King Lear is a Shakespearian tragedy revolving largely around one central theme, personal transformation. Shakespeare shows in King Lear that the main characters of the play experience a transformative phase, where they are greatly changed through their suffering. Through the course of the play Lear is the most transformed of all the characters. He goes through seven major stages of transformation on his way to becoming an omniscient character: resentment, regret, recognition, acceptance and admittance, guilt, redemption, and optimism. Shakespeare identifies King Lear as a contemptuous human being who is purified through his suffering into some sort of god.
The first stage of Lear’s transformation is resentment. At the start of the play it is made quite clear that Lear is a proud, impulsive, hot-tempered old man. He is so self-centered that he simply cannot fathom being criticized. The strength of Lear’s ego becomes evident in the brutal images with which he expresses his anger towards Cordelia: “The barbarous Scythian,/Or he that makes his generation messes/To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom/Be as well neighboured, pitied, and relieved,/As thou may sometime daughter.” (1.1.118-122). The powerful language that Lear uses to describe his intense hatred towards Cordelia is so incommensurable to the cause, that there can be only one explanation: Lear is so passionately wrapped up in his own particular self-image, that he simply cannot comprehend any viewpoint (regarding himself) that differs from his own (no matter how politely framed). It is this anger and resentment that sets Lear’s suffering and ultimate purification in motion.
Lear’s feelings of resentment eventually transform into feelings of regret when he believes he is betrayed by his daughters. Lear’s suffering is first brought upon him by Goneril, who, after Lear’s knights become riotous, presents him with a set of conditions that he must abide by if he wants to continue living with her. Reacting with rage at this notion, Lear proceeds to beat his forehead with his fist in frustration: “O Lear, Lear, Lear!/Beat at this gate that let thy folly in/And thy dear judgement out!” (1.4.267-269). Lear believes that he is still the ruler, despite giving up his kingdom, and as such feels that Goneril should obey him. He obviously regrets his decision to give Goneril any power. Later, Regan and Goneril cause Lear further suffering by undermining their father’s sense of authority, without hesitation. They do this by severely diminishing the number of knights they will allow him to keep under his rule:
GONERIL: Hear me, my lord.
What need you five-and-twenty, ten, or five,
To follow in a house where twice so many
Have command to tend you?
REGAN: What need one? (2.4.260-263)
The hundred knights are not at all necessary to Lear’s maintenance or overall comfort (as the sisters point out quite clearly). However, they are essential to Lear’s sense of...