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Shakespeare has many overlapping themes that seem to correlate throughout his

different works of literature. However, there are many themes that conflict as

well. King Lear and Hamlet are two works of literature that can be both compared

and contrasted. Hamlet and Lear seem to be complete opposites on the surface.

Hamlet is a young prince who is lost in a world of confusion and deception. His

father is brutally murdered by his uncle and he then must face him as his new

father-in-law when he marries his mother. Lear is an elderly man who is past his

prime and is trying to raise his daughters in a world of vanity and live with

the Renaissance?s preoccupation with appearances. As conflicting as these two

characters seem they also have to deal with many of the same pressures and they

surprisingly handle certain situations similarly. One such circumstance is that

they are both forced the verge of madness. But this isn?t the only thing that

is coincidental between the two character?s situation. They both have

?methods to their madness.? Hamlet goes through many trials and tribulations

throughout this play. He must live though his father?s untimely death, his

uncles hasty marry to his mother, Ophelia?s refusal to see him or except his

love letters, and the conspiracies that he sees planned against him. This alone

is enough for any reader to understand why he has gone mad and to sympathize

with. But Hamlet is stronger than he lets on to anybody. He is only pretending

to be as mad as he is so that people will not become suspicious when he snoops

around the house and acts irrationally toward his mother and step-father. His

madness becomes the obsession of the house and King Claudius actually brings his

old friends, Rosencranz and Guildenstern, to the house to find out what is

causing him to loose his sanity. He asks them, ?Something have you heard/of

Hamlet?s transformation?? Everybody ends up with his or her own personal

explanation to why Hamlet has gone mad. Queen Gertrude feels that it is simply

his father?s death and her marriage that has caused him to cross the line

between sanity and insanity. Polonius believes that it was his refusal to let

Hamlet see his daughter, Ophelia, that has made him mad. Ophelia can not find a

reason for his madness, and feels it is the pressure of society and his new

family that has changed him so dramatically. Whatever the reason, most of

Hamlets friends and family were set on the fact that Hamlet was no longer in his

right mind. However, Hamlet used this tactic of pretending to be out of his wits

to fool his enemies into underestimating his plans of revenge until the moment

of attack, and then, of course, it would be too late. King Lear also was accused

of going mad. He divided his kingdom into three parts so that each one of his

daughters could share in his wealth. He had each daughter battle against each

other to see who could flatter him the most. Goneril and Reagan both fought

ruthlessly to attain the better division of land. When his youngest daughter

(who was also his favorite) told him that she loved him like a daughter should

love a father and that one day she would have a husband that she would also

love, he became frenetic. He disowned her from the family, leaving the property

to his other two daughters. Lear is shunned by his two daughters later on in the

play, and is kicked out onto the streets where he becomes delirious. Although

this display of daft behavior is more genuine than Hamlet?s, I believe that

Lear ranted and raved because he was used to getting attention. Social status

was very crucial in the renaissance era. Many people would judge a person by how

many followers and possessions they held. Now that Lear was on his own and not

surrounded by his followers he felt that he was worth nothing if he had nothing.

For the first time in his life, he had to face his true self worth. I think this

frightened him more so than anything else did. So instead of facing this

awakening thought he began to act mad, so that he would not have to face the

inevitable truth. I do not believe that this alone was the cause of his

deliriousness, or that he was faking his madness. But I believe that this pushed

him to the edge, and that he easily accepted this behavior instead of dealing

with his fate. Hamlet and Lear handle this situation similarly because they both

use a method of madness to escape the disaster unfolding around them. Another

similarity between the two plays is the loyalty that is felt toward a parent

from a child. Hamlet decides he will do whatever it takes to revenge his

father?s death, even if means putting his own life on the line. Hamlet states

his dedication to his father and his revenge by stating ?Suit the action to

the word/and the word to the action.? It became his obsession. To find a

punishment that would fit the crime. In King Lear, Cordelia tries to be a

truthful daughter and answers her father?s question with brevity and

frankness. Instead of enjoying the refreshing truth for once, the king banishes

her from his property. Later on, Cordelia reenters the play and attempts to save

her father and win him back his throne. When the French army is defeated her and

her father are captured and brought to prison. In the chamber she tells her

father that she does not hold a grudge against him and is happy that he has come

back into her life. Although they are both killed shortly after, it is presented

to the audience that Cordelia was the only daughter to remain loyal to her

father. It is important to realize that both plots revolve around the idea that

these two characters remain loyal under all circumstances throughout the plays.

The last similar theme that I will discuss is the part of the fool. In Hamlet,

it seems that whenever he speaks it is out of madness and that there is no

validation to what he has to say. But he is usually trying to get across the

evil plots of King Claudius without coming out and saying it. He says, ?

though this is madness/yet there be method in?t.? He uses these outbursts of

delusions to spread the truth. In King Lear the fool plays an important but

small role. He is the one that takes Lear under his wing when he is forced to

live on the streets. It is the fool that continues to give him the advice and

remind him of his folly and to plead with him to alter his course. This is no

court jester but a voice of inner sanity and outward conscience. Perhaps

Shakespeare wished to remind us of the Psalmist: ? Out of the mouth babes and

sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou

mightiest still the enemy and the avenger.? Therefore, whenever the ?fool?

speaks in either Hamlet or King Lear, it is to state some truth or fact so that

perhaps the readers can detect it but the characters are still clueless. The

contrast that I can determine from these two plays is the fact that Hamlet seems

to be based on the thought that when an evil has been done; it is almost

impossible to fix. No matter how hard you try to turn things around, you must

realize that revenge is not the answer. Hamlet succeeded in his plan of attack

against the king. But in the process he managed to kill every main character in

the play, including himself. I think that Hamlet was a perfect example of how

Shakespeare loves to send contradicting messages. He presents the idea that not

everything is black and white. In life, there are always gray areas. He says

that revenge does not solve the problem yet he revolves his plot around it and

shows how Hamlet could not rest until he sought out revenge, no matter what the

cost. In King Lear, I do not believe that the message was mixed at all. I

believe that it was very clear that the theme of the play was to love the

one?s that are true to you, even if they don?t love uxoriously, their love

is real and it will withstand any obstacles in it?s path. The ending also

distinctively shows that if you live your life holding grudges, you will end up

alone or surrounded by fools. Regardless of the similarities and differences of

these two plays, the reader will learn a lesson in love either way. And the

lesson that Shakespeare teaches time and time again is simple. Love is a

paradox; it will never be understood.


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