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The Existential Progression of King Lear Essay

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The Existential Progression of King Lear


The human condition is the scrutiny of art, Prince Hamlet notes the purpose of art is to hold the mirror against nature. King Lear is a masterful inquiry into the human condition. King Lear is confronted with existence in its barest sense and is forced to adapt to that existence. His adaptation to the absurd provides an invaluable insight for all into the universal problem of existence. Lear is forced into an existential progression that will be traced with the phenomenon of consciousness; the result of this progression is seen ironically in that Lear finds satisfaction in despair.

The point of departure of Lear into the unknown of existence is seen when he plunges himself into the harshness and relentlessness of nature. While immersed in the storm, Lear has been reduced to the bare essentials of man, he has lost those that he perceived as loving, and despite being accompanied by the Fool and Kent, Lear is more alone than he has ever been. The daughters he thought who loved him abandoned him and have taken his kingdom. The daughter who truly loved him was banished by his irrationality; Lear is alone. The presence of the Fool and Edgar should not necessarily be looked upon as that of a companion, but rather as catalyst for Lear’s progression. As for Kent, his presence is barely felt by Lear. Lear’s isolation is critical for his progression. Similar to Sartre’s Roquentin in Nausea, isolation and loneliness are the foundations for becoming existentially aware. “The tempest in my mind/ Doth from my senses take all feeling else”(III, iv 13-14)[1] Lear is completely alone in the universe, abandoned by love and cloistered from all outside emotion; he is now prepared to perceive the realit...


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...a masterful work of art is that it conveys this universal truth, and at the same time conveys the sharp emotional anxiety that is concurrent with the universal truth. Lear constructs the universal human condition.



Works Cited

1-William Shakespeare. King Lear edited by Russle Fraser.(New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1982). All future references will come from this text.

2-G. Wilson Knight. The Wheel of Fire. (London: Mehuen & Co., 1949), pg 193

3-Northrop Frye. On Shakespeare. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), pg 113

4-Harold Bloom. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. (New York: Riverhead Books, 1998), pg 503

5-Bloom, pg. 503

6-Bloom, pg. 504

7-Bloom, pg. 505

8-Descartes. Meditations. Dr. Nighan's British Literature and AP page: http://stjohns-chs.org/english/Seventeenth/Sev-bk.html

9-Knight, pg. 196

10-Frye, pg. 119


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