If we accept that the two characters most lacking in self-knowledge are Lear and Gloucester, we can examine how the importance of this quality for them is shown in the play. Whilst these two characters lack self-knowledge, the world around them quickly deteriorates. As a result of their lack of insight, evil is given space to breed and take over, and Lear and Gloucester are forced to suffer as “love cools, friendship falls off and cities divide.” Due to Lear’s palpable mistake in measuring the love of his daughters, he banishes the only child who truly loves him and seals his fate for the remainder of the play. Likewise, Gloucester is deceived by his dishonest son Edmund, and wrongly outlaws his loyal son Edgar, thus creating the conditions for his own suffering.
It is through his suffering in the storm scene that the importance of self-knowledge, for Lear, is most strikingly evident. Lear is a man who has become accustomed to “the name and all th’addition to a king”. He is used to being obeyed, respected and feared. Being king is his identity – for him, it is not a job, but who he is. He is shaken when his status as king is destroyed by Goneril and Regan, questioning “Does Lear walk thus? Speak thus? ... Who is it that can tell me who I am?” Tellingly, the Fool answers him with “Lear’s shadow”. Losing his position as king is ultimately the catalyst for Lear’s impending madness. Stripped of the trappings of royalty, Lear does not know himself. Without his unnecessary retinue of a hundred men, he feels naked and emasculated. This insecurity and complete lack of self-knowledge is most strikingly exposed in the storm scenes.
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...mself to his father in a moment of unadulterated forgiveness, “his flaw’d heart… ‘Twixt two extremes of passion, joy and grief, burst smilingly”. Gloucester has been saved from a miserable death by Edgar’s complete forgiveness and pure love and loyalty. Edgar’s striking description of his death highlights how important his son’s forgiveness was for Gloucester, and knowing he had one devoted son after all saved him from total suffering.
King Lear deals with many human issues and highlights the importance of several values. It is through Lear’s and Gloucester’s suffering and redemption that Shakespeare shows us the importance of self-knowledge and forgiveness. Ultimately these two characters died having gained a greater understanding of their inner selves, and, most important of all – having received the unconditional, all-healing love and compassion of their child.
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