King Lear

INTRO •English poet, playwright, and actor •widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language •unknown birthdate, baptised 26th April 1564, Warwickshire •arguably his most celebrated/complicated play •King Lear is written in the form of a tragedy. Structurally he gives up power and control and therefore dies low in status – all suffer because of his misguided, selfish actions •The titular character descends into madness after disposing of his estate between two of his three daughters based on their flattery, bringing tragic consequences for all. •wrote in Christian in times, but set in Pagan era so he didn’t offend the King/Queen •wrote for Elizabeth I, Henry VIII daughter – ‘divine right of Kings’ – King Lear giving up control was seen as madness – giving up power and then realising it was a mistake – relevant •play encompasses all of society from ‘kingship’ to ‘beggars’ •all based on hierarchy, patriarchy, (similar of that in both poems •Lear represents England and what can happen when power is divided

ACT 1 SCENE 1 •establishes characters and their good/bad natures. Tragedy begins in earnest •Lear delivers speech to Gloucester and Kent – his advisors -on the fact he is giving up power •a Jacobean audience would see this is as foolish; it would be political suicide in their eyes. He is devolving responsibility and the audience would see that this opening scene is foreshadowing trouble •his speech is full of imperative language which conveys his natural authority and how he expects to be obeyed •uses the word ‘we’ a lot – automatically assumes his peers agree with him •says ‘to shake all cares and business from our age; Conferring them on younger strengths’ this shows that he thinks youth will be better for the country – youth v age – key theme •’while we unburdened crawl toward death’ the throne is metaphorical burden and he wants to rid of it. He still wants the power of kingship but through his daughters without the bother of controlling the kingdom – wants a better life – selfish, egocentric – link to poem •’future strife may be prevented now’ mistakenly thinks he can prevent future problems by handing over power – but the darker purpose is really his lack of want. This is ironic as it foreshadows future problems. •conventions of seniority and a fairy-tale ideology are adhered to by Lear thinking all troubles are over when he hands out power

•before handing power to daughters, he puts them through a love test, asking each of them to tell him how much she loves him. Goneril and Regan give their father flattering answers. But Cordelia remains silent, saying that she has no words to describe how much she loves her father. Lear flies into a rage and shows an absolute sense of power when he disowns his daughter. He calls Cordelia a ‘Hecate’ which means a Goddess associated with witchcraft. He goes even further to say that she is a stranger to him; ‘And as a stranger to my heart and me Hold thee from this for ever’. This shows power as he can easily remove Cordelia from his life with no problems. King Lear shows a side of violence and hatred about him when he says ‘The barbarous Scythian … Be as well neighboured, pitied and relieved, As thou my sometime daughter’. He would rather have the ‘barbarous Scythian’ as a daughter than Cordelia. She goes to marry the king of France without her father’s blessing. With Cordelia gone, Lear shares the kingdom between Goneril and Regan. By doing this, Lear gives an opportunity for his daughters to take advantage of him.

•The sub plot – Edmund (‘bastard’ son of the Duke of Gloucester) is lower in the hierarchy because he was conceived out of an affair. Edmund is jealous of his half-brother Edgar, because he is legitimate and therefore will inherit, and so he tries to bring about his brothers downfall. The audience hears about this when Edmund performs a soliloquy. •Soon learn that he is a Machiavellian character because of his immoral behaviour and employment of cunningness •at the start of his soliloquy, Edmund questions why he is treated like he is; ‘Thou, Nature, art my goddess; to thy law My services are bound. Wherefore should I Stand in the plague of custom, and permit The curiosity of nations to deprive me?’ He refuses to submit to the patriarchy he saw in Act 1 Scene 1. He questions why he should remain accustomed to an ancient law that destroys men like him, why he should accept it.

He is very malcontent. Edmund goes on to compare himself with his older brother; ‘For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines Lag of a brother? Why bastard? Wherefore base? When my dimensions are as well compact My mind as generous and my shape as true’. He believes that he should be treated with as much respect as his brother, no matter that he is a ‘bastard’. He says that it is better to be conceived through lust than from a boring marriage; ‘Who in the lusty stealth of nature take More composition and fierce quality Than doth within a dull stale tired bed’. Edmund lets on about his plan to trick his father when he says ‘Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land. Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund’.

ACT 3 SCENE 7 •This scene is structurally a turning point in the play. Regan and Goneril find out that Gloucester has been helping Lear. They accused Gloucester of treason because Lear had been banished and therefore anyone helping him has committed treason. In this scene, Regan and Goneril show absolute power and control, whereas Lear is reduced to the status of a beggar. Goneril and Regan broke into Gloucester’s house – violated him, invasive. Regan calls Gloucester an ‘Ingratefeul fox’, which is animal imagery and is associated with being cunning and sly. Cornwall, Regan’s husband, is a rude and mean character. The audience becomes aware of this when he says ‘Bind fast his corky arms’. This is a comment towards the age of Gloucester, and means ‘withered’, and shows the disrespect towards him from Cornwall. Tying him up physically takes away his power. However, Gloucester remains calm and shows respect to his intruders, calling them his ‘friends’. Cornwall’s servants must be told twice when he commands them again ‘Bind him, I say’. This shows that he doesn’t have absolute control over his servants because they disobeyed his first orders. When Regan shouts more abuse at Gloucester, calling him a ‘filthy traitor’, he still remains respectful and the audience learn he is eloquent. Regan then becomes aggressive, which comes as a surprise as it is traditionally a masculine trait.

She plucks his beard and this foretastes the violence to follow. A beard represents masculinity, dominance, and maturity; however Regan is showing unfeminine and disrespectful behaviour by disregarding that. After violating and intimidating Gloucester, they reveal to him and the audience why they are there; ‘Where hast thou sent the King?’. From here, the pace of the scene (which is building up to violence) quickens, through the use of short, urgent sentences. The pair interrogate Gloucester with several questions, with commanding language full of imperatives. When asked why he sent Lear to Dover, Gloucester tells them that he ‘would not see thy cruel nails Pluck out his poor old eyes’ and that ‘All cruels else subscribed, but I shall see The winged vengeance overtake such children’. He says why he helped Lear: because he wouldn’t allow Regan and Goneril to be mean to him and take his power. ‘pluck out his poor old eyes’ is a very ironic statement considering the fore-coming violence. Gloucester attempts to belittle Regan and Cornwall when he says’ the winged vengeance overtake such children’, however this backfires when Cornwall decides upon a violent punishment for Gloucester’s act of treason – blinding him.

The act is carried out in an animalistic way; ‘Upon these eyes of thine I’ll set my foot’. Cornwall gauges out one of Gloucester’s eyes with his hands. Regan shows perverted behaviour when she says ‘One side will mock another – th’other too’ – she encourages Cornwall. He revels on this, ‘let’s prevent it’, and gauges out the other eye too. The way the blinding is described emphasises how low humans can sink; ‘Out, vile jelly. Where is thy lustre now?’. Lustre means light, and Cornwall is mocking Gloucester here. This scene foreshadows how the power that Lear gives to Goneril and Regan makes them treacherous and deceitful. It also shows the worst of humanity and its deliberate torture and the audience see’s Regan gain pleasure from this, encourages her husband. Women gain control here but in a perverted way.

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