In a play about individual tragedies, a lack of responsibility plays an important part. The play ‘King Lear’ shows Lear’s descent to madness’. In the play, King Lear experiences his own journey through time. He is betrayed by two of his daughters but is reconciled to his youngest at the end. All of the turning points of his reign as a king, was due to his lack of thinking as he never thought of what he is doing until his actions take an awful turn.
Lear is a complex tragic hero. He, unlike other tragic heroes, doesn’t have one flaw which leads him to his downfall, but rather multiple flaws. Lear doesn’t realise at the beginning that he isn’t seen as the perfect king but we as the audience know this is entirely true. His character has many different weaknesses ranging from the smallest things to the most important things that some may stumble on.
My initial impression of Lear is that he is a naï¿½ve and arrogant king who indulges himself in false praise from others.
He thrives of power and lives day by day on his wealthy state. At the opening of the play, the audience sees Lear as the ‘enemy’ of the play.
‘King Lear’ was written in the early 17th century. This was the time when Kings and Queens ruled the land with unquestionable power. The play is about a struggle for power and property. ‘King Lear’ perhaps questions ‘The Divine Right of Kings.
’ This is when God has chosen a King or Queen to be rulers of the land. We see this when Lear starts with absolute authority but through misjudgment, looses it all.
The ‘Love Test’ is the first time we see Lear. Lear simply wants power, but without responsibility. We see this when Lear plans the love test, to split his kingdom between his daughters. He wants to be king, but he expects his daughters to rule the land, while he sits back and does absolutely nothing. This is unlike any other monarch, as Kings and Queens usually rule their land all by themselves.
There was no real need for the ‘Love Test’, as Lear already knew that Cordelia was he favorite daughter and that she loved him the way she should, but Lear is so vain and selfish. All he cares about is himself and being respected as the King of Britain. Cordelia decided not to take part in the love test. She just said to him
“I love you majesty according to my bond,
no more nor less”
This shows us Cordelia just loves Lear the way that she should. Nothing more or less. King Lear is unhappy with Cordelia’s answer. He expected her to say the same, if not better than Gonerill and Regan, but when Gonerill and Regan took the love test, they were dishonest. Cordelia was, but yet, she was the one that ended up getting banished. Regan said to Lear during the love test.
“I am made of that self-mettle as my sister,
and praise me at her worth.
In my true heart I find she names my very deed of love”
Here Regan says that she loves Lear as much as her sister Regan. She says that she loves him very much, mainly just because she wanted a bigger bit of land than Gonerill and Cordelia. This was very low-hearted and selfish of Regan.
Gonerill says something very similar.
“Sir I love you more than word can wield the matter,
dearer than eyesight, space and liberty”
Gonerill obviously has the same thing on her mind as Regan. She wants as much land as her sisters. She says that she loves Lear more than space and liberty, which would resolve that she loves him more than anything. We simply know that this is definitely not true.
Lear somehow recognizes that he is dearly loved as a kind and loving father, but really we can say that Lear is gullible. He believes exactly what they are saying, but we know that all Gonerill and Regan cares about is getting a bigger share of his kingdom. Lear loves being complimented. This could have been a reason for why the love test took place.
Shakespeare tries to make the audience recognize the amount of power Lear has as a king.
“Attend the Lords of France and Burgundy, Gloucester”
Shakespeare here uses imperatives. This is a strong way of showing the audience the power, which Lear has. The quote shows us that Lear has enough power to almost anyone around. He commands the more than normal people, like the King of France and Duke of Burgundy. He has unquestionable obedience.
Lear can’t take advice from others. We see this as Kent disagrees with Lear’s decision to banish Cordelia.
“Come not between the dragon and his wrath”
We see Lear as stubborn and hot-tempered after Kent just tries to give him some friendly advice after he mistakenly banishes Cordelia. Kent tried warning Lear, but is then banishes himself upon giving advice and speaking his own mind. This is a flaw in Lear’s character.
Lear is similar to other monarchs in one main way. He uses the royal ‘we’. All kings and queens use this, but Lear uses it mainly to exaggerate his importance. Lear likes to be seen as a powerful king, by continually using ‘we’.
Gonerill and Regans treatment of Lear shows us to the fully extent of disobedience. After Lear gives his land between Gonerill and Regan, we begin to sympathize more with Lear. Lear starts to lose his power as a king, and decides to stay with Gonerill. We see Lear bring over 100 men to Gonerill’s castle and treat the place like a tavern. He is asked to leave.
We see Gonerill and Regan plot against Lear and they decide to form an allegiance. This is where we start to feel a little sorry for Lear as he has foolishly banished his only daughter that actually loves him, and he believes Gonerill and Regan love him as much as they say so, when they are the ones plotting against him. Lear brought a large amount of knights to symbolize the amount of power he still has a king. Gonerill and Regan undermine Lear’s power. They insist Lear reduces the amount of knights he has.
Gonerill warns Regan about the arrival of Lear. This maybe suggests they are against Lear and therefore are working together, mainly to gain more power as a two and to try to take out Lear.
Kent is firstly banished by Lear, but then disguises himself as Caius, to get back on Lear’s side. Although Lear banished Kent we can still argue the fact that Lear must have had something special enough for Kent to want to be back with Lear. This is the same with the fool. The fool must somehow like Lear, as he is constantly with him entertaining him. If Lear is so vain and rash, then there is a good chance that the fool will never wanted to accompany Lear in the first place.
Regan and Cornwall put Kent in the stocks, although he is only a messenger. Lear comments on their actions
“Tis worse than murder to do upon
respect such violent outrage”
This shows us how hard this is hitting Lear. For the first time we see Lear sympathize for others. He recognizes that Regan and Cornwall are showing him no respect. He says that this is worse than murder. Lear finally accomplishes respect for others. I feel that Lear is a caring character at this stage of the play, but he still hasn’t fully sustained an understanding of the world around him, as he can’t fully recognize what Gonerill and Regan are planning.
Lear is locked out in the storm. This shows us that he is far different from the all mighty and powerful king he once was, in Act 1 Scene 1, as in the earlier scenes he had full authority over absolutely everyone.
Upon banishing Cordelia then following Kent, he realized how his actions took a bad turn.
“I did her wrong”
Lear finally realizes what he has done. He shows an understanding of his wrong actions when he banished Cordelia. This was a big mistake for Lear, when he banished Cordelia, as he never thought of Gonerill and Regan turning on him if he was to banish Cordelia. The unexpected happened.
In the storm we see Lear go through an important change. We see his madness and suffering change dramatically
“Blow, wind and crack your cheeks”
Lear shouts at the storm. He still believes that he is in control. He uses imperatives again, which shows us his authority and arrogance. Lear is used to being in command and believes he can command the storm. This shows us his madness and disturbed state of mind.
As we start to sympathize for Lear more, Lear does some thinking of his own. He shows his concern for others and believes he has lost all power.
“Here I stand your slave.
A poor infirm, weak and despised old man”
Here Lear recognizes that he has lost a great deal of power and admits his weakness. He says he is a fragile and hated man. This is an enormous change from the all mighty king, which we first saw in the beginning. He admits he is a slave to the storm, which means we could say that he has lost confidence in himself.
Lear shows concern for others, as he is now in a different position of importance.
“Come on my boy. How doust my boy?
Lear shows sympathy towards the fool. He feels sorry for the fool and questions him in concern. Although Lear never really disrespected the fool in any kind of way, we never saw him show any love or concern towards him.
Lear becomes a sympathetic character as the play progresses. He recognizes a change in his life.
“My wits begin to turn”
Lear recognizes that he is loosing grip on reality. He admits that he has changed hugely.
Lear kneels in front of the fool and Kent. Lear’s suffering helps him to sympathize for other people’s suffering. This is symbolic as he humbles himself in relation to them. He also strips naked to recognize for himself, a poor man’s life.
Lear believes he hasn’t been a loyal enough king.
“I’ve taken too little care of this”
Lear finally recognizes as a king, he hasn’t done enough for the poor and homeless. He believes he has neglected his responsibilities towards the more unfortunate. I feel that he is starting to be much more responsible in being a king.
Although Lear is starting to mature as a king, he still blames others for his own actions.
“Now all the plagues that on the pendulous air.
Hang fated o’er mens faults light on thy daughters”
He is still thinking about the rejection of Gonerill and Regan. Lear can’t get the fact out of his head, that he is responsible for the position he is in, and not his daughters. If Lear had made the Love Test in the first place, then Lear would never be in total shambles as he is in now. This was Lear’s biggest mistake.
I feel that Lear is becoming a more sympathetic man. He is starting to act as a real king, who is responsible for his own thinking and actions. He finally respects others. This is a new feature for Lear. I believe that Lear has a new way of thinking as he sympathizes for others and puts himself in other people’s position to get an idea of what their life is like. Lear in the storm is a very huge change in Lear’s life. Learn about role of the Fool in King Lear
The reconciliation of Lear shows Lear in his true form as a king. When Lear first see Cordelia he kneels in front of her. This symbolizes that he is ashamed and humbled. We can also say that he feels guilty as he hasn’t seen or spoke to her since he banished her. When he lastly spoke to her he said.
“Wretch whom nature is ashamed
almost t’ acknowledge her”
This stressed king we see in the beginning calls his own daughter a wretch. This firstly gave us the impression that he is an unfair man who doesn’t give anyone a chance. When he speaks to her on Act 5 Scene 3 we notice a change in personality.
“Her voice was ever soft, gentle and low”
The way he speaks to Cordelia has completely changed. He is no longer the arrogant and hot-tempered king we once was. His tone of voice has differed, from sounding angry then sounding loving and caring. I again feel that he feels a touch guilty, as he knows that he hasn’t been a responsible enough father.
Lear has dropped saying the royal ‘we’, which as we know is very common to all monarchs. He instead uses ‘I’ as he is rather concerned with who he is, as an individual father instead of being concerned as a king. He is no longer is worried about taking the role of king, although this consisted of wealth and power, but instead he’d rather spend time with Cordelia, who is in jail. This would have been ironic if this was at the beginning of the play.
When Lear is speaking to Cordelia he admits to her his mistakes which he has made.
“If you have poison for me, I will drink it”
He admits that he has done wrong. Cordelia probably already knew that is was his fault, but I think that Cordelia would like to hear that it wasn’t her fault.
Lear still blames Gonerill and Regan for his downfall.
“I know you do not love me, for your sisters
have, as I do remember, done me wrong”
Although Lear has changed in more than ways than one, we can still say that he is not the perfect hero. This is simply because he continually blames Gonerill and Regan, without recognizing that he played a huge role in their actions. I feel that Lear knows that it is his fault, but doesn’t want to come clean and admit it.
Lear is absolutely devastated by the death of Cordelia. He has lost everything. Power. Wealth, and his three daughters.
“Howl, howl, howl, howl”
Shakespeare uses repetition to empathize Lear’s grief. We show sympathy for Lear, as the only thing he had, is no longer there. Lear avenges Cordelia’s death by killing the slave who killed her. I feel that this is very telling in Lear’s character, as it shows us that he would kill someone to get justice for the death of a loved one.
Lear dies of a broken heart in the end. We could say that Lear is a victim of cruelty, as he watches the death of Cordelia take place.
Lear is a loving and caring man one mistake, lead him to be a fallen king. I think that at the beginning we see Lear as the villain of the play. At the end of the play we show bitter sympathy towards him and then think that he is now the hero of the play, as he has had to cope with failure and the loss of a loss one. I think that the message that Shakespeare is trying to put across is that, it all goes to show that one mistake could cost someone very dearly as it did with King Lear.