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The Dysfunctional Family Of Shakespeare's King Lear

2868 words - 11 pages

The Dysfunctional Family of King Lear

 
     One of the reasons why Shakespeare is so thoroughly read today is because of his ability to portray human nature so accurately through his characters.  Shakespeare's play, King Lear shows us that humans are treacherous and selfish.  We can also relate to the play because of the family issues that Shakespeare incorporates throughout the work.  Lear's family is definitely a dysfunctional one.  However, the disrupted family unit is the basis for the play's tragedy.  The Contemporary Guide to Literary Terms defines tragedy as "a piece of writing that inspires fear or pity, through which the audience/reader experiences catharsis" (a purging of emotions).  Tragic plots should have a clear beginning, middle and end that all involve the protagonist in some way.  It is essential in this play for King Lear to have serious family problems in order for him to become a tragic hero.  The whole premise of the plot is based on his conniving daughters (with help from Lear's ego).  These family problems turn Lear into a tragic hero.  Much the same could be said about Gloucester, which will also be examined in this paper. 

 

It is universally agreed that the primary source for the story of King Lear and his daughters was the anonymous earlier play known as The True Chronicle History of King Leir (usually abbreviated to King Leir or just Leir), which was not published until 1605 but was probably performed in 1594 or earlier (Thompson, 13).  Shakespeare's King Lear is a detailed description of the consequences of one's man actions, and the behavior of his family.  Lear is the king of England in this play, who decides to distribute his kingdom amongst his three daughters.  This untimely abdication of his throne sets up a chain of events that puts Lear's life and the lives of those around him in disarray.  Contrary to what Barker states, I believe there are two Lears: the Titan integrating the storm and the old man breaking under it (16).  Lear changes not only as a king, but also as a man... as a father.  

 

Regardless of the warnings given to him by his trustful advisor Kent, Lear goes on to ask each of his daughters to profess their love for him, offering them pieces of the kingdom as a reward when he says:

 

    "Great rivals in our youngest daughter's love,

    Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn,

    And here are to be answered.  Tell me my daughters,

    (Since now we will divest us both of rule,

    Interest of territory, cares of state)

    Which of you shall we say doth love us most?

    That we our largest bounty may extend

    Where nature doth with merit challenge."  (I,i, 47-53)

 

 

Kimbrough states that Lear loses his primary modes of identity when he consciously removes himself from the role of king and unconsciously removes himself from the role of parent; there is little left except his...

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