Questioned Identity in King Lear
"Shakespeare's plays are written from a male perspective and depict predominantly conflicts of masculine identity." (Rudnytsky 2) Throughout Shakespeare's King Lear, the issue of identity is touched on repeatedly with Gloucester's fall from power, Edmund's snatching of it, and Lear's violent fall from benevolent king to brutish castaway. Lear and Gloucester's sanity is crushed, their sovereignty completely stripped, sense of fatherhood scrambled, and their masculinity questioned. Edgar also goes through a change in identity, although voluntary, when he chooses to become Tom to hide from Gloucester. Edmund, the bastard son, also has his own conflicts over his legitimacy and the identity it forces him into -- and what he is going to have to do to pull himself out of the hole Gloucester has dug for him. Shakespeare illustrates how these men question their identity and what that doubt puts them through, or in Edmunds case, drives him to do.
When Goneril states to Regan that, "You see how full of changes his age is; the observation we have made of it hath not been little," (1. 1.) it is assumed that Lear was once a sane, and at least somewhat competent monarch. His senility, while seemingly unknown to Lear, affects how other characters in the play identify him. Goneril and Regan clearly have lost respect for him as he has aged, and because they have no respect for him, they have no qualms about completely betraying him. Because their wives view Lear as less, Albany and Cornwall also seem to have less respect for Lear due to the onset of his senility, but perhaps not to the extent of Goneril and Regan. While Lear seeks to relieve himself of the burdens of rule due to his old age, he wishes to retain, "The name, and all the additions to a king; the sway, [and] revenue," (1. 1.) of being monarch. This leads the reader to believe that, to some extent, Lear himself understands that...
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NEELY, CAROL THOMAS. Distracted Subjects: Madness and Gender in Shakespeare and Early Modern Culture. New York. Cornell University Press. 2004.
WINSTANLEY, LILIAN. Macbeth, King Lear & Contemporary History. New York. Octagon Books. 1970.
CRAIG, LEON HAROLD. Of Philosophers and Kings: Political Philosophy in Shakespeare 's Macbeth and King Lear. New York. University of Toronto Press. 2001
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