Shakespeare’s Ridiculous King Lear Essay

1115 words - 4 pages

It’s surprising that Shakespeare’s King Lear is not treated as a comedy. His portrayal of a power hungry nobility only serves to mock the monarchical system. Both of Lear’s elder daughters deceive their own father in order to procure his wealth of land, and Edmund the bastard cannot stop killing and lying in order to climb up the royal succession. This backstabbing nature of the monarchy is exactly what makes it so ridiculous. Most importantly, Shakespeare depicts the tragic life of King Lear, an abdicated ruler. The play centers around Lear’s struggle to maintain his subjects’ respect and his daughters’ love, all of which he loses. With these examples, Shakespeare makes a shrewd comment about the superfluousness of the ruling class, and the fate of Lear becomes a stand-in for Shakespeare’s attitude towards the “nobility.”

Shakespeare wrote King Lear around 1606, which coincides with the reign of King James I, who ascended to the throne in 1603, succeeding Elizabeth I. Although he was a supporter of the arts, James “articulated his belief in an absolutist theory of monarchy and the divine right of kings, desiring to command not only complete obedience but also complete devotion” (Bengtsson). Being that Elizabeth had previously established an equal relationship with the parliament, British government became uneasy. In addition, many Protestants, including Shakespeare himself, feared that religious persecution would start up once more as it had before Elizabeth. In fact, James passed the Popish Recusants Act, “an act to cause persons [existing Protestants] to be naturalized or restored in blood to conform [to Catholicism] and take the oath of allegiance and supremacy [to the Pope]” (Burton). From his actions, one can see how England would not be happy with this new monarch, and as a result, King Lear takes on many attitudes and opinions held by the people of England towards James I, and serves as an opportunity to express discomfort and dissent within the country.

Shakespeare provides a means of mockery in portraying the villains of the tragedy as backstabbing and negligent social climbers. Both Goneril and Regan have no love for their father, but in order to inherit the kingdom, they deceive Lear by feigning their love. Goneril suddenly loves her father “more than word can wield the / matter” (I.i.60-61), and Regan “[is] alone felicitate / In [his] dear Highness’ love” (I.i.83-84). In these portrayals, Shakespeare casts the nobility as power hungry and ruthless, caring only for their royal status. A similar instance can also be seen in Edmund’s character. Being the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester, Edmund stops at nothing to “top the legitimate” (I.ii.21) and climb the ladder of succession. He first discredits his own brother Edgar, and then betrays his own father, making himself the Earl of Gloucester. He then continues to court both Regan and Goneril, who end up killing one another due to jealousy, and finally orders the death...

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