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King Lear And The Theme Of Tragedy

1175 words - 5 pages

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 this genre of tragedy, depicting the destruction and demise 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 ...view middle of the document...

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’, which in turn leads to the destruction of his family.
Family is one of the most prominent themes 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 daughter’s lives (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 the play.
Where Lear says: “Which of you shall we say doth love us most?” (King Lear 1. 1. 48-50) he is asking his daughters to tell him just how much they love him, so that one might receive a larger amount of land to rule over. In his ignorance Lear expects these answers to be wholesome and true. Lear takes the falsified love Goneril and Reagan show in saying that they love him “…more than words can wield,” (King Lear 1. 1.54) as a compliment, granting them a decent size of land, when in reality their affection for their father is driven their own selfish desires.
However, in contrast to Goneril and Regan’s empty words, Cordelia offers her father a truthful evaluation of her love.
Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty
According to my bond; nor more nor less.” (King Lear 1. 1. 91-93)
Cordelia is stating that she loves him “according to my bond” meaning she understands and accepts her duty to love him as a father and king (Novelguide). Despite the fact that Cordelia loves Lear better than her sisters do, she is unable to “heave” her heart into her mouth, as her integrity prevents her from lying in order to gain something for herself (Novelguide). Lear finds it hard to accept this, saying “I love her most, and thought to set my rest / On her kind nursery.” This shows his disappointed and hurt at having his favourite child insult him...

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