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King Lear fits Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero as he incorporates the key elements that Aristotle considers being encompassed in a hero of a tragedy. King Lear indicates that he has transformed from ignorance to knowledge, which is similar to Aristotle’s indication. King Lear fulfills the standards of a tragic hero as he is consistent and realistic in his personality, which also fits his character. Due to his title of king, Lear asks his daughters to confess their utmost love for him. This is because he is liable to do whatever he pleases, which includes being praised. Like most leaders with maximum or absolute power, Lear also fits into his character of a king since he cares only for himself and what he needs. He goes ahead to surrender his kingdom to his immediate successors, i.e. Regan and Goneril.
Historical evidence reveals that kingdoms are usually passed on from the king to the subsequent generation regardless whether the new king follows the predecessor’s example. This makes King Lear have common features with other rulers who misuse their powers for the sake of their selfish motives. This shows that Lear’s character is nothing unusual. Lear began as an egocentric and pompous man, who gained insight of his mistakes and wrongdoing through the troubles he underwent. After Lear’s renunciation by his kids, Goneril and Reagan, he meets a beggar who tells to proceed after him. This showed Lear’s considerate and compassionate side towards other people who are in a worse condition than him, and even proceeds to provide him shelter before thinking about himself. His acts of kindness reveal Lear’s recognition and transformation from his wrongdoing. He appeals to the pitiful emotions and gains a self-image of high respect through his suffering and degradation in the wild. He further goes on bended knees to submit being truly ashamed of his previous actions, which is typical of a tragic hero (Shakespeare and Appignanesi 63).
The theme of "Filial Ingratitude"
One of the dominant themes in King Lear is filial ingratitude. It is a common theme since it a usual practice to find daughters and sons who show immense cruelty and ingratitude for their parents. In the play “King Lear”, two fathers, i.e. Gloucester and Lear, undergo suffering due to favoring some children over the others. The kids who are favored and preferred are the ones responsible for causing the tragedy. The theme of filial ingratitude is well portrayed in a deep and comprehensive manner in two incidents: one connecting King Lear with his two daughters (Regan and Goneril), who turn out to be extremely ungrateful, and another incident of a father (Earl of Gloucester) and his son (Edmund).
The tragedy portrayed in this play occurrs due to the filial ingratitude of the evil children who take advantage of their parent’s blindness. Lear and Earl suffered from the monster ingratitude that helped them distinguish the evil children from the good ones. Lear’ eyes were opened because of the painful truth, when he disinherited powers from the loving daughter and gave them to the evil ones. The traditional values that define the wholesomeness and natural form of parent-child relationship are destroyed and distorted in the play. There is an evidence of disruption of harmony and order, which are the characteristics of a stable family. This is clear in the evil designs and actions of greed shown by Goneril, Regan, and Edmund. The two trusting fathers, Gloucester and Lear, foolishly fall into the traps of their evil kids and turn their backs on the children who truly love them. This act of lack of judgment drives the two parents to poverty due to the ungratefulness of children (Shakespeare 43).
Lear and Gloucester: A Comparison of the Two Old Men
Lear and Gloucester are personalities with prominent positions. They suffer a tragedy because of trusting evil kids and allowing extreme conditions to control their emotions. Lear and Gloucester share the theme of emotional disposition. They both portray similar forms of vulnerability, a trait they cannot identify in themselves. Lear imagines that nature is an aspect that can be commanded or controlled, while Gloucester views it with mistrust and fear. The two characters also undergo different forms of suffering. Lear has physical sight, but he is blind in the sense that he experiences lack of understanding, direction, and insight. On the other hand, Gloucester has physical blindness but achieves the vision lacked by Lear. This aspect reveals that clear vision is not a derivation from physical sight. This similarity portrays both characters not to be mentally stable, as Lear undergoes a psychological change from insanity and fantasy to sanity and reality respectively, while Gloucester experiences a physical change in the quest of discovering the truth. The two characters have similar family experiences in favoring the evil children over the good ones. The two old men ultimately die in a state of happiness and joy, having undergone suffering from their misjudgments and wrongdoing. They gain patience, love, wisdom, and insight, and show courage in triumph over their weaknesses (Shakespeare 48).
Romantic Elements in King Lear
Edmund was commonly referred to as the Bastard. He quickly rose in his attempt to gain power over his father and brother. He nearly became the only ruler of England using physical lust and romance to win the two elder daughters of Lear for the sake of serving his own interests. This physical passion of Edmund led to the ultimate destruction and tragedy. The element of romanticism is also evident in connection with the theme of betrayal. Regan and Goneril fall out because of their individual attraction to Edmund. The jealousies of Regan and Goneril over Edmund lead to the ultimate destruction.
The Wisdom of the Fool
The play “King Lear” portrays the notion of foolishness as well as the connection between wisdom and insanity. This is evident as the wisest characters make foolish decisions. Shakespeare reveals that foolish decisions, especially when it concerns issues that have to do with money, usually turns out to be the wisest decisions. King Lear’s daughter, Cordellia chose honesty over flattery, as indicated at the start of the play. This decision appeared foolish at that moment, but Cordellia proved that it was the wisest decision after all. King Lear finds no clarity in the line between wisdom and foolishness. His greatest sources of wisdom are acutely unusual, i.e. from his own madness and foolishness. The fool plays a key role in revealing the transformation of King Lear: from a man with immense ignorance and pride of himself to a wise man full of humility. The fool maintains in King Lear regardless of his growing insanity. Consequently, the insanity of King Lear grows in the same proportion as his wisdom, until he reaches a point where he is capable of experiencing the wisdom without the fool, on his own. It is evident that Shakespeare expounds on the theme of fools with wise choices and wisdom to look foolish. He achieves this using a hierarchy of Fool and King; ignorant decisions made by Lear are caused by moral foolishness (Shakespeare 58).
“King Lear” incorporates the use of animal images to get certain points across. Shakespeare uses similes, metaphors, and several other figures of speech when comparing Goneril, Regan, and other characters to various animals. The use of animal imagery shows that human lust and greediness for power and other negative qualities can change different people into poisonous and rapacious beasts. The dilemmas created by the characters lower them to the level of beasts. Shakespeare compares the characters to several animals such as dragon, mice, dogs, owls, monkeys, snails, kites, serpent, vultures, tiger, cats, bears, crabs, wolves, sparrow, sheep, horses, rats, among many other animals. An example of an animal image used in this play is the dragon and his wrath. This image portrays Lear’s hot temper, as Shakespeare is fond of using animal imagery to portray the beastly features of the characters. The use of the dragon acts as a warning to Kent and predicts his expulsion from the kingdom. It also describes Lear’s madness and lack of ability to control his temper and emotions. There is also the use of a serpent hyperbolically and as a metaphor to compare Lear’s daughter’s ‘sting’ of betrayal that is similar to a sting from a serpent, which is closely associated with evil. Lear compares Goneril to a detested kite who is full of lies. He also describes his daughter Goneril as a vulture who is sharp toothed and unkind. He also compares the treatment accorded to him by his two evil daughters as an act similar to a tiger (Fleissner 62).
Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril
The main characteristics of Cordelia are her kindness, honesty, devotion, and beauty. She is contrasted with Regan and Goneril throughout the play. Regan and Goneril are Cordelia’s eldest sisters, who are neither loving nor honest and are exceedingly manipulative of their father in order to serve their own interests. Cordelia establishes the repository of honesty and virtue by defying her father to take part in the love test in order to gain favor from the father. She surprises her father, Lear, by her obvious authenticity in expressing love to him, which results into Lear banishing and disinheriting her in favor of the evil sisters, Regan and Goneril. As the play progresses, Cordelia reunites with Lear and this signifies the restoration of the kingdom order and the triumph of forgiveness and love over spite and hatred. On the other hand, Goneril and Regan are significantly inseparable from their spite villainy. They are bright enough to deceive their father in flattery and portray their injurious treatment towards their father with similar elements of temper and pride. Their vicious behaviors even drive them to remove Gloucester’s eyes. Unlike Cordelia, Regan and Goneril are portrayed to be full of evil and greed. Their greedy ambitions make them destroy the opposing people and crown themselves as Britain’s mistresses. However, their greedy ambitions mark their ultimate downfall. They satisfy their desire for power, even though they both have sexual desire towards Edmund, thus leading to the destruction of the strong alliance (Shakespeare 47).
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