Opposites and Paradoxes in King Lear

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Opposites and paradoxes in King Lear

Through McAlindon’s study of King Lear a number of key ideas come to the forefront concerning the development of the play, namely the oppositional and paradoxical nature of the play as well as the themes of familial bonds tied with the importance of heart alongside an appreciation of time and haste. Each of these provides an insight into the tragedy of King Lear as they help progress an understanding of the themes that allow the creation of pathos in the play.

The sequence of oppositional characters and motifs in the play bring about in the audience a sense of the corruption of principles that beset the protagonists of the play. With this sense of opposition comes a strong sense of the duality within the play seemingly centred on the Epodoclean theory of a “world governed by the contrary forces of love and hate.” Though this is not unusual for a stage production, McAlindon believes that when the bond of opposites that constitutes the natural order of “revolt against limit and fly to extremes.” This can be seen in the characters foremost as the sons of Gloucester as well as the daughters of Lear are directly opposed to each other. Indeed it is in the internal nature of Lear that this is focused most powerfully as his beliefs in love and kindnesses are offset by the egocentric and chloric feelings that dwell within his heart. It is mainly from the character and fate of Lear that the true extent of the breakdown of nature can be seen as within the space of two weeks he has sunk from kingship to a world of destitution and poverty as he suffers at “th’ extreme verge” in his relationship with his family. What is most tragic in relation to Lear though is his rediscovery of Cordelia before the heart wrenching death she endures as he is thrown from the heights of grief before his heart gives way under the strain of ecstatic joy. But while the emotional converses that Lear endures are tremendously powerful they are not the only matters in opposition throughout the play. There can be seen in the various settings of the play a number of thematic oppositions, with the most apparent being the contrast between the nocturnal and gloomy castle of Gloucester as opposed to the serene Dover fields where Father and daughter are reunited, where love opposes strife.

Indeed there are a great number of inversions that apply a new number of possible thoughts to the understanding of the play. Lear’s sufferings are completely opposed to the more typical tragedies of the Shakespearean era where there was a distinct separation between the suffering of the social elite and “the low and the ludicrous” in the principal of the Senecan school of thought. In King Lear though it would appear to be the Saturnalism theories that prevail as the positions of the lowest are inverted with those of the highest, as Lear takes the place of his fool in declaring the unpalatable truths of the world in his madness, adopting a sense of tragedy in the manner in which this is done. There are none more demonstrative of inversions than the antonymic nominalism that occupy the play with the most pathetic being Gloucester's praise of Goneril and Cornwall, whereby his loyalty to the king becomes “treason” whereas Edmund’s betrayal is described as a show of “loyalty.” But more than this it is a key illustration of the wickedness of protagonist such as Goneril who condemn “harmful mildness.” This sense of paradox is prevalent mostly in the evil party where it comes to signify a moral and social inversion of a rational order of things. In contrast to this a positive paradox comes to represent a renewal through destruction and a discovery though loss, most notably seen in the increase of France’s attraction for Cordelia following her rejection by Lear as she becomes an “unprized precious maid,” becoming “most choice, forsaken” as the isolation of “forsaken” seemingly highlighting the paradox. What is more is that a sense of pathos is...
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