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King Lear Essay, Research Paper

There has been many different views on the plays of William Shakespeare and definitions of what kind of play they were. The two most popular would be the comedy and the tragedy. King Lear to some people may be a comedy because they believe that the play has been over exaggerated. Others would say King Lear was a tragedy because there is so much suffering and chaos.

What makes a Shakespearean play a comedy or a tragedy? King Lear would be a tragedy because it meets all the requirements of a tragedy as defined by Andrew Cecil Bradley. Bradley states that a Shakespearean tragedy must have to be the story of the hero and that there is exceptional suffering and calamity slowly being worn in as well as it being contrasted to happier times. The play also depicts the troubled parts in his life and eventually his death that is instantaneous caused by the suffering and calamity. There is the feeling of fear in the play as well, that makes men see how blind they are not knowing when fortune or something else would be on them. The hero must be of a high status on the chain and the hero also possesses a tragic flaw that initiates the tragedy. The fall of the hero is not felt by him alone but creates a chain reaction which affects everything below him. There must also be the element of chance or accident that influences some point in the play.

King Lear meets all of these requirements that has been laid out by Bradley which is the most logical for a definition of a tragedy as compared to the definition of a comedy by G. Wilson Knight.

The main character of the play would be King Lear who in terms of Bradley would be the hero and hold the highest position is the social chain. Lear out of Pride and anger has banished Cordelia and split the kingdom in half to the two older sisters, Goneril and Regan. This is Lear’s tragic flaw which prevents him to see the true faces of people because his pride and anger overrides his judgement. As we see in the first act, Lear does not listen to Kent’s plea to see closer to the true faces of his daughters. Kent has hurt Lear’s pride by disobeying his order to stay out of his and Cordelia’s way when Lear has already warned him, “The bow is bent and drawn, make from the shaft.” Kent still disobeys Lear and is banished. Because of this flaw, Lear has initiated the tragedy by disturbing the order in the chain of being by dividing the kingdom, banishing his best servant and daughter, and giving up his thrown.

Due to this flaw, Lear has given way to the two older daughters to conspire against him. Lear is finally thrown out of his daughters home and left with a fool, a servant and a beggar. This is when Lear realizes the mistake that he has made and suffers the banishment of his two eldest daughters. Lear is caught in a storm and begins to lose his sanity because he can not bear the treatment of his two daughters as well as the error he has made with Cordelia and Kent. Lear also suffers from rest when he is moving all over the place and the thing that breaks him is the death of his youngest daughter Cordelia. This suffering can be contrasted with other happier times like when Lear was still king and when he was not banished by his two daughters.

The feeling of fear is when Lear is in the storm raging against the gods, “I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness. I never gave you kingdom, called you children, you owe me no subscription.”, telling them to rage harder since he has not done anything for them and that he didn’t deserve what he has received from his two daughters. The fear is how Lear in a short period of time went from king to just a regular peasant and from strong and prideful to weak and unconfident. This shows that men do not hold their own destiny and that even though things may be great now you can be struck down just as fast as was to Lear.

The fall of Lear is not just the suffering of one man but the suffering of everyone down the chain. Gloucester loses his status and eyes, Cordelia and Kent banished, and Albany realizing his wife’s true heart. Everything that happened to these characters are affected by Lear in one way or another and that if Lear had not banished Cordelia and Kent then the two sisters would not be able to plot against their father. Without the plot of the two sisters then Gloucester would not of lost his eyes to Cornwall and his status because he was guilty of treason.

There is an element of chance in the play in which Edgar meets Oswald trying to kill his father because he is a traitor. Oswald is slain asks Edgar, “And give the letters which thou find’st about me to Edmund Earl of Gloucester. Seek him out upon the English party.”

Edgar finds a letter to Edmund from Goneril about the conspiracy to kill Albany. This part in the play affects the outcome of Goneril and Edmund in which will lead to both of their deaths.

The pain and suffering endured by Lear eventually tears down his strength and sanity. Lear is not as strong, arrogant, and prideful as he was in the beginning of the play instead he is weak, scared, and a confused old man. At the end of the play Lear has completely lost his sanity with the loss of his daughter Cordelia and this is the thing that breaks Lear and leads to his death. Lear dies with the knowledge that Cordelia is dead and dies as a man in pain.

“And my poor fool is hanged! No, no, no life! Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more, never, never, never, never, never!”

King Lear has met all the requirements that Bradley has stated as a Shakespearean tragedy. Lear has a tragic flaw which is his pride that prevents him to see the true faces of people. He also initiates the tragedy by the banishment of Cordelia and Kent as well as dividing the kingdom. Lear has also suffered and endured the pains of his error which leads to his death and which is contrasted to that of happier times. There is the feeling of fear in the play which is of a King losing his crown and becoming a peasant. Lear has also created a chain reaction that affects everything down the chain. The element of chance is also introduced in the play with Edgar and Oswald, Oswald possessing the letter to Edmund. And the final part is the death of King Lear dying in suffering of the death of his daughter Cordelia.


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