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The Power of Language in Shakespeare's King Lear

Powerful Essays
The Power of Language in King Lear

It is often difficult to gain entry into a work of such complete and dazzling genius as King Lear--reading Shakespeare can sometimes feel like trying to get a good long look at the sun on a cloudless day. And yet there are moments when one comes across passages that, by the sheer force of their lyrical, poetic beauty, leap off the page and resonate so strongly within one's mind that they become a kind of distillation of the entire play. One can read this play again and again, and still be struck anew by Shakespeare's utter mastery over language; surely there is no other writer who had so full a sense of, and who used to such merciless ends, the power of words. In a genre that denies the novelist's luxury of narrative explication, language in its barest, purest form, becomes Shakespeare's precision instrument, and he wields it with a perpetually astonishing combination of force, subtlety and exactitude.

The introductory quoted lines, when brought out of their immediate textual surroundings, form for this reader the kind of distilled illumination suggested in the preceding paragraph. These are the words of the sightless and stumbling Gloucester, as he begs a passing stranger, (who, unbeknownst to him is the son he so belatedly recognizes as faithful), to help him to his own death; by the end of the play, this passage becomes a central paradigm.

Despite the afore-mentioned obstacle (an obstacle the surmounting of which yields so much pleasure and insight) to readerly intercourse with Shakespeare, one can often recognize and trace logical devices he employed in order the more effectively and precisely to communicate his message. The parallel plot of Gloucester and hi...

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