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AC Bradley subtitled the play, "The Redemption of Lear."

AC Bradley’s condemnation of King Lear is reminiscent of the typical Christian critical approach and interpretation to, “King Lear,” which employs the idea that the play illustrates Christian virtues. The, “Redemption of Lear,” is in congruence and could be interpreted as the Salvation of Lear, which falls in line with the salvation of Christ Jesus- a highly Christian perspective and proves Bradley’s hypothesis worthy of its origins. Furthermore this interpretation is also in line with that of humanist critics such as Kettle, who call the process the, “Humanising,” of Lear and emphasises the value of the human experience of Lear- and that the play becomes a story of his progress from being a vain king to a sensitive man.

These two differently originated interpretations congressing to an analogous conclusion I deeply agree with: Lear indeed ceases to be a vain and egotistical king and becomes a considerate and altruistic man. Cleary shown here…………..

It is more than fitting that Bradley, subtitled the play, “The Redemption of Lear,” as the play originated partly from the book written by Geoffrey Of Monmouth’s “History Regum Brittaniae,” (History of the King of Britain).

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Although many particulars remain the same, Shakespeare made his own unique adaptations: Lear’s madness, the storm and the Fool. Considering that Lear’s madness is the key to his redemption which is symbolised by the storm and driven by the choric commentary of the Fool, it is clear that Shakespeare made these adaptations in order to make Lear’s redemption a central theme and therefore Bradley’s condemnation is more than appropriate.

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When considering his redemption it is incredibly important to look at the progress of Lear through a break down of stages. In Act 1:1, Lear’s behaviour with Kent is redolent of Lear’s psychological, vain, tyrannical and blind sense of mind. The passage reinforces the irony of a king at his most peremptory at the moment when he is giving his power away. This would have been highly alarming to the Jacobean audience, who believed that kingdom division only led to war. Shakespeare’s prophecy is particularly apt because in 1642, civil war did preside due to kingdom division. Lear threatens Kent with the violent image drawn from the world of archery

“The bow is bent and drawn; make from the shaft.”

The image is typical of the aggressive and authoritarian language of Lear in the first two acts, the alliteration hyperbolising this further. Lear’s reaction is typically lacking in proportion and redolent of the same neurotic insensitivity, which he revealed in banishing Cordelia.

“Have no such daughter, nor shall ever see

that face of hers again. Therefore be gone

Without our grace, our love our benison.”

This is archetypical of the most Aristotelian opening to any of the major Shakespearian tragedies Lear thus demonstrates his, “Hubris,” “Ate,” and, “Hamatia,” here. Lear’s attitude to Cordelia and Kent evoked in the quotes above is representative of his, “Ate,” his metaphorical blindness, that he is in fact banishing his most loyal courtiers and furthermore the two arbitrators of the truth. Othello also displays this remarkable, “Ate,” in the play, “Othello,” he trusts the, “machiavellian vice” Iago, whom is completely deceiving him. It is only through Othello’s anagnorisis, that he realises the truth, which is identical to Lear, whom through his anagnorisis is made aware of the truth. Similarly, Biff Loman in, “Death of a Salesman,” in which he also is, “Blind,” to the truth reaches his anagnorisis through his gaining of self-awareness. For these three characters their discoveries are too late because neither of them can prevent their own tragedy, Othello and Desdemona’s death; Willy Loman’s suicide and Lear’s eventual death. However, all three do face redemption.

The banishment of his daughter, Cordelia, which comes about from her repetitive reply to his questioning to the extent of her love as, “Nothing,” because of her in ability to summarise her feelings revokes Lear because of his, “hubris,” to reply to her in a vile, tyrannical and rash sense ordering her banishment. The terms he uses, “Without our grace, our love and benison,” are highly reminiscent of a curse, and show just how despicable and ghastly Lear is, especially towards his own daughter. This is highlighted further in Act 1:4 which also demonstrates Lear’s egotistical sense of mind in the gravely disconcerting attributions he makes towards Goneril, cursing her sexuality. “Dry up in her organs of increase,” which is truly disturbing. The Jacobean audience would have been utterly dismayed by this, as they disproved and moreover were frightened by vile language that reputed curses and was similar to that of much hated witch craft. The repetition of Coredelia’s, “Nothing,” has evoked the Nihilist critical approach, from the Latin meaning Nothing. It is interesting how this approach condemns that the play shows that there is no system of values and as M Esslin said, “A sense of a senselessness of life.” I find this particularly ironic, considering Cordelia’s repetition of, “Nothing,” which is a lead to her banishment is in actual fact a strong factor in bringing about Lear’s redemption. Therefore this nihilistic approach I feel is not particularly pertinent because, Lear’s redemption indeed shows a sense to life. COMAPRE to Othello!!!!!!!courtly idiom-

The Fool’s role in contributing to Lear’s redemption cannot be undermined, as he is clearly very significant as the choric commentator acting as a catalyst driving Lear to madness. In the first two acts particularly the fool seems to force Lear to remember all the mistakes that he has made

“Truth’s a dog must to kennel; he must be whipped out, when Lady the brach may stand by the fire and stink.”

The Fool’s conniving language is very potent here as he reminds the king of the, “truth,” and the real motives behind the work of Goneril. The hilarity of the imagery emphasises this truth to the king and the continual references he makes to animals only renders the peripeteia, that the upstanding moral world is being turned into that of animalistic behaviour. Lear himself to is reverted to using these animalistic references, “Wolvish visage,” which shows the effect of the Fool on Lear and the destruction of his own mind in line with the destruction of the world around him, a very alarming thought to the Jacobean audience who relied heavily on their hierarchal based society. The Fool’s role cannot be undermined because Shakespeare especially developed the character of the Fool; it has no other origins or derivations and is truly original. It’s key objective as a catalyst to Lear’s madness which brings about Lear’s self knowledge is heightened by the fact that the Fool dies or at least disappears when he does, at the moment of Lear’s madness. Whether or not he dies, as written, of pneumonia or more implicitly of a broken heart as Seneca says, “They are the silent grief’s that cut the heart- strings,” only highlights that Bradley’s subtitle is more than suitable bearing in mind that Shakespeare creates an entirely new character to allow Lear’s redemption.

Paradoxically the speech in Act 2:4 also shows the start of something which runs parallel with the madness: a growing concern for and the understanding of the experience of the, “Poor naked wretches.” The one seems dependant on the other: and of course it is the second of these two characteristics which brings about the, “Redemption,” or, “Humanising,” of Lear. Lear’s own language is hugely revealing in this speech of the loss of self control and the beginnings of, “Impatience,” in the Elizabthan sense, in Act 2:4

“And let not women’s weapons, water- drops,

Stain my man’s cheeks! No, you unnatural hags,

I will have such revenges on you both

That all the world shall- I will do such things”

He is trying here to be authoritative and intelligent by reverting to the courtly idiom that Goneril and Regan utilize in this scene and that he was capable of using in the first Act. Nonetheless he is failing miserably which is publicized through the violation of his syntax. The hyphen divulges that he cannot finish his sentence because he is so inundated by his emotions. Rather than sounding authoritative and intelligent, he sounds defensive, “I will have such revenges,” and these continual personal references make this even more potent. The fracturing of Lear’s syntax is shown further on in the speech.

“Or ere I’ll weep. O fool. I shall go mad!”

The incredibly reduced shortness in sentences is paralleled with the fracturing of Lear’s authority, self- respect and psychological control- The use of the superlative adjectives show further his extreme emotion, “Poor old man,” “Grief,” “Age.” His own emotion is so severe, that consequently he speaks of his own tears when in fact he is trying to transmute his anger. By doing so he completely contradicts himself, which further shows his pshylogical break down. Compare lang breakdown.

“You think I’ll weep;

No, I’ll not weep; (Storm heard at distance)

I have full cause of weeping.”

The clever use of sound tracking here is symbolic of the contradictive mistake. The monodramatic storm is representative of the first part of the Elizabethan, “Cone,” showing the natural elements in a state of conflict and, “The tempest in (Lear’s) mind.” In actual fact this pathetic fallacy is in Lear’s head. This is very similar to Othello in Act 3:3 of, “Othello,” in which the storm is also inside Othello’s head, similarly the breakdown of the moral upstanding world and Othello’s emotional state are revealed. In, “Salesman,” Arthur Miller refers to Willy Loman’s head as a, “Mass of Contradictions,” which is an ideal summary of the state of Lear’s head in Act 2:4.

Act 3 is the crucible of Lear’s experience where he is redeemed. Lear himself develops a new system of values as the sequence develops: the old, self- absorbed Lear who is desperate for punishment and revenge will be replaced gradually through any kind of linear development by a lear characterised by sensitivity and altruism and tolerance. This is explicitly shown in the change of idiom, which is in fact far simpler from Lear’s courtly idiom.

“How dost, my boy? Art cold?

I am cold myself.”

The repeated rhetoric emphasises the simplicity of the language, yet it also shows for the first time that Lear, is not being an egotist but an altruist as he is now considering the feelings and circumstances of somebody else. Not only this, it also shows that for the first time he has realised that him and the fool are actually the same. It shows that the king has gained wisdom comes through suffering,” as Aeschylus said and as Enid Wellesford denounced, “Lear…becomes the truthful Fool.” He indeed is clearly taking this role here of the Fool. He is able to put his eyes in to the eyes of someone else, as the Fool has done previously throughout the play. This is incredibly similar to the comment that Atticus Finch makes in, “To Kill a Mockingbird,”- that the only way to understand another person is to get in to their shoes and to walk around, which is precisely what Lear is able to do here.

Lear’s self knowledge, and awareness does not stop here, it continues as vividly expressed in the language.

“Take physic, pomp;

Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,

That thou mayst shake the superflux to them

And show the heavens more just.”

Lear’s personification of the richness here hyperbolises his point and shows key significance of altruism, that he now realises that by exposing oneself to the poor, one realises that one has more than one needs, his sympathies are edged further, “Poor naked wretches.”

In this respect the theme of seeing is used to highlight Lear’s blindness:

“See better Lear; and let me remain

The true blank of thine eye…”

And the comment readily evokes the acquiescence of the audience.

Cite this page

AC Bradley subtitled the play, "The Redemption of Lear.". (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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