traglear King Lear as a Tragic Hero

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King Lear: A Tragic Hero

Tragedy is defined in Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary as 1) a medieval narrative poem or tale typically describing the downfall of a great man, or, 2) a serious drama typically describing a conflict between the protagonist and a superior force, such as destiny, and having a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion that excites pity or terror. The play of King Lear is one of William Shakespeare’s great tragic pieces, it is not only seen as a tragedy in itself, but also a play that includes two tragic heroes and four villains. In the tragedy of King Lear: the tragic hero must not be all good or all bad, the tragic hero is deprived through errors in judgment, the use of two tragic characters intensifies the tragedy, the tragedy develops more through action than through character and the tragic heroes gain insights through suffering.

We must be able to identify ourselves with the tragic hero if he is to inspire fear, for we must feel that what happens to him could happen to us. If Lear was completely evil, we would not be fearful of what happens to him: he would merely be repulsive. But Lear does inspire fear because, like us, he is not completely upright, nor is he completely wicked. He is foolish and arrogant, it is true, but later he is also humble and compassionate. He is wrathful, but at times, patient. Because of his good qualities, we experience pity for him and feel that he does not deserve the severity of his punishment.

Lear’s actions are not occasioned by any corruption or depravity in him, but by an error in judgment, which, however, does arise from a defect of character. Lear has a tragic flaw, egotism, which is exemplified thus: “Which of you shall we say doth love us most” (I.i.52)? It is his egotism in the first scene that causes him to make this gross error in judgment of dividing his kingdom and disinheriting Cordelia. “Thy truth then be thy dowry! /…Here I disclaim all my paternal care, / Propinquity and property of blood, / And as a stranger to my heart and me / Hold thee from this forever” (I.i.115, 120-123). Throughout the rest of the play, the consequences of these errors slowly and steadfastly increase until Lear is destroyed. There must be a change in the life of the tragic hero; he must pass from happiness to misery.
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