King Lear Essay
The portrayed role of King widely varies between Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ and Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus Rex’ as each has very different approaches to the position. As the plays continue however we can also draw similarities between Oedipus and King Lear. As we begin with the play ‘Oedipus Rex’ we get our first impressions of the Oedipus from the way he addresses his people, we immediately see his paternal leadership coming through as he addresses his people as ‘My children’, this is important to the reader/audience as it helps us see that he takes responsibility and sees importance in protecting his people.
He also shows that there is no distance between him and his people when he says ‘I hear prayers for the sick’ this is important as it shows that not only does he hear the calls for help which shows he is in close contact but he also shows he is a hands on King as he reacted to it and is looking to help.
We can compare this to the leadership of King Lear who in the opening that the King has a less enthusiastic approach to his kingdom, we learn this from the conversation from Kent and Gloucester, ‘the division of the kingdom’ shows there is far from the closeness that is experienced in Thebes, by dividing the kingdom the King is creating a competitive environment and weakens the nation considerably, this being said we can see that King Lear is not the ideal leader.
The next indication of a good king is how his people address him, with the two kings it is very different indeed, by looking at the Priest who acts as the representative of the people of Thebes we learn a great deal. Immediately we can see that the fact the priest has approached the king he as confidence that the calls for help will be heard.
The priests use of language is important to understand Oedipus as a king, ‘wallowing aimlessly in a sea of blood’ is an obvious over exaggeration but it also states that they look to the king as a guide, the word wallowing suggests aimless movements, Oedipus is the obvious sense of direction for Thebes, this responsibility is placed upon the king is greatly informing as without reading on we can safely assume the king has before been in the position where he has to direct his kingdom and been successful and has gained the respect and confidence of his people.
To measure Oedipus’ leadership we can again compare it to that of King Lear, immediately we have seen his wishes to split his country and his terminology ‘our darker purpose’ suggests secretive acts from his people and that he has ulterior motives. We also see that Lear is planning for his early retirement, this is another indication of a poor King, it was strongly believed that Kings were appointed by God and therefore could only be freed of the burden by God, a King who makes actions to give up his role is acting not only against his people but also his faith, this highlights the scale of his selfishness and terrible leadership.
Language is of high relevance to the portrayal of Oedipus as a King, the praise directed at him by the Priest is very interesting to note when comparing the two Kings with regards to what is the right and wrong way to rule a kingdom. It becomes clear to the audience that Oedipus adopts a democratic ruling as the priest says ‘if we choose’ in context this is highly respectable as democracy is a fairly modern concept and for Greece and Oedipus to have already created such methods shows great innovation and fantastic consideration for their people.
To strengthen the abnormality of giving people choice we only need to look again to the Shakespeare’s King Lear, as he divides his kingdom there is no consideration for people’s choice and wishes, ‘unburthened crawl towards death’ shows his reluctance to face up to his responsibilities as a King to protect his people and keep a united nation, instead he is too besotted with personal gain, he splits his nation without regard for his people but also on a smaller scale he splits his family, ‘which of you shall we say doth love us most?
This openly creates conflict, creates divisions between his daughters which is the same effect his choice will have on his kingdom. A further example of Oedipus as a strong king comes when the Priest claims he is good at the ‘business of the state’ and has a mind ‘that touches eternity, not only does this show he is very wise, has knowledge beyond measure but it shows that he does not just enjoy the glamorous aspect of his role, he understands and appreciates the importance of the ‘business of the state’ to the smooth running of his kingdom.
This being said however we do learn of a slight irrationality of Oedipus where the audience is told that he sends his brother to look to the Gods for answers as to what he should do, despite the fact he operates a particularly strong democratic system for its time and has the people of Theses backing with every word and decision it seems highly surprising he leaves decisions to fate. This particular area is the only common ground that can be found between Oedipus and King Lear, even though King Lear blatantly shows little logic, as can be seen where he divides his kingdom in attempt to bring it together.
Another example of his lack of reason and logic shows itself as he first banishes his youngest most loved daughter Cordelia as he coldly says she is ‘a stranger to my heart’, this is a prime example of the weak King but also character Lear is, as both a king and father he enjoys the flattering as he demands the daughters to tell him who loves him more and when he hears an answer which he doesn’t like he reacts irrationally and banishes Cordelia from his Kingdom that he was once willing to give the larger share to only if she flattered him.
Similarly, a voice of reason and logic comes through Kent but he is halted by King Lear as he threatens Kent with his life by saying ‘Kent, on thy life, no more’ again this is an example of his poor skills when in confrontation, Kent tries to make King Lear see sense but by saying something he doesn’t want to hear he is threatened with his life. There are many techniques used by both Shakespeare and Sophocles which both display examples of ruling, from the democratic Oedipus to the irrational leadership of King Lear.