Shakespeare's King Lear: Exalted Version of a Domestic Tragedy or Reciprocal Terrorism

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Shakespeare's King Lear, when perceived in a modern context , can be interpreted as a family drama which is either an “exalted version of a domestic tragedy” as critic McFarland claims, or according to Scottish psychotherapist RD Laing a “reciprocal terrorism,” where family members offer each other mutual protection against each other's violence. Therefore in this play, I perceived Shakespeare's idea of tragedy through the concept of family relationships. Such bonds can be said to be a natural part of human life and the moral struggle of individuals is clear in King Lear as it leads to many characters' downfall.

The notion of a deteriorating family unit is apparent through the characterisation, and the parallelling stories of two families, evident in many scenes such as the “Love Trial Scene” in Act 1 scene 1 to the fabrication of the letter to deceive Gloucester in Act 1 scene 2, “The Storm Scene” in Act 3 to “The Blinding Scene” in Act 3 Scene 7 and “The Reunion of King Lear and Cordelia Act Scene” in Act 4 scene 6 and “The Heave Scene” where Poor Tom/Edgar guides his father in Act 4 scene 1. Shakespeare further uses language and dramatic techniques to highlight and question the dynamics of the family. This notion has been illuminated by the Richard Eyre's 1998 production of King Lear. Nevertheless my interpretation carries positive values which are reaffirmed at the end of the play. (family unit as perceived in Shakespeare's time)

King Lear is a play which mirrors an “archetypal dysfunctional family” and this is portrayed through the characterisation of both the ageing fathers Lear and Gloucester. Lear's role as a king and father is questioned throughout the play, made clear through his daughter's statement, “yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself” which is ironically true. This is highlighted through the imperative tone in Act 1 scene. Lear's regal dialogue contains many connotations alluding to his superiority, “give me” and “speak.” His power is further symbolised when he is studying a map, with the intention of dividing his empire between his daughters, and he measures their love for him through the properties he will present to them. This reveals indeed that Lear is abusing his power as both a king and father.

Due to Lear immense sense of pride, he is unable to be a morally upright father. This is amplified when he is able to accept and appreciate his daughters' words of flattery, evident in Gonerill's hyperbolic speech, “Dearer than eyesight ,space, and liberty” explaining why Lear is incapable of having true relationships with his daughters.

Indeed his daughters' flattering speeches reveal Lear's abusive nature as a father. This is made most obvious in Eyre's production, through the authorative nature of Lear's characterisation. Lear seemingly plays a sexual game with his daughters, exemplified when he is positioned rather close to Regan, and a follow shot of him enhances the innuendo present.

Lear is often too rash and emotionally driven resulting in bad decisions concerning relationships. This is illustrated using assonance when Shakespeare displays Lear's twisted interpretation of Cordelia's words, “I love your majesty According to my bond, no more nor less.” Lear's irrational anguish is portrayed through dialogue which interweaves dark imagery such as “The mysteries of Hectate and the night.”

In Eyre's production, Lear's anger foreshadows his mental torment, emphasised through the setting and his god like gestures, as he raises his arms to the sky.

The subplot of Gloucester and his sons also re-enforces the idea of human flaws, causing tension between people. I perceive Gloucester, like Lear, to be a thoughtless father. This is apparent in the introductory statements of the play. Gloucester's flippant tone visible in the double entendre “his mother fair, there was good sport at his making” suggests that he treats his relationships like games and this is undermining the natural order...
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