The Complex Reality of King Lear, Essay Example
Plays of William Shakespeare are characterized by intensity, diversity of themes and approaches to understanding reality and the role of people in it. There is probably no better way to explore reality than through a tragedy. The aim of this paper is to analyze Shakespeare’s play “King Lear” in terms of various thematic aspects and analysis of a few crucial scenes.
The pure love vs. the world
In the play, the theme of love is particularly essential for understanding of the plot and evaluation of the tragedy of the main characters. King of France’s perception of love is considered by King Lear to be rare in the world described in the play. The main reason for this differentiation is due to the differences in values and perceptions of what love is. The love of King of France to Cordelia is pure and romantic in its nature. It is based not only on his admiration of her beauty, but also of her virtues and strength of her character. What began as a political arrangement grew into a strong alliance between two hearts, which can be called a true love.
On the other hand, the world described in the play is driven by personal interest, desire for wealth, political manipulations, lust and greed instead of inter-personal feelings. In this regard, except for Cordelia and her husband, love is used as pretense for more materialistic intentions. For example, King Lear’s love for his daughters was measured in their ability to praise him and reflect him in their words of love. He was not sincere in his feelings; that is why he could not relate to Cordelia’s modest expression of love. Cordelia’s sisters never knew what love was, not to their father, sister or their husbands. They are exact embodiments of the word they live in – cold, heartless and driven by lust and greed. This was demonstrated in how they treated Lear after he became weak and useless for them, how they intended to fight their sister and both wanted to take Edmund for their husband. The same lack of love or any humanness was shown in the acts and intentions of Edmund, who wanted to kill his own father and brother in order to gain wealth.
The main point of contrasting Cornelia’s love for her father and Kind of France’s love to Cornelia with the rest of described pretended types of love was intended to show that the pure beauty in that cruel world was doomed to perish, since the evil of that world was stronger than the true love. In this regard, the tragedy of the play is in the fact that although justice finally found its way and Lear’s thrown found a ruler, the good virtue of true romantic love and daughters love were not rewarded justly, but perished under the pressure of the evils of the described world. In this context, the true love is an exception in that world mainly because it seldom has a chance to survive in it, and those who thing only about themselves and their survival usually do not tent to love like Cordelia and her husband.
Nature as a fate
In the passage where Gloucester and Edmund express their opinions on the role of nature in human lives, they tend to have two entirely different perceptions. Gloucester is convinced that the nature serves as a fate that drives people to commit certain actions and controls their lives. In this regard, the goodness or evil of one’s act is considered to be driven by natural events that are under no control of the human will. This approach to viewing human life as a set of changes of nature and its impact on one’s actions and intentions is similar to the Christian morale that blamed supernatural powers for what human beings did. In this regard, by giving the nature power over human lives, Gloucester made it easier to justify human actions and their irrational nature.
It can be argued that a human being is driven by reason and order, but the unexpected events of the nature can force people to make mistakes. This explanation of human actions is very convenient for Gloucester since it makes his illegitimate act of adultery and fathering an illegitimate son a mere result of the natural disaster like sun eclipse or storm that brought him to commit unreasonable action. With this explanation, Gloucester does not need to face the truth of reality that people can be evil, both born evil and become evil. This explanation was also hiding him from the realization that he might have been the reason for his sons’ fate.
On the other hand, Edmund’s revelation is that human behavior is driven not by some fate, or forces of the nature like planets or sun eclipse. He argues that human beings are originally evil, and it is that evil in them that drives their actions. In this regard, he is honest about is the real source of human crimes – human desires and self-centered intentions like in his case. Unlike Gloucester, he does not blame anyone for his evil intentions or his father’s lustful desires that brought him to this world. Edmund suggests that human beings are hypocritical when they achieve the success they think it is their merit, when they commit crimes it is all because of the supernatural forces. The main point of this dual perception of nature as fate is used in order to make the audience reconsider their perception of what is driving people in their actions, suggesting that human nature unlike the movement of planets is unpredictably chaotic.
Nature as a trend of a human character
As it was mentioned above, nature is one of the crucial themes in the play, being invoked by various characters. However, an exact and inclusive view on nature is not given. The main rationale for including the theme of nature in the play and leaving it in a slightly vague shape is that it reflects the diversity of human interpretations of what is natural and what is not according to their personal views and the intentions of their actions. In this regard, the diversity of perceptions of what is natural and what is not can be transferred to the argument of what is good and what is evil. Each character’s position does not only explain what is perceived as natural but also what is considered to be according to the reason, order and good in its very nature. Shakespeare does not give an exact definition of what is natural since human interactions are influenced by many factors, creating diverse situations. In other words, what may seem natural in one case might be entirely unnatural in another.
For instance, Lear’s reaction to Cornelia’s words were considered natural for him, because in his perception the natural cause of events in the patriarchal society was for children to worship and respect their parents in flattering phrases according to the royal etiquette. In his perception, it was natural for his daughters to be alike and express their gratitude in the same manner. On the other hand, for his younger daughter it was natural to speak truly about her love for her father and not adopt flattery like her elder sisters. In her perception, it was an act of natural and rational honesty. Thus, it can be suggested that the vagueness of what is natural and what is not is due to the diversity of personal perceptions of the characters.
Another purpose of the nature in the play is that it demonstrates the faults of human behavior in terms of the natural and rationalized course of development. In this case, the desire of characters acting according to their own will and not according to the rule of order results in their tragic outcome. For instance, if Gloucester did not father his illegitimate son, which was against the natural order (against social norms of behavior); he would not lose everything. If Lear did not give up upon his younger daughter and gave all of his fortune to two others, his entire family would not perish in quarrels and wars. The violation of the fundamental rules of natural order is shown in the situations where it is difficult to distinguish who is right and who is wrong. When Lear was abandoned by his elder daughters and went alone into the storm, it is hard for the reader or even the character himself to distinguish what is natural and what is not in that very situation, since the course of natural order was distorted already when Lear abandoned the only daughter that loved him.
In this context, the play could have an exact perception of what is nature and what is not natural, the only thing that the author could do was to show where the natural order of things was distorted by human emotions and self-centered interests. Therefore, the diversity of perceptions of the natural aspect of things was due to the already unnatural origins of the events and further situations. In this regard, both Gloucester and Lear rejected the natural order of things, which could lead their lives to harmony and order and instead followed their inner desires that had nothing to do with goodness or evil, but human arrogance and desire to be right.
Madness vs. complete realization of reality
In the passage, where Gloucester compares his situation with sufferings of Lear, there is an essential theme of madness contrasted by sufferings of the full realization of one’s misery. In this regard, from one perspective, Gloucester shows realization that he is in the same situation as King Lear although they the entirely opposite actions resulted in the same outcome: one has forsaken his daughter, while another fathered his illegitimate son. However, although Gloucester is reunited with his beloved son and gains clarity of the entire situation, he is convinced that Lear is the one who is lucky to be delusional and lost in his madness. In this regard, he is convinced that instead of accepting the cruel reality, the realm of illusions and fantasies of mind make one’s fate easier to bare.
In Gloucester’s rationalization of two cases, he considers madness as an escape chance for the one who is guilty in his own misfortune and who caused suffering to his beloved ones. His statement is due to this own suffering and inability to accept the sorrow he had caused. In this case, his blindness is of a certain comfort, for he cannot look into his son’s eyes and see his guilt there. Without realizing this escape, Gloucester looks for a complete escape from guilt and responsibility, which can be achieved by madness and complete loss of connection with reality.
However, what he does not understand that in the state of madness, one’s mind can create worse tortures than and real life. The fact that Lear was mad did not mean that he forgot his own sins; it only meant that his mind could no longer bear the burden of the rational judgment of his actions and where they brought him. In fact, Lear’s state of mind shows his weakness of accepting his guilt and admit his mistakes, while Gloucester no matter how hard it was managed to face them and reunite with his son. In terms of the argument that Gloucester possessed self-knowledge, while Lear could not because of his madness, the situation was that they both knew exactly what they have done and where it had led them. The only difference was how they managed to cope with their guilt and consequences of their actions.
Analysis of the chosen scenes
Set of scenes 1.1 is a starting point in the entire tragedy, because in this very scene the act of dividing the kingdom and quarrel between Lear and Cordelia occur. This scene also demonstrates the true nature of intentions and feelings of the main characters to one another. King Lear is characterized through his desire to avoid responsibilities for his kingdom, arranging division and Cordelia’s marriage. Cordelia is shown in her desire to be faithful daughter through her modesty and respect, and the king of France shows a true compassion and righteousness in his desire to understand why Cornelia was banished. It is also the scene where elder sisters showed their pretended love for their father and later their true intentions driven by self-interest and greed. The main significance of the scene for the entire plot is that it creates the context and describes the main characters in their dual nature: publically perceived and the real hidden ones.
Scenes 1.4 outline Lear’s realization of his situation through the dialogues with his Fool and conflict with the servants, who treated him not for whom he was before – the king, but for whom he became after giving away his fortune. He finally realized that he was not perceived for his authority but as a father of his daughter, who had the real power. The significance of these scenes is that Lear could not realize the mistake he made, while his fool did, and it was him who opened Lear’s eyes to reality. The fool argued that Lear had willingly given up all of his titles and entitled attitude to his daughters, and the only title he was left with was a “fool”, since he had deprived himself of his own authority and power. This was further shown by Albany’s treatment of Lear in contrast to his servant. This passage is essential since it unveils the reality of events for Lear and makes him realize what a mistake he had done with Goneril, yet he still thinks that Regan is faithful to him.
Scene 2.2 shows the final third betrayal of Lear, since it outlines the treatment he received in Regan’s house. Lear was treated like an ordinary guest; Regan offended his manhood by suggesting that he was wrong about Goneril because of his age and lack of rational judgment. Lear trust in his children is also destroyed by Kent’s revelation of how his property was taken from him by force. This scene is crucial since it is the last drop of Lear’s patience and trust in his children. After this scene, he begins to lose his mind and prefers to join the storm, which was more truthful than children he had raised.
Scenes 3.2 and 3.4 take place during the storm where Lear gradually loses his perception of reality begins to relate to the elements and fate reflected in the storm. The importance of these scenes is that he does not only realize what had happened but also craves for redemption and punishment of his foolishness. He argues that standing in the rain and storm is well-deserved for his had destroyed his own life. These scenes show the depth of Lear’s despair, but it the encounter with Gloucester who states that Lear’s daughter want to murder him, was the hardest truth to bear for Lear’s mind.
Scene 3.7 outlines how Gloucester was treated as a traitor by Lear’s daughters and his eyes were taken as a punishment for criticizing their actions against Lear. Scene 4.1 describes the meeting Gloucester with his son Edgar although he does not know whom he is. He asks Edgar to take him to the cliff to end his suffering. The importance of these two scenes for the plot of the play is dual. First of all, it shows the tragedy of Gloucester who lost everything in his life just as Lear. On the other hand from a symbolic perspective, Gloucester loss of sight after he had realized his mistakes symbolizes the act of insight and final ability to see the world in all its cruelty and ugliness, instead of finding excuses to cover the mess of other people and his own actions. These scenes reflect the theme of true feelings and bonds that cannot be seen but felt through one’s actions and not words of lies. The appearance of Edgar at Gloucester’s hour of need shows the true value of father-son bond.
Scene 4.6 is a culmination in Gloucester- Edgar relationship, since Edgar saves his father’s life pretending that he fell and preserved his life, he also killed Oswald who wanted to take Lear and Gloucester back to Lear’s daughters. This scene is also important because it finally shows how Lear seems to be insane, and Gloucester envies his madness. However, this scene is crucial for understanding that just as Gloucester gained sight after losing his eyes, so did Lear gained clear realization of the situation after losing his mind. His words about his daughter and what happened to him might seem full of symbolical images and nonsense, however, they look into the essence of things like his previous interpretations dimmed by his masculine arrogance.
Scene 4.7 is the one of the most emotional scenes in the play since it shows the reuniting between Cordelia and her father. It is essential for understanding Lear’s evolution as a character. At first he pretends that Cordelia is nothing but a spirit, and he should have stayed in the place of death where he belonged to suffer for his sins. However, gradually he awakes from his sleep of madness and accepts the kindness of his daughter although he admits that he did not deserve it. The next scene 5.1 demonstrates the preparation for war from the side of Goneril and Regan. It also reveals the hidden plot of Edmund, who wishes to gain the kingdom to himself and uses two sisters’ passion for him in order to succeed. He also intends to kill both Cordelia and Lear in order to secure the thrown for himself. The emotional escalation takes place in the next scene 5.2 in which Gloucester finds out from Edgar that Lear and Cordelia are taken hostages, and the war is lost by France. These scenes show the renewal of father-daughter bond and their consequent sharing of the same fate yet together as a family.
The final scene 5.3 describes the end of this tragic play. At the beginning of the scene, Lear says that he did not care to be imprisoned for he was with the person that loved him the most, his daughter. They are happy to be together no matter what. On the other hand, by the end of the scene Cordelia is dead, and he is left alone again. He did not care that Edmund and his daughter were punished or that he regained his throne since none of it mattered because his one true bond and value in life, his daughter Cordelia was gone. The importance of this scene is that it shows the true values in life and that when one loses these values, he can no longer live in this world, and this is exactly what Lear did, he dies to follow his daughter
The use of word “nothing” in the play
The word nothing is often used in the play mainly when the fool addressed Lear and tried to explain him the situation e was in. In this regard, the aim of the use of this word was to outline that without his titles, his crown and thrown, Lear had nothing. I this regard, the image of nothingness was created to show how material wealth can be taken from a man and how reliance on wealth deprives an individual of true value sin life. Since Lear concentrated only on the material values, when they were taken from him, he was left with nothing. In this case, the imagery of nothingness was aimed to reflect upon the sense of emotional emptiness and inability to appreciate the true values of one’s life – family bonds, friendship and devotion.
Overall, from all mentioned above it can be concluded that the play “King Lear” is diverse on the themes it explores in its text. It examines the nature of romantic love in contrast to the cruel world of material self-interest. It also examines the reasons behind the human behavior, the role of nature and the natural order of things. The play also pays attention to the modes of how people cope with grief and the role of sanity and madness in it. Through various scenes, the emotional evolution of King Lear and Gloucester is outlined, finally demonstrating that orientation on material values leave an individual empty with nothing to relate to.
Time is precious
don’t waste it!