difficult and complex play, but Kurosawa’s Japanese interpretation, Ran, allows the audience to come to a better and more obvious understanding of the events and emotions that are portrayed in King Lear. Both the play and movie portray themes and issues that deal with foolishness, revenge and selfishness. These factors brought upon the catastrophes for both King Lear and Lord Hidetora. A very vital symbol of each representation of Shakespeare’s play is through the power of nature with the storm.
With the extensive use of the storm creating the main source of imagery and symbolism, it becomes possible for the audience to comprehend just how strongly the emotions effected the tragic heroes, allowing them to see the change that each character undergoes from their poor judgment and stubbornness. As King Lear and Lord Hidetora give away their power, based on the satisfaction to their ego, they are eventually driven to madness and the storms intensify the natural order of things as they are thrown into havoc. King Lear and Hidetora struggle for deliverance once pathetic fallacy comes into play in determining the transformation of each protagonist through cultural influence, relationship with offspring and self-recognition after destruction.
King Lear’s and Hidetora’s actions and emotional epiphanies that occur are contrasted between climatic elements that come directly from their cultural backgrounds. The cultural aspects of purification and natural forces bring both characters to be forcefully pushed into nature’s cleansing process. William Shakespeare addresses the Western Christian world where the tempest symbolizes purification of the physical and mental body. Lear falls into madness and loses his own sanity when he abandons his daughters’ homes. On the other hand, Kurosawa connects with the Eastern culture where the fire is used as symbols of purification, cleansing and destruction of evil that have overpowered Hidetora’s soul. The fire has taken over his ability to be reasonable or feel emotions. Lear finds himself drowning as the storm takes away his faith, trust and sanity. The water of the tempest purifies Lear by washing away all that he has deemed true by his power as king.
As he continues to lose power to the storm, he represents the lies, disorder and betrayal that are in man that the biblical flood in Genesis emphasized to be purified from sins. He questions God’s actions while he speaks to the heavens and questions nature, assuring his ascending madness and turning the storm into its own character. His attempt to converse with the storm implies that he has begun to lose touch with his sense of reality. “Blow, winds, and cracks your cheeks! Rage! Blow! / You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout/ Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!”(3.2.1–3) The Eastern cultures worshiped a fire God and use the fire to represent the revitalization of the body and spirit. In Ran, the fire from the Eastern culture signifies a way to destroy the evil and create a new state of being. The cultural understanding of fire and water bring meaning to their character change of their mind, body and mental state.
Pathetic fallacy brought physical and psychological confusion on both King Lear and Hidetora as the relationship with their offspring is imitated by the storm. As Lear loses control of his kingdom and power, he loses the capability to see the truth in his daughters. The storm is a way for Lear to weep with his hidden desire to cry over the pain of being blind towards Cordelia’s love and devotion. “I have full cause of weeping, but this heart/ Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws, / Or ere I’ll weep” (2.4.281-283). The fire in Kurosawa’s Shakespearean illustration is used to destroy family bonds. It represents the trust Hidetora once had in his sons. It helps him come to an understanding of how his son’s disloyalty has driven him to insanity. The fire burns away Hidetora’s blindness while the water in King Lear washes away Lear’s naivety. King Lear and Hidetora mistake lies and flattery, and honesty for dishonesty. They both take family for granted which send them into the rise of insanity represented by the fire and storm.
The storm forces Lear to recognize his own mortality, human weakness and feeling the sense of humility for the first time. Self-recognition is created within King Lear’s character, learning compassion for others after he was consumed with power and self-centrism. After the storm, Lear gives into pity and is vulnerable. He shows compassion for the first time and believes that if he discovers the truth, he will regain his sanity. Lear shows compassion in the following quote towards Edgar, disguised as Tom, while explaining the he never did anything to help the poor while he was King and felt bad: “Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp”(3.4.29-34).
King Lear becomes what separates man from animal; once man loses morals and intellect, he has turned into an animal. As Lear turns humble, his lust for power is gone and he is slowly is being brought back to his senses. He compels himself to re-prioritize his values and become meek and caring. As he gains an understanding of himself, he learns a cruel lesson of humility and is able to obtain forgiveness from Cordelia once he understood her devotion of love for him. In contrast, Hidetora’s fight against fire destroys him. Once the castle is set on fire during the battle in Ran, Hidetora is left to commit seppuku.
He becomes humiliated once he finds that his sword his broken and cannot commit suicide, bringing a psychotic episode onto himself. Terrified and ashamed to confront Saburo after his realization of betrayal, his madness was too much for him to handle and he ran away into the wilderness. When he finally reunites with his son, he comes back to his senses, but only for a short period of time. The audience sees Lord Hidetora’s tragic death as what he deserved after all the murder he had committed and his blindness towards his family, whereas after Lear’s struggles and hardships, he sees the ultimate reality – love – and is considered a sympathetic character.
Each transformation of the tragic heroes allows the audience to come to realize that similar themes of struggle and hamartia were what brought King Lear and Lord Hidetora to their catastrophe. Kurosawa shows the change through the Japanese cultural symbol of fire, while Shakespeare successfully utilizes the storm in King Lear. The impact of pathetic fallacy plays a fundamental role in determining the character of each protagonist.