An analysis of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and a discussion of several sequences which display the varying perceptions of different characters
“King Lear” In Shakespeare’s King Lear, there are several sequences which display the varying perceptions of different characters. The perceptions of the characters often differs because of what they are able to see and also in their nature. Such factors obstruct their vision, not allowing them to see clearly. One sequence which may illustrate this is the banishing of Cordelia after she refuses Lear’s test of love. Another sequence is the gouging of Gloucester’s eyes by Cornwall. A third sequence which shows the indifference of opinion within the characters is Lear’s death at the end of the play. As the play opens up, Gloucester and Kent are speaking of Lear’s intention to divide his kingdom according to a test of love. It is this test of love which causes Lear to banish his most beloved daughter Cordelia. When asked how much she loves her father, Cordelia replies that she loves him according to her bond, no more nor less .
This response angers Lear and causes him to ban her for her refusal to comply. Lear is held to the belief that she does not love him. He believes that the daughter which had loved him the most (and who he loved the most) has broken his heart. He is suspicious and bans her because he thinks that she is the only daughter who doesn’t love him. It is Lear’s rashness which prevents him from seeing that she is speaking the truth. It is the same rashness which leads him to believe that Goneril and Regan are being truthful. Kent believes that Lear is wrong and openly tells him so. He says in a straightforward manner that he is both mad and an old man . Kent believes that Lear’s decision was a “hideous rashness.” He continues to speak, even as Lear asks him to stop. He tells Lear to see better as he is banned. It is in Kent’s nature to speak what he feels, without hiding things. He did not understand Lear’s condition and his rashness. Regan thought that because of the banishing of both Cordelia and Kent, now Lear will have abrupt fits .
She thinks that her and Goneril are the next victims of Lear and must be careful. Goneril sees the banishing as poor judgment on Lear’s part . She says that it has always been in his nature to be rash . She is not surprised by his actions. She, as Regan does, believes that they must be careful in their actions or they might be affected by him too . Goneril decides that it would be a smart move to do something soon , before Lear can act against them or perhaps discover their true nature. Both Goneril and Regan know that they had to lie in order to receive a share of the kingdom. They decided to take initiative before they could be affected. Both of them act out of greed in more power. If Lear bans Cordelia, then it is simply a larger inheritance for both of them. The two daughters do not find a problem in that. Albany does not understand what Lear’s reasoning is . He remains puzzled over why Lear would do such a thing and asks the Gods for assistance . As Burgundy learns of Lear’s actions, he restates his interest in only what Lear had offered him .
He still expects to receive Cordelia along with her dowry, but drops the idea of taking her as his bride as soon as Lear tells him that she no longer carries a dowry. France rescues Cordelia from her misery after Burgundy refuses to marry her, but only after speaking to Lear. When he first hears of Cordelia’s banishing, he thinks that it is strange that the one who he loved the most would do something so monstrous as to strip his benevolence . After speaking to Cordelia and listening to what she has to say, he realizes that she had spoken the truth and still loves Lear the most. In his noble sense, he sees Lear’s decision as rash (but does not say anything) and takes Cordelia in. This characterizes France as one who can see through Lear’s rashness and understand the condition of both Cordelia and her father. The Fool, like Kent, tells Lear in a very straightforward manner that he is wrong. He at often times insults Lear, calling him a fool . Upon hearing of Cordelia’s banishing, he had much pined away, showing both his emotion towards Cordelia and how he thinks that the King was wrong in his decision. Shows that the Fool is very often the one who speaks truthfully and intelligently, but is never taken seriously enough to be given any credit. He does not tell Lear that he should take back Cordelia or even rethink it, rather he boasts to the King of his foolishness. This shows both how the Fool knows his limits very well and how he cares very much not to further anger Lear. In Scene seven of Act three, Cornwall hastily plucks out the eyes of Gloucester as his servants and Regan watch.
Cornwall was operating under the false impressions of Edmund. His only fault was in following orders. He did not make any false decisions by himself, it was Edmund who hindered his vision. Edmund had been planning the downfall of his father and is only interested in his personal gain, at any cost. Edmund is immersed in his greed for others’ possessions, he will step on whomever he needs to in order to reach his goal. This is what hinders his vision. Lear does not notice Gloucester’s blinding when he first stumbles upon him, showing Lear’s own blindness in seeing others. Lear tells Gloucester that he can see with his ears , then praises him because he has no eyes and no money in his purse, yet still sees the world , more than Lear had done with his set of eyes and his entire Kingdom. Lear is still in a state of rashness and partial blindness. Lear’s daughter Regan detests Gloucester because he was against Edmund, the man whom she was trying to pursue. Following the plucking of one of his eyes, she insists that the other should be removed as well . After his blinding, she reveals to him that it was Edmund who was truly behind the gruesome deed then orders some servants to throw him out and “smell his way to Dover” . Goneril, upon hearing of the deeds acted on Gloucester, does not remark immediately. Her first remark is of Cornwall’s death .
She does not even recognize Gloucester, she instead names Edmund as her own Gloucester . It is not until later in act five that she reveals that she believes he should’ve been killed. Both of the daughters do not care much for the well being of Gloucester and for the most part are against him since he is in front of Edmund, holding power above him. They both are after Edmund and will stop at nothing for get him. This shows that it is their greed which makes see things in such an inhumane manner. As Albany hears of the incident involving Gloucester’s eyes, he feels sympathy for him. He wants to avenge the evil and fight back for Gloucester . He then declares that this incident proves that there are powers above them which are concerned with events such as this that are quick in punishing transgressors . This marks the beginning of Albany’s character becoming a hero of the play. Edgar, Gloucester’s son, whom he could not recognize because of his supposedly formidable disguise, was devastated upon seeing his father’s condition. After seeing him, he develops a theory that things could only get better if they are all at their worst . Edgar sees things going in a topsy-turvy manner because of his own personal encounters. It is in the faults of others’ upon him which makes him believe that things are so bad. As the play reached its dramatic end, Lear dies in the arms of his beloved daughter whom he had wronged in Act one. The only ones who were alive to comment in this bloody play were Albany, Kent and Edgar, three truly virtuous men. Albany, after attempting to correct the mishaps of previous acts, now tells the Edgar and Kent that right now everyone is full of sorrow and it is up to the two of them to restore order and rule .
He does not include himself, showing his unselfishness. This shows Albany as the prudent one who must lead others. His reaction to Lear’s death was calm and quite patient, not a merciful cry of anguish. Lear’s faithful servant Kent remains by his side till the end of the play, showing his unflinching loyalty. He says that it was a wonder that he survived all that he endured yet usurped his own life , showing a sense of irony in Lear’s death. The death does not stop Kent’s loyalty though. He declares that he must join his master because he calls on him , speaking of his loyalty as a journey. Kent makes it known that he will find his way to death in order to join his master. This statement reflects Kent’s nature in speaking out in a hasty manner. He does not state that it his own intention to join Lear in death, he instead says that he does not have a choice. This shows Kent’s life-long commitment to serve Lear as faithfully as he can. Edgar ends the play with a set of lines which stress the suffering which has taken place throughout the play.
Edgar is a fit character to end the play with because he has withstood so many grievous occurrences. He is a model character in that he alone illustrates a number of types of suffering. He has suffered in both a physical and mental sense. He is able to speak of the suffering of the play because he has played such a big part in resolving and overcoming them. His rise to royalty in the play shows how the plot and sub-plot have converged. His personal suffering allow him to make an unbiased and calm statement after the death of Lear. He has endured so much and can speak from his own experience. Several events in King Lear are seen differently by various characters. Their own intentions and beliefs cause them to make decisions which, if wrong, are corrected through the play’s progression. The nature of the characters along with their personal desire cause them to be biased and sometimes predictable in their actions. Often times, it is the obstruction created by other characters which prevents them from seeing clearly. Eventually, in the climactic play’s end, all wrong is corrected, unfortunately at the cost of several lives of many innocent people, making King Lear a true tragedy.