A tragedy is a genre typically defined as a play that deals with a series of events that lead to the downfall of the hero. Written between 1604 and 1606, ‘King Lear’ falls into the genre of tragedy, depicting the destruction and downfall of the main character (Abrams). The play centres on Lear, an aging king who, in his retirement, decides to divide his kingdom between his three daughters while retaining the title and privileges of being king. However, King Lear’s actions lead to the destruction of his family, tearing up his kingdom and creating a war. ‘King Lear’ is a tragedy as it follows the codes and conventions generally associated with the genre. The hero and main protagonist, King Lear, is an influential, highborn character. This character, although virtuous, has a fatal flaw that leads to his demise (Shakespeare.nuvvo.com). It is Lear’s character in combination with the themes of conflict, power, family and forgiveness that make ‘King Lear’ a tragedy.
‘King Lear’ is a character driven play. As the main character, it is Lear’s decisions that affect those around him. Lear himself is stubborn, proud and is often blind to the truth. Because of this, it is made clear that Lear values appearance over reality, thus showing how the character and flaws of the character contribute to and further the conflict within the play (A TEACHER’S GUIDE TO THE SIGNET CLASSIC EDITION OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S KING LEAR). One of the biggest scenes based on conflict that supports this is at the end of Act 2, scene 4 where Lear is driven to breaking point by the cruelties of Goneril and Regan. Lear rages against them, explaining that their attempts to take away his knights and his servants hurt him.
“O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life as cheap as beast’s.” page: 1292
He cries, explaining that humans would be no different to animals if they did not need more than fundamental necessities of life to be happy. Lear needs knights and attendants not only for their service but for what their presence represents; namely, his identity as king. Therefore, in stripping Lear of his power, they are reducing him to the level of an animal. It is Lear’s fatal flaw of pride, his conceited nature and ignorance that lead to him staging the ‘love test’ in the beginning of the play. It is Lear’s actions based on this test that end up destroying his family.
Family is the most evident theme portrayed in ‘King Lear’ and is the centre of the play. Lear is not only the king but also a family patriarch thus making him the most influential figure in his three daughter’s life (Novelguide). However, Lear is an egocentric character driven by his own wants and needs. He wants to be treated as a king, with all the privileges of being a king but without any of the responsibility or pressures of ruling a kingdom. This is evident in the ‘love test’ he stages with his daughters in the beginning of...