Shakespeare's ultimate Tragedy, King Lear, is indeed a dark and soul-harrowing play. The tragic madness of King Lear, and of the subsequent turmoil that follows from it, is all the more terrible for the king's inability to cope with the loss of his mind, his family, and his pride. This descent into horror culminates at the tragic conclusion, where both the innocent and the guilty die for other's mistakes and lack of judgment.
And yet, as bleak and grim as the final scene is, all is not lost is misery. Many have died, and those that remain - the new generation - believe that "The oldest hath borne most; we that are young/Shall never see so much, nor live so long." (V.iii.326), understanding that a great age has passed, and that they must now pick up the pieces and try to continue on. However, among the death and despair, their have been powerful instances of change and transformation. Though the ending of King Lear is, indeed, grim and terrible, and King Lear himself dies miserable and in agony, their nevertheless remains a message of hope; among all the death, there are clear signs of redemption.
This redemption is integral to the story of King Lear, though Lear is not the only one to undergo this process. Indeed, many of the main characters, from Edmund to Gloucester to Cordelia are transformed in the end; it is the tragedy of the play that they do not survive their redemption. However, to understand their change, it is important to know from whence they came, and what caused them, what forced them, to submit to this painful and bitter process. The impetus is, of course, the gradually escalating madness of the king.
One can not clearly state that King...
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...ty. Still firmly in the grips of madness, grasping at the faint hopes that Cordelia still lives, he must still feel the death and torment that surrounds him. He may die a better man, a redeemed man, but he dies an unhappy one.
Aggeler, Geoffrey. "'Good Pity' in King Lear: the Progress of Edgar." Neophilologus 77 (1993): 321-331.
Kermode, Frank. "King Lear." The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G.B.Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974. 1249-54.
Muir, Kenneth, ed. King Lear. London: Methuen & Co, 1972
Partee, Morriss Henry. "Edgar and the Ending of King Lear." Studia Neophilologica 63 (1991): 175-180.
Notes: 1. It was Bradley who suggested that the play be called "The Redemption of King Lear. (Muir, 1iii)
It was Bradley who suggested that the play be called "The Redemption of King Lear. (Muir, 1iii)
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