King Lear Essay

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Question: “The genius of King Lear lies in the universality of the themes and issues it portrays.” Discuss.

Answer: The brilliance of the play, King Lear, by William Shakespeare, is a universally acknowledged play because of the unanimously known themes and issues it portrays and it uniqueness of it as opposed to other tragedies Shakespeare has written in the past. Many of the themes and values present in the novel are known worldwide such as family values, patriarchal society and hence, the roles of women in this type of society, power, hierarchy and self-respect, love, and deceit of others. All these values and themes play a very important role in shaping King Lear as a play, and also show what a remarkable story it is as a whole.

Critical views of King Lear are used to show how these values and themes are incorporated into the play in different ways. One view that presents these ideas is viewing the play as an Aristotelian Tragedy. The universal theme present in this text in relation to this reading is the power over others and the downfall of Lear as it’s mainly about the power structure in a patriarchal system and the disturbances caused when it is challenged. This view looks at the play as a sole tragedy where the main character/hero has a fatal flaw. This in this play, obviously, is Lear himself. An Aristotelian Tragedy has the characteristics of unhappy endings, going from harmony to disharmony and an aspect which arouses fear, pity and a catastrophe. It centers on a hero who is good and noble but is eventually undone by a character defect by some source of destiny or fate. A production where this critical reading is seen is in the 2005 Harlos Productions which focuses on Lear’s major downfall. At the beginning, in the actual play, when Lear demands his daughters to declare their love for him, everyone in set in a circle. Yet, in the Harlos Production, all are standing a straight line, symbolising equality between everyone until any decision is made by Lear as to whom he will give his land and power to. This equality is disturbed when he slowly goes out of control and distributes his power wrongly and unjustly. Costumes are also an important aspect as all other than Cordelia are dressed in mainly black and red symbolising evil and disharmony, an aspect seen in an Aristotelian Tragedy. This tragedy is not just one where harmony evolves into disharmony due to unorthodox happenings; Lear is given innuendos through Kent and The Fool which he fails to pick up, leading to his ruin. The play uses people with multiple roles, such as; Cordelia also plays the role of the Fool, Edmund also plays the role of Kent, and Albany also plays the role of Edgar and Poor Tom. The director has used this technique to show the same characters in opposite roles, as Edmund is an evil character, yet Kent is one of the noble men.

The issue of power is well noticed in this reading, as power is the main reason for Lear’s downfall. His wrongful distribution of power is what provoked all the malevolence around him, and also aggravated many to become infatuated with power, such as Gonerill, Regan and Edmund. Gonerill and Regan initially received power from Lear simply for exaggerating how much they loved Lear, even if it were untrue, and this made them greedy for more power in their possession. In the initial scene, when Lear is about to divide his land amongst his daughters, he abdicates his place so “future strife may be prevented” as he says, yet ironically, this very step in his life is what provokes destruction and strife and his plans fail to function.

Furthermore, the theme of insanity and deception is also very well seen in King Lear, and this also very much related to the critical perspective of an Aristotelian Tragedy. We can see insanity present in Lear himself, as he gradually goes from a sane rational king, to an insane, out of control helpless man from all the disorder and chaos in the plot. We are...
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