‘King Lear’, Shakespeare’s most profound tragedy is centred around the tragic protagonist, King Lear himself, was written in 1605 and has more than just the one main plot. The story of Gloucester and his sons (one of King Lear’s noblemen) heightens the tragedy that occurs, which also explores the enduringly compelling struggle between good and evil, issues about power and responsibility and the magnified downfall of King Lear; once a ruler of a large empire that ‘tied his wagon to a falling stone’ and resulted in the life of what can only be described as a homeless beggar with ‘Nothing’.
The main the main plot and creates a parallel tragedy on a lower scale to that of the main, and therefore provides points of comparison with the royal family. Lear’s foolishness of believing false flattery instead of the truth, and therefore choosing evil over good, results in the realm plunging into crisis. The first Act of ‘King Lear’ creates a good indication of what may occur in the rest of the play.
In Act 1 Shakespeare introduces King Lear and his noblemen, which begins to display the tragic forces Shakespeare has planned ahead as Lear’s 100 knights are the representation of his power, and they are significant here as later on Goneril strips him of this luxury ‘A hundred knights! ‘. By reducing what Lear has power over, he becomes weaker and weaker, and therefore easier for Goneril and Regan to take control. Act 1 is mainly set around the ‘love-test’ he devised for his three daughters, in order to decide who should have his kingdom.
Two of his three daughters are desperate to ‘enjoy half his revenue forever’, and therefore introduces the main plot, and the beginning to Lear’s large downfall, despite the fact that Regan and Goneril most definitely wrong; which creates and even stronger power of evil and shows how determined they are to rid of their father, which in turn begins to create the theme of evil versus good, all because their father made a small wrong decision to believe the lies of the deceitful over the truthfulness of the genuine.
Gloucester, one of Lear’s noblemen introduces his illegitimate song to Kent ‘I have so often blushed to acknowledge him that now I am brazed to it’. This therefore gives slight reason for Edmund to turn against his father, as he has always been the ashamed one; thus also displaying a strong sense of hunger and leads to joint forces of evil to rid the good of their physical and mental wealth.
In this, I mean that for Lear, it leads to his insanity and madness, displayed through pathetic fallacy when he is made homeless by his daughter Regan and locked out in the mad storm; which is also happening in his mind. The parallel stories, both introduced during the first Act, of Regan and Goneril against not only their vulnerable father, but their daughter Cordelia, and the illegitimate Edmund against his father Gloucester and brother Edgar, indicate that the evil will join together to help each other reach their goal, which we see much later in the play.
The growing forces of evil help to magnify the small wrong choices of both Gloucester and King Lear to so easily turn on their children helps to create a great downfall to misery and unhappiness for both, and begins to introduce the mental blindness that both are affected by. More tragic forces are explored on stage as Regan and Goneril are fighting for their own part of the land, and therefore power in King Lear’s love test, Regan says ‘Which the most precious square of sense possesses. And find I am alone felicitate in your dear highness’ love’.
The power of words both Goneril and Regan use in this scene are the introduction to Lear’s vital mistake, and it is because of this he then later becomes such a pensioner. This quote is however ironically challenged by Cordelia, the third, truthful sister when saying ‘Why have my sisters husbands if they say they love you all? ‘. Shakespeare used this as a direct method to show that the truth is right there in front of Lear’s eyes, yet makes the bad decision of challenging the good, and rewarding the evil; ‘To thee and thine hereditary ever remain this ample third of our fair Kingdom’.
This makes a very bold statement that Lear is blind, in this case a mental flaw, to the truth and his daughter’s love, which is rather ironic as it also shows his lack of judgement as a King, and his inability to make good decisions, which in turn lead to a series of unfortunate events. This is the beginning of King Lear’s spiral into misery and ‘nothingness’. However, Lear’s mental blindness is also a mirror of Gloucester’s mental blindness, as he too has made a wrong decision by being influenced by false words and fake letters to go against the good by believing the evil – ‘…. omes under the prediction – son against father. ‘ Aswell as this, Albany is the third to be affected by the mental blindness caused by the sinfulness of the three liars, but this time by the love of Goneril ; ‘I cannot be so partial, Goneril, to the great love I bear you’. This indicates that if all three men have been easily deceived by Regan, Goneril and the ‘bastard’ Edmund, they hypothetically, already have the power.
This sets up a possibility of more blindness to come throughout the play, and expresses the ease of power the three have, making it easy for them to commit more immoral crimes and therefore predicted they will do more of this in the rest of the play. What’s more, as well as King Lear being blind to his Cordelia’s true love, and Goneril and Regan’s fantasised fake love, he is also blind to the fact that many people around him have noticed his naivety, such as Kent ‘See better, Lear, and let me still remain the true blank of thine eye’ and may, in the future take advantage of this as much as possible.
It is also very ironic that, when asked ‘Give that portion which yourself propos’d’ by Burgundy for the grant so as he will marry Cordelia, King Lear refuses ‘Nothing, I have sworn, I am firm’, showing that he would rather have his daughter not taken care of by someone than to give away the money he once promised; he sees the materialistic money as controllable and as power, whereas he would happily strew his daughter aside as he does not consider her easily controllable.
This shows that although he is wishing to give away some of his responsibilities to his daughters, he still wants to have control and power, which will later cause him trouble as inevitably, his daughters Goneril and Regan will attempt to strip him of all; showing that his small mistake of placing his kingdom in the wrong hands has lead him down the wrong path, and will lead to many more happenings similar to this.
Kent is the most loyal nobleman to Lear, as well as one of the strongest characters – ‘old man’, and tries to defend Lear wherever possible, yet the ‘recreant’ is ‘banish’d’ by King Lear, once again proving his blindness to the good that are trying to help him. Kent’s character presents a strong contrast to the ways of Lear, and helps to point out to the audience how badly King Lear’s mistakes are, and the fate that will be.
The loyalty expressed by Kent is also an indication that once banished, he may not be gone long as he still wants to love and protect the King to his upmost, risking his life if he must, to try and restore sight of what is actually surrounding him, and in this Shakespeare creates another contrast of good (Kent) against evil (Goneril and Regan).
We later see Caius; Kent in disguise put in the stocks by Regan, and this explores another tragic force as the physicality of the stocks are low to the ground, near to floor which is the lowest of the low, and I think Caius represents what Lear is, a poor, powerless man that will soon too be low as he has no rights, and no control over anything, creating a sense of pity yet sadness in the audience, helping them to identify with Lear and feel slightly sorry for him, especially when in contrast to the hearts of stone Goneril and Regan have.
The word ‘Nothing’ is a regular occurrence in the play, and is a blatant hint to King Lear that eventually he will end up with nothing, just because of his mental blindness and his inability to believe the truth; on more than one occasion. For example, King Lear tells Cordelia; ‘Nothing will come of nothing: speak again’ when he does not hear what he was expecting and desiring to hear. It is right in front of his eyes, and on his tongue, yet still recognised by everyone except himself. This builds up to an even greater tragedy waiting for Lear.
By considering that he himself should deserve more flattery than that, Lear is raising himself up and trying to prove to everyone that he has authority over her and power, yet when refused by Cordelia, becomes embarrassed and upset he has not received what he has asked for and authoritatively ‘disclaims all [his] paternal care’. This in turn creates an even higher position for King Lear to fall from when his daughters remove all he controls and leaves him bare, with no authority whatsoever, creating a more dramatic and tragic downfall, which is already predicted for the remainder of the play.
Most of Act 1 is expressing the extent of Lear’s madness and the insanity he is displaying when he makes himself exeunt from the two closest to his heart; Kent and Cordelia. This soon comes back to haunt him later on in the play as pathetic fallacy is used to express the madness and anger in his head in the form of a very angry storm, both causing him distress and trouble.
In addition to this, it possibly predicts the emotional troubles ahead for Lear and the realisation of his loss and bad decisions to come back to haunt him, and in total to this begins the creation of a story creating an enormous build up, in waiting to the realization for himself, of Lear’s ways. We see this at the very end, when Lear holds his dead daughter in his arms and realises that the flattery and power he so badly wanted was not worth the price of his loyal and true daughter and the good people he was surrounded by; ‘an excellent thing in a woman. , ‘Where is your servant Caius? ‘… ‘He’s a good fellow, I can tell you that’ and ‘and my poor fool is hang’d! No, no, no life! ‘.
Shakespeare creates the character of King Lear as a man that connot recognise his own faults due to the mental blindness his experiences and his inability to see past his own gratitude. The ignorance explored here helps to express the lack of control Lear grows to have, as many times throughout the play we see him lose control, and then very quickly calm himself again:- ‘Hear, Nature, hear! Dear Goddess, hear! ; Lear begins to get very angry, and ordering that everyone listens to him, yet what he says are only empty words, and as his speech is placed in Scene IV of Act I, this point is expanded as this is one of the shortest scenes in the book, strongly expressing the rather fast transfer in power between Lear and Goneril. Lear begins to get irate and curses his daughter Goneril as she has stripped him of his hundred knights and requested her father the King, now more a pensioner with no home or power, to leave; therefore eliminating another of his daughters.
This therefore expresses his vital mistake once again of saying empty words without realising his faults and the problems it may lead to; such as his homelessness whilst caught in the storm – with nothing around for him to take shelter under, just like he will have no people to help him and shelter him from his problems and the insanity in his head. A much more impartial part, yet one most vital to the play in order to create a contrast and intensify King Lear’s madness due to his ignorance of good advice, is the Fool.
Sometimes through proleptic irony and other through song, the Fool identifies the flaws in Lear’s plans, and helps to give stage directions to the audience so as to help create a good base for more tragic forces to be expressed, whilst at the same time cheekily making a joke out of Lear, which also helps the audience to identify just how ignorant and oblivious to his actions King Lear really is. Lear’s naivety helps to intensify his actions and the tragedy that is clearly waiting for him, just as a little boy with the ‘titles… that thou wast born with’ does not recognise the consequences of his actions.
In Act 1 Scene IV we see the Fool make a mockery of Lear whilst singing ‘For wise men are grown foppish/ And know not how their wits to wear… ‘ Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ is a complex but tragic story, which intensifies the mistakes and troubles Lear encounters due to his asininity through the contrasting characters surrounding him and the parallel tragedy regarding Gloucester and Edmund. In this, I feel that the first Act begins a lot of the tragedy and introduces most of the tragic forces with we later see throughout the play.