Tragic Figures in King Lear by William Shakespeare

analytical Essay
1336 words
1336 words

Tragic Figures - Good/Evil in King Lear

King Lear, by William Shakespeare, is a tragic tale of filial conflict, personal transformation, and loss. The story revolves around the King who foolishly alienates his only truly devoted daughter and realizes too late the true nature of his other two daughters. A major subplot involves the illegitimate son of Gloucester, Edmund, who plans to discredit his brother Edgar and betray their father. With these and other major characters in the play, Shakespeare clearly asserts that human nature is either entirely good, or entirely evil. Some characters experience a transformative phase, where, by some trial or ordeal, their nature is profoundly changed. We shall examine Shakespeare's stand on human nature in King Lear by looking at specific characters in the play, Cordelia who is wholly good, Edmund who is wholly evil, and Lear whose nature is transformed by the realization of his folly and his descent into madness.

The play begins with Lear, an old king ready for retirement, preparing to divide his kingdom among his three daughters. Lear has his daughters compete for their inheritance by trying to convince him of the degree of their love for him by proclaiming it in the grandest possible fashion. Cordelia finds that she is unable to express her love with mere words: "What shall Cordelia speak? Love, and be silent" (I, i, 63-64). Cordelia's nature is such that she is unable to engage in even so forgivable a deception as to satisfy an old king's vanity and pride, as we see again in the following quotation:

"Then poor Cordelia! And not so, since I am sure my love's more ponderous than my tongue" (I, i, 78-80). Cordelia clearly loves her father,...

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...n Lear we see a flawed figure who, through misjudgment, misfortune and loss, eventually comes to revelation and personal transformation. In that sense, these characters are perfect tragic figures, perhaps not necessarily realistic but powerful and moving nonetheless.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Eric A., McCann, ed. Harcourt Brace Jovanovick, Canada Inc., Canada. 1998

Bradley, A.C. Lecture IX: Macbeth . Shakespearean Tragedies: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. Macmllan & Co., 1904.

Brooks, Cleanth. The Well Wrought Urn: Studies of the Structure of Poetry. London: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1947.

Curry, Walter. Shakespeare s Philosophical Patterns. London: Mass Peter Smith, 1968.

Campbell, Lily B. Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes, Slaves of Passion. Gloucester: Peter Smith Publisher Inc., 1973.

In this essay, the author

  • Explains campbell, lily b. shakespeare's tragic heroes, slaves of passion.
  • Analyzes how shakespeare's king lear is a tragic tale of filial conflict, personal transformation, and loss.
  • Analyzes how shakespeare crafted cordelia as a character whose nature is good, unblemished by any trace of evil throughout the play.
  • Analyzes how shakespeare has transformed lear from a vengeful old king into an almost grandfatherly, loving figure.
  • Explains that shakespearean tragedies: lectures on hamlet, othello, king lear, macbeth.
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