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Form In King Lear Essay

1244 words - 5 pages

Artistic Form in King LearKing Lear has remained one of Shakespeare's best works, and one of the best tragedies of all time, since the beginning of the 17th century; however, some early critics believe that certain elements of the story do not satisfy the criteria for a proper tragedy. The two plot elements under speculation are the subplot and the catastrophic ending. The primary focus of the story is set on the elderly King Lear, whose pride and greed blinds him, causing him to banish his only pure daughter, Cordelia, along with his most loyal subject, Kent. He bestows his power and land upon his ungrateful daughters Regan and Goneril, who immediately plot to strip him of the remainder of his power as well as his pride. A similar subplot emerges where the Earl of Gloucester is duped by his Don John-esque bastard son, Edmund, into banishing his real son, Edgar. Both fathers realize their misjudgments before the end, but not before their downfalls. The play ends with the gradual insanity and death of Lear, as well as the deaths of Cordelia, Regan, Goneril, Gloucester, and Edmund. The happy ending or "poetic justice" is never achieved and the only exception to the seeming lack of justice is the pronouncement of the loyal Edgar as King, and the inferred bright future.The earliest record of a criticism of King Lear is a letter from the Irish playwright Nahum Tate to a friend, written in 1681. In the letter, Tate describes King Lear as "a Heap of Jewels, unstrung and unpolisht." He describes in detail how he plans to rework several major elements of the story, adding a love affair between Edgar and Cordelia, rescuing Lear and Cordelia from execution, omitting The Fool (a source of wisdom as well as comic relief), and establishing "poetic justice" at the plays end. Tate proposes these changes in order to "rectifie what was wanting in the Regularity and Probability" of King Lear. He also reasoned that the audience would like a happy ending where justice and virtue prevailed. His reworking of the tale complies with the strict Neoclassical formula that was expected at the time. Tate's predictions proved correct when his altered version overshadowed the original for over a century. (Tate 344-45) (SC2 92)During the 18th Century, the controversy over the ending of King Lear continues as well as new controversy over Tate's rewritten ending. Critic Joseph Addison criticizes Tate's adaptation, claiming that it didn't have "half [the original's] beauty." He discredits the idea that virtue being victorious over corruption is obligatory in a tragedy and says that poetic justice has no foundation in nature or reason. Addison also argues that Shakespeare's work cannot be evaluated within classical guidelines. (Addison) Critic George Coleman later adds to the idea that a genius such as Shakespeare should be exempt from these guidelines. However most critics during the time period disagree with this approach, favoring Tate's rectification. They believe that the play...

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