Grade 12 English, ENG4U
July 10th, 2009
To be the Cause of One’s Own Tragedy
William Shakespeare’s tragic works are notably characterized by the hamartia of their protagonists. This tragic flaw is a defect in character that brings about an error in action, eventually leading to the characters imminent downfall. In Shakespeare’s King Lear, written in 1606, the King’s hamartia proves to be his extreme rashness, which results in the loss of most everything that he holds dear, including his authority, his affluence and his family. The reasons for his downfall lie within the flaws of his own character, made evident by his insatiable need for flattery and his egotistical fixations.
Lear’s hamartia is primarily exposed through his unappeasable need for self-appraisal. His narcissistic conduct is brought on by his need for flattery and is the reason for his vulnerability to extreme reaction. As Lear seeks self-appraisal in the first act, he is gravely disappointed in his youngest daughter’s response: “… I cannot heave / My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty / According to my bond, no more nor less.” (I.i.90-92) Her sheer honesty and refusal to give in to his test expose the King’s tragic flaw, as he acts rashly in banishing Cordelia along with his loyal friend Kent. Not only is Lear insulted by her refusal of appraisal, but his vanity inhibits him from being reasonable as he cannot accept that his daughter does not love him more than a daughter ought love her father. Lear tragically misinterprets reality and his injured pride leads him to anger, causing him to act without contemplation. The King’s unbridled fury leads to his unbearable suffering as it unfolds through further action. Through the effect of his hamartia, the King acts without reason and consequently loses his most beloved daughter.