The Importance of Act 1 Scene 2 of William Shakespeare's King Lear
In a play of immense grandeur, Shakespeare has created within King
Lear; a character so depraved that he appears to step beyond the
realms of forgiveness. Act 1ii is the keystone of King Lear - its
significance and influence radiates throughout the whole of the play.
Interwoven with and parallel to the central story line, the subplot is
used to enhance and develop the key themes of this tragic masterpiece.
The scene also begins the plot to crack the ‘bond…‘twixt son and
father’. Driven by a selfish desire to displace his brother, and
through his imperious and cunning performance, Edmund reveals to us a
devious nature that we must question: does this Machiavellian
malcontent have a worthy motivation?
In addition to using Act 1ii as a device for divulging Edmund’s
intent, we see themes developing that establish themselves as the
basis for the play.
In this scene, we see Edmund challenging the society and its
traditions as he questions his illegitimacy and his social status,
‘Why brand they us/ With ‘base’?’. His deprivation in society and
being seen as lower and inferior to his brother questions the
prejudices of society. When speaking to Edgar of his beliefs that
‘sons of perfect age’ should manage their father’s revenue, Edmund is
basically stating that the old order such as King Lear and his father,
Gloucester, should allow youth to take their place, ‘the younger rises
when the old doth fall’.
The theme of age is central to both plots. This partition between the
age groups is dealt with throughout the whole of the play. Whilst
Edmund’s focus is to overthrow his father, King Lear’s is to bestow
his kingdom upon the ‘younger strengths’ – his daughters. In Act 1ii,
Gloucester says, ‘I begin to find an idle and fond bondage in the
oppression of aged tyranny, who sways not as in hath power, but as it
suffered’. In both the main plot and the subplot, we can see that it
is the ‘flawed’ aged who brings about their ultimate demise. Wanting
to ‘shake all cares and business from our age’, Lear cannot accept
that he is no longer fit to be a king. His mentality as a king is far
from diminished, yet he does not appreciate the extent of his
abdication. Devised by Plato and Aristotle, ‘The Great Chain of Being’
was a concept greatly subscribed to by Shakespeare’s contemporaries. A
king is seen as being at the top of this hierarchy. In resigning the
crown to his ‘younger strengths’, Lear forfeits the prestige of his
position. We also see the family divisions that are becoming apparent
between Lear and the betrayal of his daughters and Gloucester with his
unnatural relationship with his sons. Although these challenges
greatly the Chain of Being, both men have lost faith in their moral,
natural child, who will...