King Lear Themes

Blindness’before he lost his eyes, he was spiritually blind’ (Muir)’it his blindness that produces all his misfortunes’ (Hazlitt)’moral distinctions that were initially obscured come to light’ (Cantor)’I have no way, and therefore want no eyes, I stumbled when I saw’ (Gloucester)’A man may see how the world goes with no eyes. Look with thine ears’ (Lear) Lear: metaphorical blindness to court, children, the needs of his kingdom, consequences of hubris actionsCorruption of Court: dishonest and blind to EdmundGloucester: Metaphorical to children, seeing truth when blind becomes oxymoron. Literal, blinded by Regan and Cornwall for adultery Punishment and Brutality: sin makes way for blindnessRevelation: new totalitarian state and Regans true nature, audience see revelation and restoration of morality, Gloucester and Lear ‘see’ children, Goneril and Regan turn on each other, Albany turns on Goneril
Madness: ‘this night will turn us all to Fools and madmen’ (Fool)’You make me mad’ (Lear)’I would rather be any kind o’ thing than a Fool and yet I would not be thee”The codpiece that will house before the head has any”Lear’s progressing madness to be paired with recognition of the truth’ (Dunkel)’Reason in madness; madness in reason’ (Dunkel)’the storm symbolises the internal battle within Lear’ (Flemming) Causes: old age (dementia), loss of status and identity, betrayal, betraying the Gods and social order, breakdown in morality of most characters Facilitates: Justice, an escape from reality in the storm (natural order accelerates madness), resolution of moral distinctions e.g. Cordelia, phobos (horror at realisation), Eleus (pity and mercy)Justice: imaginary trial mocks authority of establishment but is needed for Lear to understand enemies and for a restoration of morality and identity (feeds ego- Freud)Storm: gives way to truth, poor tom accelerates madness, the fool tries to maintain sanity Edmund: Obsessed with status, driven to madness by upbringing, talks about self in 3rd person (identity crises/egotistical), accelerates ruin of social order, mad for ‘bastard’ to gain status for jacobean audience
Nothing’Nothing my Lord’ (Cordelia and Edmund)’Is man no more than this?’ (Poor Tom)’I know not what to say’ (Lear)’before he lost his eyes, he was spiritually blind’ (Muir) Lear: status, family and mind go, has nothing to go when realises true intention of daughters (phobus)Cordelia: ‘Nothing my Lord’ starts chain of events (parallel to Edmund and subplot)Other characters: language to reflect Cordelia, ‘nothing’ (Fool)Edgar: questions what makes a man Gloucester: loses everything including eyes and learns to see more clearly
Clothing’Off Off! You lendings’ (Lear) Disguises: Virtuous characters do so in order to maintain loyalties Inferior status: humble dress shows decreased status of the Fool, Kent and Edgar whilst serving the King on the heath Concealment of corruption: court members wear ceremonial garments (Lear removes at recognition of folly)Restoration of Lear’s sanity: put into fresh garments Trevor Nunn staging: Lear and Cordelia both put in Christ like white at death
Animals’most serpent like’ (Lear)’hedge sparrow’ (Fool) Goneril and Regan: associated to savagery creatures, reinstating the idea of their inhumanity Lear: described as ‘hedge sparrow’ by the fool to highlight vulnerability
Nature Cruelty of Nature: dominance of evil characters- Goneril, Regan and Edmund seek own selfish universe and order, yet all good characters sufferPositive characters: natural for Cordelia, Kent, Edgar and The Fool to be loving, as they seek natural restoration and demonstrate the human nature of goodnessLear: representation of natural order, transgresses with treatment of Cordelia and allows Goneril and Regan to take power, unnatural dealings progress to others (Gloucester)Storm: punishment and protest to the regression of natural orderRestoration: death of Cordelia suggests no restoration (arguably further punishment for Lear), Edgar could be considered a good monarch but his succession is hardly not a triumph
Justice ‘her execution converts her from a symbol of goodness to tragic sacrifice’ (Flemming) Trials: Lear permits a ‘love test’ to his children with disasterous consequences, hosts a mock trial for Goneril and Regan which undermines all authoritive trials of the time (hosted by a lunatic and attended by a madman and court jester)Natural Justice: Edgar defeats Edmund in trial of goodness over evil Poetic Justice: Goneril and Regan destoryed by lust, Cornwall is killed by own servantQuestionable: death of Cordelia makes justice system fallible, do Lear and Gloucester deserve death?
The Gods: both Pagan and Christian Deities ‘we shall now express our darker purpose’ (Lear)’let this kiss repair these violent harms’ (Cordelia)’no cause, no cause”God, stand up for bastards!’ Justice: Are the Gods just in their actions?Lear: begins with full trust, weakened through egotism, rediscovers faith with Cordelia, but Lear does betray the Gods with hubris actions Edgar and Cordelia: behave with Christian fortitude yet they both sufferCordelia: example of Christian goodness (esp. in Nunn version), Shakespeare arguably making a point of athiesm when she is sacrificed because the Gods do not seem just Gloucester: pessimistic viewEdmund: calls for divine intervention but shows little respect for any religion, his rise in status shows human force is just as strong as divine force, however, the athiest is not allowed to defeat the theist as he is defeated by Albany and Edgar
Language ‘Bring me an egg nuncle’ (Fool)’What shall Cordelia speak? Love and be silent”Let me if not by birth, have hands of wit’ (Edmund)’Shakespeare takes pains to prevent evil in Edmund, he does no so thing for Goneril and Regan’ (Mantford)’we shall express our darker purpose’ turns to ‘I lov’d her most’ (Lear) Blank Verse and Prose- shorter lines for emphasisRhyme couplets at the end of scenes to provide closure, drawing attention to particular ideas (The Fool shows his wisdom this way through song) Prose: spoken by low status or mad characters e.g. Lear shifts from verse to prose when his wits desert him and he loses the third person pronoun Asides and Soliloquy (Edmund and Cordelia): inform the audience of the characters intentions, heightens the brutaity of Goneril and Regan and develops a deeper understanding of EdmundGoneril and Regan: active commands, demonstrating their desire for power Use of metaphors from the Fool: enables Lear to develop an understanding of his actions without being directly insulted

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