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Role Reversal in King Lear

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Role Reversal in King Lear

     King Lear, known as one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, deeply affects its audience by playing out the destruction of two families. At the end of this play two of the protagonists, King Lear and his loyal friend the Earl of Gloucester, die after having suffered through major injustices at the hands of their own children. These characters’ deaths are incredibly tragic because they are brought on by their own actions instead of by the circumstances that surround them. Lear and Gloucester are not bad men but rather good men that make the fatal mistake of not acting according to their positions in life. In doing so, they ultimately force their children, Cordelia and Edgar respectively, to take on the roles that they cast off.

Lear is a king, but from the beginning of the play he chooses to shun this role. He acts in a manner unbefitting a king by forcing his daughters into a bizarre love contest in front of the entire court, thereby setting into motion a chain of events that bring about his insanity and eventually his death. It is apparent that Cordelia is Lear’s most beloved child for he says "I loved her most and thought to set my rest on her kind nursery" (1.1.137-138). This is the very child, however, that he then disinherits and banishes from his kingdom in an unexpected fit of rage. After giving Cordelia’s inheritance to her sisters Lear says he ". . . shall retain the name and all th’ addition to a king" (1.1.151-152). Following that he says "This coronet part between you" (1.1.155) to Cornwall and Albany. These two statements are contradictory and show Lear’s internal conflict with his role in life. There is only one crown in a kingdom, and the person who wears it has the ultim...

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...he end of this play, all hope is not lost for the future because the one left standing will ensure that a tragedy such as this will not happen again.

Works Cited and Consulted



Barish, Jonas A., and Marshall Waingrow.  "Service in King Lear." _SQ_ 9 (1958), 347-57.


Brooke, Nicholas.  "The Ending of King Lear."  _Shakespeare 1564-1964_.  Ed. Edward A. Bloom.  Providence: Brown U P, 1964. 71-87.


Kott, Jan.  "King Lear or Endgame (1964)."  _Shakespeare, King Lear: a Casebook_.  Ed. Frank Kermode. 

               London and Basingstoke: Macmillan P, 1975.


Leggatt, Alexander.  _King Lear_.  Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988.


Mack, Maynard.  _King Lear in Our Time_.  Berkeley: U of California P, 1965.


Shakespeare, William.  "King Lear". _The Riverside Shakespeare_. Ed. Blakemore Evans.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974.

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