Getting Learical: Gods, Elements and Amusing (or Heartrending) Self-Contradictions

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When Lear is metaphorically stripped of his manhood in Act Two, Scene Four of the play that bears his name, the audience is left to ponder over the quantifiable loss of power which accompanies the man who has been duped out of his kingdom by his daughters. Surely Shakespeare’s use of a specific number of men serves to provide a concrete example of the sad old man’s dwindling power. The scene is almost always staged to portray a pathetic Lear, betrayed by his daughters, bereft of a kingdom and ripped from his one-hundred soldiers – his last possession and sole-signifier of his time as king. However, in a legitimate examination of the text, one can find evidence for a sympathetic reading of the daughters who rip the kingdom from their father and steal away his train. Goneril and Regan stand in the unenviable position of removing freedoms from their father. These freedoms, specifically the rowdy entourage of soldiers, represent a very real danger to Goneril and Regan. Faced with the possibility of death at the hands of an army commanded by a madman, Goneril and Regan, who so often are maligned, both in performance and in interpretation of the text, act logically and avoid a disastrous situation. Lear, who must audiences align themselves with, in contrast, speaks in contradictories, superlatives and curses, further reinforcing the argument Goneril and Regan put forth for taking away Lear’s army. Before introducing my argument in the text, I wish to acknowledge the varying validities of other stagings or readings of the text. That is, I believe there is significant textual evidence for staging Goneril and Regan in a villainous role. I simply wish to argue that the text supports additional readings. The Goneril and Regan as villains ... ... middle of paper ... ... Lear’s fall from grace. Yet, one must always remember that Lear, and not his daughters, initiated the ceremony of succession. Goneril and Regan exercised no coup. Lear’s loss of manpower is all the more pathetic because Lear is the author of it. Lear set up the fallacious test. Goneril and Regan simply manipulated the test for their own gain. In spite of their dubious motives, the sister’s approached the entourage question in an entirely reasonable manner. It was in fact, “in good time” (2.4.249) that Lear gave all to his daughters. The play ends tragically. That point cannot be disputed, but one cannot escape the fact that Lear, with extreme hubris, commanded the heavens and the elements to blind his daughters. What kind of tragedy might have transpired had Lear commanded an entire army, capable of hearing and attending to every word, upon his daughters instead?

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