The Tragic Hero in King Lear by Shakespeare

The Tragic Hero in King Lear by Shakespeare

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The Tragic Hero in King Lear by Shakespeare

Tragedy is defined in Websters Dictionary as:

1) A medieval narrative poem or tale typically describing the downfall
of a great man

2) A serious drama typically describing a conflict between the hero and a superior force (like destiny) and having a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion that excites leaves the readers full of pity or terror. 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. I felt that a tragic hero must not be all good or all bad, but he must be deprived of something very valuable because of some critical mistake, or error in judgment.

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. His actions are not brought on by any corruption or wickedness in him, but by an error in judgment, which, however, does arise from a defect of character.
Lear has a tragic flaw: egotism. It is his egotism in the first scene that causes him to make his error in judgment - the division of his kingdom and the loss of Cordelia. Throughout the rest of the play, the consequences of this error 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. Lear, as seen in Act I, has everything a man should want - wealth, power, peace, and a state of well-being. Because a tragic character must pass from happiness to misery, he must be seen at the beginning of the play as a happy man, surrounded by good fortune.

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Then, the disasters that befall him will be unexpected and will be in direct contrast to his previous state.
In King Lear the two tragic characters, a king and an earl. Neither of these are ordinary men. To have a prosperous man endure suffering brought about because of his own error is unusual. Because of his exalted position, we’re supposed to be incredibly upset when bad things happen to him. His fall is awesome and overwhelming. It’s tragic enough for this to happen to one man, but in King Lear it happens to TWO of them, so the effect is doubled. And there are four villains too!
There is a sub-plot concerning three of the characters: Gloucester, Edmund, and Edgar. This subplot supports the big plot. Anyways, Gloucester undergoes physical and mental torment because he makes the same mistake that Lear does. Like Lear, Gloucester is neither completely good nor completely bad. There is, for instance, a crudeness in the earl, who delights in speaking of his adultery. But
He’s an okay guy, and has some good qualities as well. For instance, he shows concern for Kent in the stocks, and he risks his life to help Lear. Gloucester's punishment is blindness, and it drives him almost as crazy as Lear's madness. These two tragic stories unfolding at the same time make the play a lot more dramatic than it would have been otherwise. It’s like going to the circus and getting to see ten rings instead of three. It’s just better.
The important element in tragedy is action, not character. It is the deeds of men that bring about their destruction.

 Lear calls upon the "great gods,"
 Edgar and Kent blame Fortune, and
 Gloucester says that the gods "kill us for their sport" (IV.i.37).

But in reality the calamities that befall both Lear and Gloucester occur as a result of some flaw of their own. Their actions grow out of their characters: both are rash, unsuspecting, and vengeful. But the actions themselves are the beginnings of their agony, for these actions start a chain of events that lead to ultimate catastrophe.
A tragic hero gains insight through suffering. Neither Lear nor Gloucester realizes that he has committed an error until it’s too late and he’s already paid the price. Lear's suffering is so intense that it drives him mad. Only after his health goes bad, can he fully realize his mistake in giving the kingdom to his two savage daughters and disowning the one daughter who loves him. It is not until Gloucester has been blinded that he learns the truth about his two sons. These two characters learn to endure their suffering. When Gloucester attempts to commit suicide and fails, he decides to stick around the land of the living instead of cashing in his chips. In his madness Lear learns to endure his agony as well. Later, when he knows he is to be imprisoned, he maintains this misfortune with a passive calmness. He has grown wise through painfully achieved self-knowledge and through Cordelia's love. Tragedy in King Lear is not only seen through itself but, also through the character of the King and other characters. The Play of King Lear is a great tragic play. Many playwrights may attempt to beat it, but this thing is sadder than watching The Fox and the Hound after your wife packs up and moves out while you’re at work.
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