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The Tragedy of King Lear

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1) Lear begins as a powerful figure, who wants to retire from the responsibilities of being King of Britain. He thinks he will spend his remaining years under the benevolent care of his daughters, each of whom will inherit one third of his empire. Regan and Goneril give appropriately flattering speeches on their great love for him, and he rewards them by giving them their inheritance. Unfortunately, Lear’s dreams of daughterly gratitude and affection are ruined when he stays with Goneril. Goneril drives him from her house, and conspires with Regan to make sure that Lear will never recover his power.

2) The Fool sees clearly that Lear has given away all his power: “thou hadst little wit in thy bald crown when thou gavest thy golden one away” (Act 1, sc 4). He compares Lear’s actions to making his daughters into his keepers; “for when thou gav’st them the rod and putt’s down thine own breeches, then they for sudden joy did weep” (Act 1, sc.4). Lear wants to believe that Regan and Goneril are loving daughters, and stays in denial until each daughter cuts him off at the knees in no uncertain terms. Goneril humiliates him frequently, and calls his justified anger a “prank”. She refers to his “dotage” frequently, and limits the amount of attendants he can have, stating that they “be such men as may besort your age” (248).Goneril’s interest in age-appropriateness for her father is thinly-disguised treachery.

3) The Earl of Kent, Lear’s daughter Cordelia, the King of France, the Fool, the Earl of Gloucester and the Gentleman are all kind to Lear. Kent is so faithful that he returns in disguise to serve Lear even after being banished. In Act 3, Scene One he is working with the Gentleman, who is Cordelia’s attendant. Kent sends a message to Cordelia through the Gentleman warning of a plot by Albany and Cornwall, perhaps to seize all power in Britain. Cordelia gets treated horribly when she refuses to play the obsequious game in order to gain her dowry. The King of France is kind to Lear indirectly, in that he values Cordelia and not her dowry, and agrees to marry her . The Fool is kind to Lear , trying to tell him what’s really going on with two of his daughters, although it’s hard to tell if he’s really being kind, or that’s just his job. The Earl of Gloucester is disgusted by the treatment Lear receives from his own family: “When I desired their leave that I might pity him, they took from me the use of mine own house” (Act 3, sc.2) He goes to tell the King about some developments that may avenge him. Lear treats Kent horribly, banishing him when he tries to calm Lear down in the play’s first scene. When Lear had power, it blinded him to those who refused to lie and play his game, namely Kent and Cordelia. Lear’s best friend and his one true daughter are banished from his sight.

4) Gloucester is blinded by Cornwall. Gloucester went to Lear with the message: “His daughters seek his death”. (Act3, sc.4). Edmund, Gloucester’s illegitimate son, tells Cornwall that his father is going to deliver this message. Edmund has been devising an elaborate ruse to kill his father and get all the money, first trying to frame Edgar, his legitimate brother, then allying later with Cornwall to take power from Gloucester. Gloucester is captured by Cornwall and the two sisters. Regan says “Hang him instantly” while Gonerils say “Pluck out his eyes” (Act 3, Sc 7).

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