King Lear is widely acknowledged as one of William Shakespeare’s great tragedies. This essay will identify and analyze a couple of key scenes from the play which makes a significant contribution to the overall development of plot, its character and the theme.
Act 1 Scene 1
The very first scene from the first act is important for various reasons. Firstly, it introduces all the central characters in the play and gives an indication as to their dispositions. Of the three daughters of King Lear, the two elder ones Goneril and Regan play the roles of antagonists along with the ever conspiring illegitimate son of Gloucester, Edmund. King Lear assembles in his court his heirs-apparent and key members of the nobility as he decides to announce the details of inheritance of his Kingdom. The ensuring dialogue between King Lear and his three daughters sets the tone for subsequent developments in the plot and also captures the essence of their personalities. The King decides that whichever daughter expresses a greater love for the old King and father will inherit a larger share of the bountiful land. In this context, Goneril and Regan speak of their love for their father in poetic terms, their message ridden with hyperbole. But, the old King is in no state to decipher the veracity of their statements and feels flattered by their praise. This exchange is important for the plot of the play, as it provides key insights into the thoughts and intentions of King Lear’s daughters. In later acts and scenes, the true nature of each of the daughters would unravel much to the disappointment and anguish of the old and fragile King. Though Cordelia’s words were more restrained and devoid of exaggeration, it is she who proves the more worthy of the siblings, as she comes to the King’s rescue and protect, especially when the latter finds himself in dire need of it. The scene is also significant in respect of its introduction of Edward, the illegitimate son ofGloucester, who would mastermind a conniving scheme to undermine the fortunes of his elder brother Edgar. Hence, the first scene of the first act is important for the overall development of plot, its character and the theme.
King Lear Scenes
Act 3 Scene 2
The second scene of the third act is not only a key passage for the play but also finds a place in the Shakespearean canon. Here, King Lear, disillusioned with the treatment meted out to him by his two elder daughters, finds himself without an abode. Not only is his very life threatened in these circumstances but he is also pushed to the brink of sanity by the immediately preceding events. It is in this scene that the disgruntled King, being subject to the hardships of a ravaging thunderstorm utters those powerful words of wisdom. For example, the following lines are memorable for the tragic effect they induce in the audience.
“Rumble thy bellyful! Spit, fire! spout, rain! Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters: I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness; I never gave you kingdom, call’d you children, You owe me no subscription: then let fall Your horrible pleasure: here I stand, your slave, A poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man: But yet I call you servile ministers, That have with two pernicious daughters join’d Your high engender’d battles ‘gainst a head So old and white as this. O! O! ’tis foul!”
Here, King Lear is addressing Mother Nature herself, as he tries to make sense of the chaos and destruction that is both within and without. It is important to note that the tumult of wind and rain is related to personal betrayal by one’s own children. The remains of the King’s entourage, including Edgar and the fool, provide suitable backdrop to the scene. As the King continues to pour out his grief the fool interludes with his wise observations and remarks that adds to the overall dramatic effect. Although the climax of the plot was to come much later in the play, this scene is the most impressive for its poignant depiction of personal tragedy. The scene sets the tone for the impending realization and reconciliation with the faithful of the three daughters Cordelia. The poignancy also emerges from the loyalty shown by the King’s companions, especially Kent, who serves his King incognito.
In most of Shakespeare’s plays, the rulers are portrayed to be in a state of mental stress. This is particularly true with respect to the two plays – King Lear and Measure for Measure. King Lear, which is a tragedy, is full of expressions of anguish and pathos by the old king, whose mental faculties are disintegrating by the day. After dividing his kingdom between his two elder daughters Goneril and Regan (who betray his trust), the former king becomes a lonely figure disillusioned with filial love and duty. In a hasty act, he also disowns his youngest daughter Cordelia and ends up without physical and emotional security and care, barring his retinue of one hundred Knights. This situation bears very heavily upon his already weak mental condition and in this state he pours out some of the most heart-wrenching words of anguish and despair. (Beauregard, 2008, p.201) In this respect, the following observation by critic Barbara Ann Lukacs is valid: