What Important Changes Happen To Lear In "King Lear"? Essay

2276 words - 10 pages

What, in your view are the most important changes that take place in the character of Lear during the play , King Lear? Support your points by reference to the play.

Lear, the King of Britain, is a powerful and important man in William Shakespeare's tragedy 'King Lear'. But he’s getting near retirement age. Lear thinks he can hand over the hard work of ruling the kingdom to his children and relax. He wants to enjoy the power of still being king without any of the responsibility. His main flaw at the beginning of the play is that he values appearance above reality.
Power
In this way Lear is unable to separate power and responsibility. His two eldest daughters are ready to run their own lives – and their own kingdoms. They resent Lear acting as if he is still in charge. Yet the King is shocked when his daughters assert their independence from him. After all, he gave them everything they have. Not to mention Lear’s character – dominated by his arrogant self-will, which has been nourished by this absolute power from the beginning. The slightest opposition to his power makes him fly into blind rage.

Lear’s second mistake is to exile the people who won’t give in to his power. He chooses to stage a “love test” among his three daughters, so he can give the biggest slice of the kingdom to the one who loves him most. When Cordelia refuses to take part, Lear is so angry that he orders her out of the kingdom. And when his adviser, Kent, warns him that this is a terrible idea, Lear throws him out, too. It is not enough to merely banish Kent, Lear actually threatens him with capital punishment – the problem here is that Kent “attacked” Lear’s ego by questioning his actions. The same degree of punishment is inflicted upon Cordelia – Lear completely disowned her by treating her as if he never knew her.
And what happens if you actually provoke Lear? He strikes Goneril’s servant, insults Oswald the steward and his curses on Goneril are fearsome.

Lear wants to be treated as a king and to enjoy the title, but he doesn’t want to fulfill a king’s obligations of governing for the good of his subjects. Similarly, his test of his daughters demonstrates that he values a flattering public display of love over real love. He doesn’t ask “which of you doth love us most,” but rather, “which of you shall we say doth love us most?” (Act 1 Scene 1).

So Lear has to deal with the power struggle his retirement sparked without two of the people who could have smoothed the transition. (Kent does come back disguised as Caius, a peasant, but this means he only has a peasant’s power – enough to take care of Lear, but not enough to soothe his political worries.)
Foolishness
Lear realizes his foolishness soon enough. His retirement starts a series of conflicts that led the country to civil war. Two of Lear’s own children turn against him, and Lear goes mad and wanders around in a thunderstorm, shouting at the sky. In some sense, what happens to Lear is tragic. He ends up...

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