Essay About Criticism of Shakespeare's Plays

Topics: William Shakespeare, King Lear, Raphael Holinshed Pages: 6 (2205 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Essay About Criticism of Shakespeare's Plays

When attempting to read criticism of Shakespeare plays one idea is clear: if the review was written more than five or ten years ago the essay is likely to be exclusive when it comes to the women in Shakespeare. Little attention had been given to the women of Shakespeare prior to the seventies feminist movement. The women in King Lear deserve attention just as women in every Shakespearean play do. A common idea among critics is that the women perpetuated evil and were not worthy of acknowledgment for anything else. Goneril and Regan are believed to be vicious, evil women and Cordelia the small, sweet daughter and while this interpretation may be true there are other aspects to consider which are not typically presented when reviewing these female characters. Each of these women is worthy of acclaim for her strengths of character as well as in opposition to the male characters and various subplots within Lear.

A common interpretation of Lear is one of the juxtaposition of good and evil within the play. Many traditional critics have made this idea their primary focus in interpretations which often ignores the feminist and class conscious theme that are also present in King Lear. Most recent critical essays of King Lear do make note of the class struggle within the play; however, critics tend to ignore the gender struggles which upon thorough reading are clearly as obvious as the class issues. I have chosen an interpretation of King Lear from 1960, by Irving Ribner and set it in contrast with a 1991 review by Ann Thompson. There are some interesting points made in both essays and some stark differences in ‘what and who' are the important themes and characters in Lear.

In Irving Ribner's essay, "The Pattern of Regeneration in King Lear," Ribner focuses on Lear's regeneration as a result of the "suffering" he must undergo(Ribner 116). In the opening section of his essay, Ribner makes clear that he will approach his interpretation of King Lear from the perspective of Lear's spiritual rebirth. Ribner focuses attention on the suffering of Lear and of the process of rebirth through suffering that Lear is able to do. Lear is indeed the tragic hero but must go through great pains to achieve such notoriety. As Lear's madness progresses he is able to come closer to his epiphany. Lear becomes humble and succumbs to the fact that perhaps he is imperfect as father and king(Ribner 127-129). Humility is necessary for Lear's regeneration and it is through his process of pain that he is able to achieve rebirth(Ribner 128). In Ribner's introduction to his study of Shakespeare, he states, " Tragedy is an exploration of man's relation to the forces of evil in the world. It seeks for answers to cosmic problems, much as religion seeks them, for it is a product of man's desire to believe in a purposive ordered universe"(Ribner 1). From this introduction it seems clear that Ribner will be examining the forces of good and evil within Shakespeare. Later Ribner states in his Lear essay that, "if Shakespeare is to assert the power of man to overcome evil, the forces of evil must be shown in their most uncompromising terms"(Ribner 116). Ribner proceeds to present the forces of evil in terms of the behavior of Edmund, Cornwall, Goneril and Regan. Ribner goes on to state that the primary focus of the play is on Lear himself with the other characters serving "secondary supporting functions, each symbolic of some force of good and evil"(Ribner 117). Ribner views the behavior of Cordelia, Edgar, Kent and the Fool as the antithesis to the evil doings of the other characters. In Ribner's study of King Lear the forces representing evil are most clearly examined through the behavior of Goneril and Regan with occasional references to Edmund and Cornwall. While Ribner does use Edmund as a representative of evil, he also excuses Edmund based on his background of illegitimacy. Ann Thompson...
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