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To What Extent Do You Agree with the Idea That King Lear Deserves His Fate?

Essay by   •  February 17, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  1,939 Words (8 Pages)  •  2,398 Views

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King Lear inevitably meets his downfall by the end of the play, this happens through a combination of factors both in his direct control and through ways which are entirely out of his hands. Through his daughters disrespecting him through his foolishness over dividing his kingdom, the banishment of certain characters, unsuccessful manipulation and other methods Lear encounters madness and finally his death. From the beginning of the play the viewer can watch Lear deteriorate as his apparent madness intensifies and is helped along through other people such as his daughters Regan and Gonerill. Lear eventually seems to return to his original self regretting how these events started through his foolish banishment of Cordelia however this is momentarily and he later seems to go back to his mad ways. It is only at the very end of the play, when him and Cordelia are reunited with Lear carrying her body in his arms, it is at this point when Lear realizes his wrong doing to Cordelia "You must bear with me. Pray you now, forget and forgive. I am old and foolish".

It is in Act 1 when Lear's mental stability is questioned through subjecting his three daughters Cordelia, Regan and Gonerill to an outlandish love trial in which he asks them to tell to him and many others how much they love him, whoever Lear feels expresses the greatest love for him will obtain the largest section of his land. Unlike Cordelia Regan and Gonerill over exaggerate their feelings for Lear. Gonerill speaks first saying "sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter" this is the abruptly followed by a further six lines. Regan does the same though tries to increase that of Gonerill and therefore receives an even larger portion of land. By this time Lear would be pleased with himself and the way that he must look to his surrounding people but when Cordelia is simply honest with her love Lear cannot understand, after they have exchanged words Lear's pride is battered, especially in front of his fellow people. He instantaneously makes an irrational decision to disown Cordelia. Kent protests this and increasingly agitates Lear, Kent tells him that he is doing wrong and wishes to lead him "see better, Lear, and let me still remain the true blank of thine eye". After Kent's uproar Lear punishes him, Kent must leave Britain within six days.

Kent and Cordelia were previously very important to Lear; Cordelia was his favourite daughter whilst Kent was one of Lear's service men whom he valued greatly. Through banishing them both he can question his previous feelings and feels that they have betrayed him. Though Lear believes that they have done him wrong it is in fact of Lear's actions that the problems rouse through his need to divide his kingdom whilst still trying to maintain his kingly status. This is the first way that Lear's madness is brought on and eventually his fate, all of his own doing.

When Shakespeare was writing King Lear, the English had survived civil war and political and religious movements. Chaos followed the death of Henry VIII, and his oldest daughter Mary I ruled, the country experienced both civil and religious chaos, with the conflict between Catholicism and the Church of England resulting in much carnage.

After Mary's death, Elizabeth I reached the throne, this lead to a period of peace. In spite of their contentment with Elizabeth's rule, the population worried about England's future because Elizabeth was not married, she also refused to select a possible heir. Nobody wanted a repeat of the events that marked the earlier transfer of power. So the lack of an heir created fears over a possible successor to the throne, it was finally resolved in 1603 when Elizabeth appointed James IV of Scotland to be her heir, and eventually, the new king of England.

The English people understood that a country needed an effective leader to protect it from potential invasion. Elizabeth's leadership had saved England when the Spanish attempted an invasion in 1588. No ruler would have deliberately chosen to divide a kingdom, not after having witnessed the conflicts that had changed England's recent history. The division of the country would have weakened it, leading to arguments between people and that there wouldn't be an effective central government, meaning the there would be no effective defense. After this long period of uncertainty in England, Shakespeare's Elizabethan audience would have been horrified at Lear's choice to divide his kingdom and create a lack of unity

The next section in the play in which Lear personally contributes to his final fate is when he proposes that he and his one hundred knights live between Gonerill and Reagan in turn, on some kind of rotor "Ourself by monthly course, with reservation for an hundred knights by you to be sustained, shall our abode make with you by due turn". When Lear and his knights are staying with Gonerill she tells the servants that they are to treat Lear with little respect and not to be courteous towards him. Lear does seem to notice this however it is only brought up in conversation by a knight which Lear Says he will look into. Lear says that he thought it was just him overacting around the situation but now that someone else has told him also he realizes that something may be wrong. After confronting Gonerill in which she wanted the number of his knights reduced Lear disowns her as she has basically gone back on her word when he was dividing his kingdom. At this point Lear speaks very badly of Gonerill, he calls her a "degenerate bastard" and later says "Thou marble hearted fiend, More hideous when thou show'st thee in a child than the sea monster". The fact that Lear can speak to his daughter this way and change his view of her immediately shows how mad Lear is. Lear later finds that Regan, the only daughter which he still has faith in however she will only let him stay with twenty five knights. This devastates Lear as he realizes that his daughters are turning against him. It is at this point that Lear personally questions his sanity "I have full cause of weeping, but this heart shall break into a hundred thousand flaws or ere I'll weep. O fool, I shall go mad".

Throughout the play Lear has a sense of self doubt even as a father for his daughters especially after the disrespect that he received from Gonerill and Regan "you unnatural hags, I will have revenge on you both" as well as him doubting himself as a father figure he also questions his sanity. Numerous times during the play Lear fears for his sanity "O fool I shall go mad",

To this point Lear does not realize that his two daughters Gonerill and Regan have joined forces in a bid to drive out Lear. After Lear had disowned Gonerill and

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