William Shakespeare's King Lear Essay

1641 words - 7 pages

William Shakespeare's King Lear

The locations in Shakespeare’s King Lear fall into three categories: inside a court, out in nature, and in-between nature and civilization. Lear himself also wavers between three states: sanity, senility, and the fine line between the two. These states of consciousness relate directly to the scenes’ locations. However, Lear’s insanity is not the fault of his location in the world; for the most part, he has control over his situation. The series of events in correspondence with the location show that man must acknowledge the nature he originated from and live in the civilized world, but not abandon nature all together because too much control or chaos leads to despair.

King Lear begins in Lear’s court, which, in the context of the play, is representative of the civilized world. The king relinquishes his territory, therefore abandoning control over his land. He gives his power to two of his daughters and banishes the other. Already, the natural order of Lear’s world is disrupted; he is no longer the head of his household and country and the balance of power of his choosing is upset by Cordelia’s seeming betrayal. He is far from a happy man, and lashes out at anyone who challenges him, such as Kent (1.1).

Most of the play’s onstage violence takes place in an indoor location: Edmund’s false wounding, Gloucester’s blinding and banishment, and Regan’s killing of a servant. Man is one of the only species that murders its own for reasons other than food or familial protection. Edgar kills Oswald in act four, scene six, in which the location is “near Dover” (2534), therefore not indoors, but it is in an act of defending his father, Gloucester. All the banishment, wounding, and killing that takes place in the court is connected to power struggles: Lear wants his daughter’s to serve him, the daughters want to take over the kingdom without Lear’s influence, and Regan and Cornwall want to snuff out those who do not support their rise to power, and Edmund wants Gloucester to treat him like a son, not a bastard. All is done for the sake of pride, or the Greek tragic flaw (hamartia), hubris. Those who harm others because of hubris, including Lear, Regan, Goneril, and Edmund, meet a tragic end.

The complete opposite of this indoor world of prideful plotting and civilized overthrows is the chaotic wilderness on the heath, described in the Norton text’s notes as “bare, open country” (2513). Here madmen and fools stumble about in a wild tempest, without adequate shelter and eventually, in Lear and Poor Tom’s case, without clothes. Lear is literally stripped of all his kingly goods. He has no pride because he is debased by his banishment and wanderings in a storm and no power because he gives it up. He even loses his sense, and starts to go mad from old age and the trauma of his expulsion. He must rely on the Fool and madman to lead him around, with the help of Kent in disguise and eventually...

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