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King Lear Essay Paper

Words: 822, Paragraphs: 9, Pages: 3

Paper type: Essay , Subject: Literary Classics

Parent topic:

In King Lear, William Shakespeare traces one man’s discovery of his individual sinfulness and ignorance, and his eventual appreciation of his mortal flaws and their consequences. Through the imagery of sight and eyes, Shakespeare details King Lear’s passage from initial blindness to the virtue, honesty, and love of Cordelia to the ultimate restoration of his vision through suffering and selfless love.

By illustrating the loss and gain of internal sight, as well as, detailing Lear’s transformation from egotistic pride to self-abandoning love, the reader is taught to assess reality in terms of truth within ourselves, rather than, mere appearance or monetary value. Lear’s tragic flaw is his excessive desire for approval and exaltation, which he looks to obtain by asking his three daughters to profess their love for him. The two eldest daughters, Regan and Goneril, speaking with self-serving exaggeration, give Lear exactly what he desires, reverence and adoration.

However, Cordelia, his “most beloved daughter”, refuses to comply with Lear’s superficial desires. Aware that love extends deeper than artificial compliments, Cordelia confesses her “plain” love, characterized by modesty and honesty. “Then poor Cordelia! / And not so, since I am sure my love’s/ More ponderous than my tongue… Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave/ My heart into my mouth. I love your Majesty/ According to my bond, no more nor less” (I. i. 79-81, 93-95).

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The king, enraged by her modest words, disowns her as “a barbarous/ Scythian” (I. . 117-118). Blinded by pride and conceit, Lear refuses to acknowledge the painful truth about himself-the truth conveyed by Cordelia. In reality, obviously, Cordelia is the only daughter who truly loves Lear with complete goodness. In banishing Cordelia, the anger Lear displays, as well as, the punishment he inflicts are consequences of his blindness caused by pride and conceit. Because of his pride, Lear sees vice within Cordelia and virtue within Regan and Goneril, where none exists.

Because Lear empties his entire kingdom, as well as, himself to the deceptive daughters that flatter him, rather than Cordelia, the honorable daughter, chaos descends on his kingdom. The chaos in his kingdom and his internal turmoil are mirrored through the storm. The storm, not only, echoes Lear’s inner turmoil but, also, forces him to recognize his own mortality and vulnerability. Throughout the storm, the reader becomes increasingly aware of Lear’s transformation. In the storm, Lear begins to abandon his arrogant persona and, finally, begins to cultivate a sense of humanity.

Rarely acknowledging the Fool, Lear begins to feel sympathy for him. “Come on, my boy. How dost, my boy? Art cold?… Poor Fool and knave, I have one part in my heart/ That’s sorry yet for thee” (III. ii. 69, 73-74). In developing a deepening sensitivity to other people, Lear dethrones himself and, for the first time, sees that, he too, is only human. Because he has experienced the suffering caused by his two oldest daughters, as well as, the physical pain attributable to the storm, Lear is able to ally himself with the “poor naked wretches… That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm” (III. iv. 28-29).

With this newfound compassion and sympathy for the suffering of others, Lear begins to reveal humane attributes. In becoming “human” and emptying himself, Lear begins to see truth within himself, rather than, in power or financial value. However, it is only through Cordelia’s death that Lear can see his flaws clearly. Holding Cordelia, his beloved daughter, as she is dying, Lear has the power to see himself and to know his own soul. Lear, in the final moments of his life, finds himself by professing his anguish and love for the daughter that he has mistreated. “Her voice was ever soft,/ Gentle and low, an excellent thing in woman.

I killed the slave that was a-hanging thee… I am old now,/ And these same crosses spoil me” (V. iii. 274-276, 279-280). By emptying himself to his daughter, through selfless love, Lear reaches liberation from his tragic flaw, his excessive desire for approval and exaltation. On the verge of death, Lear redeems his soul by completely giving himself in love and in body to his daughter. Releasing his soul from the constraints of pride and conceit, Lear is, finally, able to find truth within himself. With Cordelia’s death, Lear is able to grasp reality in terms of truth rather than superficial value.

Shakespeare depicts a society blinded by illusion and false reality. Lear is unable to overcome his superficial attributes until he, both, literally and figuratively, empties himself. This play is not about Lear’s punishment for abandoning Cordelia, but about a king’s struggle to rid himself of disillusion and cleanse himself of superficial characteristics. King Lear is a depiction of sin redeemed through love and flaw cleansed through suffering. Through King Lear’s struggle, the reader is taught to assess reality in terms of truth within ourselves, rather than, in social stature or financial value.

King Lear Essay

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