The following example essay focuses on the gullible King Lear. Read the introduction, body and conclusion of the essay, scroll down.
King Lear has been portrayed as a gullible king who is easily influenced by flattery and outright ostentation. Throughout the play, his actions show him to be someone who believes in the traditional and the orthodox and is rather taken aback upon being challenged with opposing views. He consistently calls upon the gods for mercy, penance, and accusations while ignoring the actual forces of nature at work .
Upon being thrown out of Regan`s house, he blames the gods for kowtowing and siding with his daughters and for treating him unfairly. He fails to see the cunning schemes of his daughters and their plots to overthrow him, and instead focuses on the traditional view of blaming the gods for everything. Even though the play is set in pre-Christian era, there is a subtle hint of the almighty being the omniscient and the ever-powerful, which somewhat represented the idea and concept of God during the era in which the play was written.
Lear consistently called upon the gods at various instances throughout the play and this representation draws into the absence of practicality within him and shows how Shakespeare`s notions of his time and Christianity influenced the characterization of Lear.
In Act 1 Scene 4, Lear arrives at Goneril`s residence with his army of hundred knights. This could be related to the concept of retainers in a feudal system, which entailed a nobleman to rightfully employ several people at his service in return for food, clothing, honour and money.
Even though Lear distributed his land amongst his daughters and planned to live out his life with them, he retained an army of hundred knights who were loyal to him because Lear`s (or rather Shakespeare`s) concept of a king consorted to the traditional feudal system. Moreover, he failed to see Goneril`s arguments about some of the younger knights causing a ruckus at her home, even comparing it to a whorehouse and completely ignoring her request to let go off these younger knights and retaining only a few older ones. Lear`s ideas of a feudal society involving the lords and the vassals were rather attributed by his defiance to reduce the knights in his army. In a feudal structure, noblemen retained such armies as a symbol of challenge to the authority of the monarch or the king and considered it an insult to let go off them. Lear`s knights represented his army of retainers who had the prowess to challenge the throne, the one he divided amongst his daughters. Even though he was powerless albeit possessing the title of the king, his army of hundred knights was his source of pride and reputation and represented notions of a feudal society.
Throughout the play, various characters have touched upon their ideas about women and the act of sex. It is rather baffling to see how women are portrayed in certain scenes, and how these ideas changed and evolved along with the story. In Act 4 Scene 6, Lear compares women to sex machines. Furthermore, he metaphorically divides the women`s body into two contrasting halves belonging to heaven and hell. Even though Lear was senile while uttering these words, this characterization of women was prevalent in the era during which the play was written. Lear`s referral to the upper part of the body belonging to god and the lower part belonging to the devil, thereby comparing orgasm as a devilish act is rather patriarchal and demonstrates an oppressive representation of women.
Similarly, when the gentleman approaches Lear to escort him to meet Cordelia, Lear fears being killed and therefore declares that he would die courageously like a well-dressed bridegroom. Shakespeare uses this metaphor to draw an analogy between orgasm/sex and death, primarily because both involve a certain loss of awareness of the world. This could however also be interpreted as a male losing a certain awareness of the world during the act of sex and in terms pointing to women being responsible for dragging men into this near-death experience or metaphorically speaking, into this tryst with the devil. Furthermore, this notion of bridegroom being the brave one feels condescending and is rather meek compared to the expatriation of the women upon marriage. These all point to feministic issues at play in the society whilst the play was written.