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Essay A Comparison of King Lear and Coriolanus

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A Comparison Of Compassion and Identity in King Lear and Coriolanus

 
Shakespeare's Lear and Coriolanus have a great deal in common. Both are first seen as proud, stubborn rulers unwilling to compromise. This causes Lear to lose his kingdom to his scheming daughters, while Coriolanus is betrayed and exiled from Rome due to the influence of the tribunes. Cast out to face a friendless world, Lear learns to sympathize with his fellow men, who daily endure trials such as those he now faces. Coriolanus, in contrast, goes immediately to Aufidius upon being banished and prepares to return, this time to conquer his own home state. His identity as a soldier remains constant, untroubled by internal reflection, and admits no room for empathy for others.

 
We first see Lear as an autocratic dictator when he divides his kingdom and banishes Cordelia. He rules with an iron fist, refusing to accept advice from anyone. His chief flaw is the tendency to believe he must always be correct. This self-imposed perfection leads to a separation between him and his flawed, human subjects. He simply cannot relate to their way of seeing life, cannot see himself as connected in any way with humankind as a whole. His concern does not extend beyond what immediately touches him and cannot embrace the interests of his subjects, as it should. An example of Lear's inability to understand anyone's perspective but his own occurs when Kent attempts to persuade him to abandon his folly. Lear cannot accept what he sees as Kent's criticism and banishes his advisor. He states:

 

Thou hast sought to make us break our vows,

Which we durst never yet, and with strained pride

To come betwixt our sentence and our power,

Which nor our nature nor...


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.... "King Lear's 'Immoral' Daughters and the Politics of Kingship." Shakespearean Criticism, Vol. 61. Ed. Michelle Lee. The Gale Group: Farmington Hills, 1999.

Brooke, Stopford, A. On Ten Plays of Shakespeare. London: Constable and Company Ltd., 1948.

Campbell, Oscar James. "Shakespeare’s Satire: Coriolanus. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Coriolanus. Ed. James E. Phillips. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1970. 25-37.

Dennis, John. "Selected Criticisms." Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare. Ed. Oscar James Campbell. New York: Thomas Crowell Company, 1966. 148-149.

Farnham, Willard. "Shakespeare’s Tragic Frontier: Coriolanus. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Coriolanus. Ed. James E. Phillips. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1970. 55-61.

Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Ed. R.A. Foakes. Surrey: International Thomson Publishing Company, 1997.


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