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King Lear And Oedipus Rex Essay, Research Paper

Term Essay: Final Draft ENG OA May 19, 2000

The suffering that occurs in both, King Lear and Oedipus Rex, is very similar. Suffering is the act of undergoing an event that is painful or unpleasant. The emotional and physical suffering that the characters in the plays go through are similar. In both plays, emotional suffering is caused by rejection from a family member and by growing madness, experienced by the protagonists, throughout the play. The physical suffering is similar because characters in each play are wounded physically as a form of punishment. Mental strength was built up in the protagonists as a result of the death of their loved ones. Both characters have excessive pride. Pride is an overhigh opinion of oneself. In these cases, the excessive pride causes the characters to suffer because of a drastic downfall.

In the plays, King Lear and Oedipus Rex , both protagonists suffer from rejection by their families. King Lear suffers by the lies that his daughters tell him. Lear wants to hear the words of love from his daughters. If they prove to love him enough, then they will be rewarded one-third of his land and a castle upon his retirement from the crown. His daughter, Goneril, speaks her words of love to him:

Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;

Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;

Beyond what can be valu d, rich or rare;

No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour;

as much as child e er lov d, or father found;

A love that makes breath poor speech enable;

Beyond all manner of so much I love you.

Goneril s flattering speech is successful in regards to her father. She was rewarded one-third of his land and a castle. She causes emotional suffering to Lear because he believed that Goneril loved him so dearly when in actuality her love was all a hoax. Her speech was said to inherit his assets and then to destroy her father s authority. Goneril s speech has caused suffering to Lear because it was all a lie. Goneril was the first to hurt the feelings of her father by sending Lear s loyal servant, Kent, to the stocks to be punished for defending the King Lear. The sight of Kent in the stocks hurts Lear because his daughter is not showing her love towards him by punishing Kent. If Goneril s love for Lear were genuine, she would not have thrown Kent in the stocks. Goneril would have been happy that Kent stuck up for Lear as her feelings were truly heart-felt. Goneril caused Lear emotional suffering by making him feel rejected by throwing Kent in the stocks.

Regan also made a promising speech to her father.

I am made of that self metal as my sister,

And prize me at her worth. In my true heart

I find she names my very deed of love;

Only she comes too short: that I profess

Myself an enemy to all other joys

Which the most precious square of sense possesses

And find I am alone felicitate

In your dear highness love

Regan also succeeds in persuading her father into giving her one-third of his land and a castle. Regan, like Goneril, wants her father to be stripped of his authority. Regan s acts of evil towards her father are shown throughout the play. Goneril and Regan both take away Lear s knights to make him old and useless. Regan contributes to the emotional suffering of Lear by locking him out of her castle. The fact that Regan and her husband Cornwall locked him out of her castle was bad enough. To add to their devilish plan they locked Lear out in the middle of a storm. Shut your doors, my lord; tis a wild night (Act II Scene IV ll. 308-309) Regan s rejection causes Lear to suffer emotionally and physically because of the lack of love he is receiving from his daughters.

Lear is not only the victim of suffering because he causes it as well. Cordelia suffers when her father disowns her. Cordelia speaks the truth of her love and receives nothing:

Good my lord,

You have begot me, bred me, lov d me: I

Return those duties back as are right fit,

Obey you, love you, and most honour you.

Why have my sisters husbands, if they say

They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,

That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry

Half my love with him, half my care and duty:

Sure I shall never marry like my sisters,

To love my father all.

She spoke of the less love between her sisters and herself, but she is the one who stays loyal to her father. Cordelia suffers from rejection because her father disowns her as an inheriting daughter. Lear left his honest daughter out which caused suffering to even himself by the end of the play. Lear suffered emotionally by the death of his most loved daughter, Cordelia. A plague upon you, murders, traitors all! (Act V Scene III ll. 269-274). Lear and Cordelia have both suffered emotionally.

In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus suffers rejection from his birth family when he I left to die upon a mountaintop with his feet shackled together. The fact that his parents left him to die is not the reason of suffering. The revelation of the truth about his parents is what caused him to suffer. An Oracle told Oedipus parents that their child would grow up to murder his father and marry his mother. Oedipus takes the revelation of the truth very harshly the moment he realizes the truth. He insanely feels that he must punish himself by plucking out his eyes. rips from off her dress / the golden brooches she was wearing, / holds them up, and rams them home right / through his eyes. Oedipus suffers greatly. Finding the truth about his parents costs him his sight and sanity. Oedipus suffers emotionally because his parents reject him.

In King Lear, as part of emotional suffering in the play, Lear experiences madness growing within him as he ages. His madness begins to grow as the play develops. It begins in the first scene where he denies Cordelia because she does not please him with words of exaggerated love. As King Lear, Lear was used to getting everything he wanted, but when he wanted to hear flattering words from his favorite daughter, he was devastated when she refused:

I lov d her most, and thought to set my rest

On her kind nursery. Hence, and avoid my sight!

So be my grave my peace, as here I give

Lear s madness is shown because of the refusal. Thou hast her, France; let her be thine, for we / Have no such daughter, nor shall ever see / That face of hers again, therefore be gone (Act I Scene I ll. 262-266) Lear then encounters Oswald. Oswald acts rudely towards him and causes him to become furious with Oswald. My lady s father my lord s knave: you whoreson / dog! you slave! you cur! (Act I Scene IV ll. 78-79)

The next outburst of madness occurs on his adventure outdoors. At this point Lear is aware that his mind is going through a difficult time and he tries to tame himself. O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven! / Keep me in temper: I would not be mad. Upon Lear s arrival at Gloucester s castle he once again acts through madness. This madness occurs when he sees Kent in the stocks. Lear is angry because he does not understand why his daughter would throw Kent in the stocks for defending him.

O, how this mother swells up toward my heart!

Hysterica passio, down, thou climbing sorrow,

Thy element s below.

It is not hard to see that the sight of Kent in the stocks frustrates King Lear because he repeats himself every time he speaks hoping to get an answer. Who put my man I the stocks? , Who stock d my servant? , How came my man I the stocks? (Act II Scene IV ll. 181) These events all take place in chronological order. Each situation is more serious than the other.

Oedipus also experiences suffering when he finds the truth of his heritage. He found out that he did in fact kill his father and marry his mother. The truth drove him not only to madness, but to insanity. He could be called insane because he wanted to punish himself for his actions so badly that he plucked out his own eyes.

And as this dirge went up so did his hands

to strike his founts of sight, not once but

many times.

And all the while his eyeballs gushed

in bloody dew upon his beard . . . no, not


The reason he had for plucking out his eyes was so that he can no longer see his mistakes, but he can feel them. Seeing has already caused him too much pain. Oedipus suffers physically by emotional stress.

Wicked, wicked eyes he gasps,

you shall not see me nor my shame-

not see my present crime

Go dark, for all time blind

for what you never should have seen, and


to those this hear has cried to see

Oedipus suffered greatly by madness when the truth of his heritage comes out. His punishment is the work of a truly insane person. Oedipus suffered emotionally because of his heritage.

In these plays, both emotional and physical suffering occur. Physical suffering occurs in King Lear when Gloucester gets his eyes plucked out as a form of punishment. Gloucester remained loyal to Lear by not giving any information of the king to Regan and Goneril. I am tied to the stake, and I must stand the course. (Act III Scene VII ll. 53-54) As a result of his loyalty, Cornwall plucked out his eyes: See t shalt thou never. Fellows, hold the chair. ? Upon these eyes of thine I ll set my foot. (Act III Scene VII ll. 77-78) This event cause Gloucester to suffer physically because he will live the rest of his life with no sight.

In Oedipus Rex there is also an incident of physical suffering where eyes are ripped out as a form of punishment. In this case, Oedipus stabs his own eyes out because he is so devastated that he married his mother and killed his father. He suffers physically because he is informed of his birth parent s identity:

Lost! Ah lost! At last it s blazing clear.

Light of my eyes, good-bye my final gaze!

My birth all sprung revealed from those it

never should;

myself entwined with those I never could;

and I the killer of those I never would.

The devastation causes the physical suffering in Oedipus Rex, but it is similar to King Lear because eyes are plucked in both plays as a form of punishment.

Another form of physical suffering in the two plays is death. In King Lear Cordelia dies. She is murdered by the order of Edmund. Edmund s dying words seems to uncover the plot. He tells Albany and Kent that Cordelia was to be hanged in prison. Lear enters with her dead body in his arms:

Howl, howl, howl, howl! You are men of stones:

Had I your tongues and eyes, I d use them so

That heaven s vaults should crack. She s gone forever.

I know when one is dead, and when one lives;

She s dead as earth. Lend me a looking-glass;

If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,

Why, then she lives.

The physical death of Cordelia s hanging in prison caused emotional suffering to Lear. Lear s emotional suffering was overcome when he killed the man that hanged his beloved daughter:

A plague upon you, murderers, traitors all!

I might have sav d her; now she s gone for ever!

Cordelia! Cordelia! Stay awhile. Ha!

What is t thou sayst? Her voice was ever soft,

Gentle and low, an excellent thing an a woman.

I kill d the slave that was a hanging thee.

The justification that Lear felt by the vengeance of his daughter set him free of emotional disturbance. Lear s suffering faded as he died a happy man.

In Oedipus Rex the physical suffering of Jocasta s death brings Oedipus to a peak of emotional stability. He finds his wife and mother hanging in a room after the truth of the Oracle s story was revealed. And there we saw her hanging, twisted, tangled (Oedipus p.73) The death of Oedipus beloved mother and wife caused emotional suffering until he plucked out his eyes. He plucked out his eyes so that he would not be able to see his upcoming mistakes. The physical suffering of Jocasta s death helped Oedipus out emotionally.

Suffering in the plays, King Lear and Oedipus Rex, is very similar in ways of emotional suffering along with physical suffering. The emotional suffering consisted of family rejection and madness of the protagonist. The physical suffering was the plucking out of eyes and also the deaths of the protagonist s loved ones. The physical suffering of the characters hurt them right away, but when they had time to realize what had happened they learn and become more aware of ways to better themselves in the future.


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