Portrayal of Characters in Shakespeare's 'King Lear'

Satisfactory Essays
“...the error of age is to believe that experience is a substitute for intelligence.” (Lyman Bryson) In the play King Lear by William Shakespeare, such an idea is explored. Lear is a King who is physically aged but as the play progresses, it becomes clear that he lacks the intelligence which usually accompanies it. The play is set in a time where the King was equal to God himself, he was set apart from the common man as somewhat of a transcended being. Shakespeare breaks this unspoken relationship through the events of his play. Lear’s rash decision to banish his loving daughter Cordelia and hand total power of his kingdom over to two his uncaring daughters, Goneril and Regan sets of a chain of events which send him on a downward spiral to become the basest of human beings. Shakespeare uses the characters of the Fool, Cordelia, Kent and Goneril as well as irony, foreshadowing, and diction to portray Lear as nothing more than an unseeing old human being. The Fool is a character in the play who is the embodiment of Lear’s conscience and through him, the audience is able to witness the folly of the King. His name bears quite a significant irony as throughout the play it is made apparent that it is the Fool who is the wiser. He states that, “this fellow banished two on’s daughters, and did the third a blessing against his will” (1,4,101-103) The Fool lays bare the folly Lear in not recognising the worth of a true daughter yet through his foolish act, he has done Cordelia good. In a way this irony of the Fool foreshows the future judgement of this judgemental monarch. In the play it is Cordelia who is banished and the other two who have blessings poured on them, but the Fool provides the audience with a different perspective on this matter; one, which is increasingly unapparent to the ailing King who is quick to continue his living in denial, stating that, “[All] This is nothing, Fool” (1,4 127) Shakespeare’s placement of the Fools as Lear’s conscience allows the audience to feel the emotions which the king should be experiencing. In the event of Cordelia’s banishing “the Fool hath much pinned away” (1,4,71-72) Shakespeare shows the Fool’s sadness to contrast with the apparent lack of some in the King. This also evokes audience empathy. Through the Fool Shakespeare is able to convey to the reader the apparent folly of a vain King and the enormity of his folly.
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