King Lear

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  • Topic: King Lear, Leir of Britain, Fool
  • Pages : 5 (1775 words )
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  • Published : October 8, 1999
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In Act 1, Scene 1 Kent says, "See better, Lear."
How does Lear ‘see' more clearly by Act V Scene 3, and what has led him to this?

King Lear of Britain, the ageing protagonist in Shakespeare's tragic play undergoes radical change as a man, father and king as the plot progresses when forced to bear the repercussions of his actions. Lear is initially portrayed as being an egotistical ruler, relying on protestations of love from his daughters to apportion his kingdom. Lear's tragic flaw is the division of his kingdom and his inability to see the true natures of people because of his pride while his scathing anger is also shown to override his judgement. He wrongfully disowns his youngest and most truthful daughter Cordelia, preferring his elder daughters, Regan and Goneril, because of an eagerness to be flattered, and they ironically turn out to be evil. He displays inadequacies as a father through lack of knowledge concerning the true characters of all his daughters, and as King through the sudden dividing of his land. Lear loses his sanity when he cannot cope with the insensitive treatment from his two elder daughters. His madness is a learning experience, as he realises his earlier mistakes in the play, including his mistreatment of Cordelia. When he does regain sanity, he is a much wiser and enhanced man, father and king.

Kent, one of Lear's followers, is the first person to directly tell the King that he has made mistakes concerning the partition of his sovereignty. Unlike Lear who shows blindness in judgement and lack of paternal knowledge of his daughters, Kent is able to see through the superficiality of the elder daughters' confessions of love. He believes that Cordelia is wronged when she receives nothing and is exiled, and condemns the King for his actions "When majesty stoops to folly. Reverse thy doom". Kent believes the King is blind of the consequences of his decisions, voicing "See better, Lear". Lear displays intense outrage at Kent, "Come not between the dragon and his wrath", and later says "The bow is bent and drawn; make from the shaft", indicating he does not want his authority to be challenged. Kent is shown to be faithful to Lear by confronting him about his sins, and like Cordelia is banished because of his honesty.

The Fool in the play serves as Lear's conscience and social commentator, conveying his poignant messages to the King in cryptic riddles. He says "give me an egg, nuncle, and I'll give thee two crowns", and "thou hadst little wit in thy bald crown when thou gavest thy golden one away", commenting on Lear's lack of judgement in dividing his land. Throughout the play, the Fool observes the disorder that Lear has not only caused to himself but also his entire kingdom while constant references made by him sarcastically indicate the King's foolishness. The Fool says, "she will taste as like this as a crab does to a crab", telling Lear that Regan's nature will be no different than Goneril's. The Fool is partially comparable to Cordelia, in that he is a truth-teller like her and is firmly obedient to him, although the Fool is never reproved for his words, unlike Cordelia, because he is "all-licensed". The fool's role in the play is as an adviser to the King, but the King does not heed his cryptic messages, therefore seeing the outcomes of his actions.

The hostility and disrespect shown by Lear's two elder daughter's Goneril and Regan to the King is eventually the turning point for him, which instigates his descent into madness. Goneril, with whom Lear initially resides, complains to him about his train of one hundred "disordered and debauched" knights. This challenge of authority, which Lear is desperate to maintain, infuriates him, because the knights are the last vestiges of his power. After cursing his oldest daughter following her verbal assault against him, Lear storms out of her house, claiming, "Yet I have left a daughter", indicating his other daughter Regan will receive...
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