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The Role Of The Double Plot In King Lear And Hamlet

1632 words - 7 pages

King Lear and Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, are two plays that reveal similar thematic elements, yet possess fundamentally different plot structures. Driven by the suffering and rage of two complementary characters, both plays suggest injustice through ‘good’, but ultimately flawed characters. This shared overarching theme is, however, conveyed differently within each of the works, as one employs two mainly disparate plot threads, while the other relies more heavily on the interaction between the two central plots. Yet the ultimate purpose of this dualism remains the same within both King Lear and Hamlet, in that Shakespeare’s use of the double plot illuminates the tragic elements within both plays, emphasizing core injustices through the interwinding parallelisms of two distinct groups.
In King Lear, this parallel structure reflects the tragic nature of the plot primarily in the symmetries between Lear and Gloucester. By describing a simultaneous betrayal, of Lear by Goneril and Regan, and of Gloucester by Edmund, Shakespeare not only establishes a strong sense of cruelty in the breaking of familial bonds, but also strengthens the play’s overall themes through repetition. This repetition is, however, not without key differences, which offer two distinct perspectives that lead to a cohesive whole. For instance, when juxtaposing Lear’s belief that “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child” (1.4.302-3) with Gloucester’s “O my follies! Then Edgar was abused. Kind gods, forgive me that, and prosper him.” (3.7.111-112), it is immediately apparent that, although their betrayals are quite similar, their responses differ sharply. While Lear is quick to point an accusatory finger at the injustices around him, Gloucester immediately takes responsibility for his failure, asking for forgiveness even after losing everything. This dichotomy between external blames and internal repentance is used by Shakespeare to demonstrate the tragic nature of King Lear from more than one plane, showing how two different personalities respond to two similar fates.
In “Hamlet” however, this clear symmetry is replaced with a more muddled intertwinement. Rather than maintaining two relatively separate plot threads in the journeys of Lear and Gloucester, Shakespeare opts to interweave the motivations and fates of Laertes and Hamlet, using their conflict as the central dynamic, while their parallels take a reduced role. In this sense, while King Lear is driven solely by the dualism of the story, Hamlet relies on the clash of the two plots to suggest injustice. This injustice, through conflict, is shown most prominently in Hamlet’s and Laertes’ duel at the end of the play. Hamlet, describing Laertes as a “a very noble youth.” (5.1.231), reveals a respect towards his foe that suggests that it is circumstance, not choice, that forces his hand. Similarly, Laertes’ singular goal, “To this point I stand, that both the worlds I give to negligence, let...

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