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King Lear Essay

3648 words - 15 pages

'King Lear' is acknowledged to be one of the great tragedies in literature and the finest of Shakespeare's tragedies. To go into it deeply is a stimulating and exciting intellectual experience, and a closer acquaintance with the play opens up insights not just into the life the life and times of Shakespeare but, because of the play's universality (applies to every time period, climate & nation), into everyday life here and now. We have various themes interspersed throughout the play, including rash decisions, blind stubbornness, sincerity, hypocrisy, flattery, filial devotion (loyalty), betrayal and treachery, unconditional and disinterested (Cordelia) love and devotion. All these themes fit in the world of today as they did in Shakespeare's times and that is why the play has a great universal significance.The plot itself is quite straightforward. The old king, wanting to shake off the burdens of ruling his kingdom, proposes to split it up and give a third to each of his three daughters. Before putting this plan into effect he asks each of them in turn to tell him how much each of them loves him. Two take the safe way, using flattery and giving fulsome declarations of their love for him; the third, Cordelia, in her sincerity and bluntness enrages him by speaking only of the love she owes him as a daughter's duty to her father. Consequently, she loses her share of the kingdom, and this is shared out between the other two.Very soon Lear finds that his two elder daughters abuse their power and drive him out. After an angry encounter, Lear leaves them, deciding to go out to the desolate heat in the stormy night, and his suffering turns his mind. Cordelia, who has married the generous and disinterested King of France after he has accepted her without a dowry, hears of his plight, and comes with a French army to retrieve him and nurse him back to sanity. Her army is defeated, and she is hanged by order of Edmund, the leader of the victorious English forces. Lear dies, broken-hearted at the death of the daughter he has wronged.This is how the main plot runs. The counterplot (sub-plot) deals with the outcome of Edmund's deception of his father, Gloucester. Edmund, Gloucester's illegitimate son, ousts (took the place of) Gloucester's legitimate son Edgar from their father's favour by deception and misrepresentation (represented him in a wrong way). Gloucester remains loyal to Lear in his madness, and pays for this by losing his eyes without revealing himself, Edgar is able to help his blind and destitute (miserable) father, and later kills Edmund in single combat.As such, the summary of the plot seems simple and straight forward, but there is much more to the play than that. It has some timeless qualities which accounts for its universality and enduring values. It treats with great firmness the results of giving way to foolish emotion. Lear's sentimentality and rash judgment hopelessly impede his powers of perception. He fails to recognize that all is...

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