Is King Lear Meaningless?

Throughout King Lear, Shakespeare writes with a very somber attitude towards life and even paints a picture that life may very well be meaningless. So far this play has shown no sort of patterns or morals about anything regarding peoples happiness, success, or lives. Whether evil or good, some characters die and others thrive.

This idea is shown through the injustices and randomness throughout the play. Karma doesn’t really exist in this play in the sense that bad actions are not met with bad repercussions and good actions are not met with good actions. An example of this is seen in one of the first scenes of the play. When all of Lear’s daughters are telling him how much they love him, in very exaggerated and untrue ways, Cordelia is the only one to be honest with Lear and with herself. Her actions result in Lear essentially kicking her out and saying he doesn’t love her anymore. On top of that, Cordelia randomly dies at the end of the play. I don’t know what lesson that could be showing other than that life makes no sense. Another example is the power imbalance that Lear has over the people. The play presents the ideas that people in power can be unintelligent, and corrupt and remain in power, and people that are honest get punished while people that lie get praised. All in all this play sticks strongly to an idea that life is unfair, unruly, and unpredictable.

“Like a Girl”

In King Lear, Shakespeare (unintentionally) explores gender roles, particularly women, and their pertinance to animals. I use the word unintentionally because I believe that Shakespeare, in this time period, was not even thinking about the excessive animal imagery in this play used to describe women. Gender roles and stereotypes were not on Shakespeare’s (or anyone’s) radar at this time. As much as we love to think of literature being a commentary on society, the use of animal imagery was not a commentary, but simply more of “how it be.” We also see a parallel between animal comparisons and power, a motif that was most definitely intentional. Men in the play are constantly putting these women down, dehumanizing and disrespecting them. As Lear states, “O Regan, she hath tied Sharp-toothed unkindness, like a vulture, here” (II.IV.150-151). Lear is comparing his daughter to a viscous bird, which in my opinion was completely unwarranted and only provoked by Lear’s power insecurities brought on by his daughters. 

Later in Act III, Gloucester is speaking with Regan, “Because I would not see thy cruel nails Pluck out his poor old eyes, nor thy fierce sister In his anointed flesh stick boarish fangs” (III.VII.69-71). Again, we see this animal imagery manifesting. Gloucester essentially calls Regam viscous by describing her “boarsih fangs.” 

Circling back to power relating to women, Shakespeare had a difficult time letting a woman in power live. Cordelia’s death seemed random when I first read the scene, however, after reflection, her death was not random at all. Our society now, and of course back then, has trouble with the idea of women in power and therefore the only way to rectify the issue is to kill them off. As a society, we have seemingly made strides in the right direction, but we still need to change the mindsets of people who believe that women are emotional and unstable monsters with a hidden agenda, and unfortunately reading King Lear enforced that idea. 

I’m gonna leave her a kingdom she can’t refuse

***Spoilers for The Godfather trilogy, although if you haven’t seen it yet you should stop reading anyway and go watch it***

It’s probably due to the fact that movie theaters across the nation are shut down that the Francis Ford Coppola’s new release of The Godfather: Part III did not receive much attention. Despite being released on a momentous occasion — the 30th anniversary of the original film — and receiving much higher accolades then the original release, the mafia epic that once gripped the minds of the American public seems to have remained dormant in the public consciousness. Nevertheless, the re-edit was not released without recognition, and even The New York Times felt that, perhaps out of respect of the Hollywood classic, the edit disserved some consideration.

Specifically, an article, penned by NYT culture reporter Dave Itzkoff, opens thusly:

In the final scene of “The Godfather Part III,” Michael Corleone, the aged protagonist of this epic crime drama, is left in solitude to contemplate his sins, gripped with guilt over actions that have devastated his family and the knowledge that he cannot change what he has done.

Sound familiar?

In case a retiring monarch throwing a kingdom, a daughter dying in her fathers arms, or the title The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone weren’t enough of a tip off, Coppola himself was the first to draw a connection between the two works. But even before the third film, the ghost of Shakespeare in general, and King Lear specifically, haunted the immortal cinematic masterpieces that make up The Godfather Tribology. Through the winding yet gripping tail, Coppola presents the audience with the original Don Corleone, forced to step down before his time, and with three sons in a crisis of succession. Eventually, the outsider — who tried to give up the family trade for a standard American life — is revealed as the most natural heir. The similarities between the second Don Corleone and Cordelia extend far beyond the similarity of their names.

Coppola was not the only famous filmmaker to incorporate ideas from Shakespeare into his work. The kingly position of The Bard in the western literary cannon is symptomatic of not only his genius, but also of the universal truth of the stories he spun. Romeo and Juliet not only tell the story of two households both alike in dignity but also that of two competing factions on the streets of New York. Anybody who’s dealt with politicians, bosses, teachers, parents, or others in positions of power has met their fair share of King Lears, Lady Macbeths, and King Oberons. Shakespeare’s plays are immortal because they are perfect encapsulations of immortal stories. So it’s no wonder that the pillars of the American Cinematic Pantheon are built out of marble carved from King Lear.

Power, Madness, and Identity

by Maya L

In King Lear, the characters’ desires for power shape everything they do, including how they see themselves. Lear, for instance, bases all of his worth on how much power he has, so he doesn’t know how to handle it when he loses his power. When his daughters insist he only have what he needs, he argues that that makes him no better than an animal. It’s made clear that he believes the powerless aren’t deserving of respect, and so the realization that others have lost their respect for him comes alongside the realization of how much power he’s lost. Since he equates his power to his humanity, he then leads himself to believe that he’s losing his humanity, and he starts to go mad.

The way I view his madness is that it resulted from his belief that he was going mad. He believed himself to be losing all that made him worthy and human, and so he let himself lose his mind as well. I find it fascinating how his attachment to power and station is what hurt him the most, not the betrayal of his daughters. I believe that he wouldn’t have fallen so hard from the betrayal had he valued more important things, such as his relationship with Cordelia. If he had focused on the important things in life, he wouldn’t have felt as if he had lost so much, and certainly not like he had lost his humanity. Lear is an example of how the priorities of most of the characters seem to be misplaced, and that only seems to hurt them in the end.

Queen O’er King

In Act IV Scene III, Kent and the Gentleman converse over Cordelia and her reaction to Kent’s letters to an extent that one might think both men were completely infatuated with her. Before this moment, The Tragedy of King Lear consistently demonized and dehumanized the women of the play. So to have a scene completely devoted to praising and complimenting a women is an extremely significant moment. The Gentleman notes how Cordelia was a, “queen/Over her passion, who, most rebel-like,/Fought to be king o’er her” (4.3.15-17). This control that Cordelia showed over her own emotions emanated strength and patience to all onliikers including the Gentleman. In juxtaposition to her sisters, Goneril and Regan, who constantly loose their tempers, make rash decisions, and are driven by greed, Cordelia couldn’t have been a better daughter to Lear and Queen of France. After enduring such a humiliating disowning from her father, this scene reminds the readers of how compassionate, wise, and truly loving Cordelia is. This moment also affirms that women in power can achieve success and make great leaders, as long as they don’t tie anyone to the stalks all night or order the gouging out of anyone’s eyes.

King Lear | Daughters of the king, King lear, Three daughters

Women of King Lear

William Shakepeare’s King Lear engages the theme of loyalty as it is shown in two totally different ways. After King Lear asks his daughters to voice their love for him, Cordelia voices her honest opinion while Regan and Goneril play with Lear’s feeling. In Act 1 Scene 1, Cordelia says “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth. I love your Majesty according to my bond, no more nor less.” Blinded by his “love” for Goneril and Regan, King Lear is baffled from the answer he gets from Cordelia. In order for King Lear to understand true affection, he has to reach rock bottom and have everything taken from him in order to realize what’s most important in his life.

In Act 3 Scene 7, it isn’t King Lear who gets plotted against, but rather Gloucester. Although the letter to plot the good hearted Edgar happens earlier, Gloucester is about to get his eyes plucked out and as a called to rescue he calls for the evil Edmund. Gloucester is told that it was Edmund that betrayed him and as a result Gloucester says “O my follies! Then Edgar was abused. Kind gods, forgive me that, and prosper him!” Gloucester has realized what a fool he was and made the same mistake that King Lear made; not going up to their child and getting the real truth, rather assuming. 

After King Lear has lost everything he begins to realize who was actually important in his life. In Act 4 Scene 7 Cordelia and King Lear are reunited and Lear says to Cordelia “If you have poison for me, I will drink it. I know you do not love me, for your sisters Have, as I do remember, done me wrong. You have some cause; they have not.” Lear realizes all along that it was Cordelia who showed her true affection that night in the castle and that she didn’t want any personal gain from him. King Lear realizes how important Cordelia is to his life and that he never wants to leave her now, even after all the wrong that he has done. 

Look Up at the Cliffs

In older literature, there seems to be a lot of characters that are somehow masters of disguise. In Jane Eyre, the tall, rich landowner character disguises himself as a small, raggedy witch prophet who actually predicts the future. He tricks an entire party of people, people that he has met before, and who recognize him when he removes his disguise. In King Lear, there are multiple instances of characters dressing up as different people, those instances being Kent and Edgar (and the Fool kind of), and not leaving anyone in the room unconvinced of their false identities.

Similarly to the characters in physical disguises, the evil characters are masters at hiding their motives. These characters are Regan, Goneril, Cornwall, Edmund, and even Oswald. This sets up the heroes and the villains: the heroes are in disguise and the villains are lying. Kent is wholly good, and Regan is wholly bad. This leaves another category of characters: the ones who don’t know what’s happening. Lear, Gloucester, and Albany all get screwed over in this play, and while Shakespeare uses themes and metaphor to portray these downfalls, the literal reason why is due to political incompetency.

Shakespeare uses the motif of disguises to create plenty of interesting conflict, as well as move the play along. The situations created by characters pretending advances Lear’s falling into madness, the war between Britain and France, and other key plot points. Also, it’s fun to see situations such as Edgar pretending not to be talking to his father. There’s no way Edgar could ever be as good of an impersonator as he is in this scene, even while speaking to a blind man, but it’s about the hypothetical and the ideas being presented. For example:

Edgar
Ten masts at each make not the altitude
Which thou has perpendicularly fell.
Thy life's a miracle. Speak yet again.

Gloucester
But have I fall'n or no?

Edgar
From the dread summit of this chalky bourn.
Look up a-height. The shrill-gorged lark so far
Cannot be seen or heard. Do but look up.

Gloucester
Alack, I have no eyes.

Act 4, Scene 6, Line 67

In this excerpt, Edgar pretends to be not Edgar, while also pretending to be at the bottom of a mountain rather than at the top of one. And he convinces Gloucester of this by, while staring into the bloody red abyss that was previously the home of Gloucester’s eyeballs, tells Gloucester to “Look up”. He awes at the sight of the tall mountains, describing a scene that Gloucester can’t see. This trick would never work in real life, but this isn’t real life, it’s a theatre. Shakespeare uses disguises to explore interesting scenarios while developing characters: from this scene, we have learned that Edgar is cunning in his goodness (as opposed to Edmund) and that Gloucester’s safety is and will always be reliant on the actions of others.

Did Shakespeare predict US politics?

Although intended for live performances, the archaic writings of Shakespeare are immortalized through universal themes of the human experience. Shakespeare’s King Lear is one of such plays. In King Lear, there is a constant struggle between those who possess and desire power, which  results in the suffering of people on both sides, even the innocent. Currently, this theme plays out in US politics. The dueling powerhouses are the Republican and Democratic parties. The means which they use to overpower one another creates victims out of those around them. They prioritize their supporters and slander those who identify with their opposition.

Prioritizing supporters over non-supporters’ livelihoods:

The reason Lear’s daughters, Goneril and Regan, take away Lear’s knights and servants, is because it disarms him of his power, with which he mattered. After unarming Lear, the daughters banish and leave him with nothing and no one. This is advantageous for the sisters since there is now no threat to their reign, and because they no longer have to deal with Lear, who they did not care about. Similarly, parties decisively target populations to ensure votes. Both parties put so much effort into campaigning in swing states, where votes aren’t guaranteed. The parties’ vessels, politicians, woo their audience with an image of empathy and care. On the other hand, unless prompted – untrendy, voiceless, and uncared for groups are constantly overlooked, especially when they support the parties opponent. A party wouldn’t want to give people resources who they deemed undeserving or simply don’t care about. Also, sometimes politicians neglect groups because they don’t see any advantage in helping them.

Slandering opposition: 

The mistreatment of ‘opposition’ in the USA’s social community is asserted by standardized slandering of the ‘other’. Rhetoric is extremely influential, as such it is often used to possess power. Considering both parties’ ambitions, it is unavoidable for them to not weaponize rhetoric. They insult each other by portraying one another as stupid and evil which negatively shapes their followers image of the targeted group. It generates hate and fear, which can and has been used against one another. It was easy for Lear’s own daughters to dispose of him when they found him old and crazy. Edmund deceived Edgar and Gloucester which turned them against each other, even when both had done nothing bad to one another in person. Similarly, the toxic fumes and gossips that sides spawn, creates an image of a threat, which one has never met.

People make sacrifices to maintain power. The means which they utilize way too often harm those around them. But as long as these people have their servants and knights, they will not stop.

Lear and His Posse

King Lear’s knights appear as an important recurring symbol throughout the play. After giving away all of his land to his daughters, his 100 knights are the single remaining reminder of Lear’s status and power as the king. However, this perception is challenged by Regan and Goneril when they tell him to dismiss most of his knights in order to be welcomed in their shelter. This scene displays a big turning point in Lear’s perception of himself. He isn’t used to people betraying his orders and telling him what to do. Also, Lear feels enraged because he cannot believe that in just a matter of seconds he can lose everything and become another average man.

In modern times, the 100 knights are comparable to the “yes men” that influential people surround themselves with. These are people who always say yes to whatever their superior wants and supports them no matter how bad a decision may be. They must please them and earn their approval any way possible. While these serve a different literal purpose then 100 knights, the symbolism is the same. “Yes men” make powerful people feel stronger and more influential than they really are. Ultimately, the false sense of security becomes a point for their downfall, just as it is shown to happen to King Lear.

Comparisons within King Lear

The characters of woman within King Lear are portrayed as inferior and animal like. Whenever a woman character is brought up throughout the play they always are put in the situation of the bad guy or the one that did something wrong. This play shows very little if any respect for woman and views as completely inferior humans compared to men, the play even compares their actions to those of an animal. The reason being compared to an animal is so disrespectful is because animals are seen as wild and don’t have a grounding point and that animals don’t have the same power as humans. This leads into power and how little Lear trust woman or his daughters with the power of the kingdom. This also signifies that woman can not hold the same levels of power as men because they are inferior. Also Lear almost views woman materialistic during the beginning of the play when him and Cordelia have a fight about how she should love him more than she does. Lear wants Cordelia to love her father more than a daughter should love their father, but this is extremely weird and makes Lear look like a complete idiot.

Power is a huge theme throughout the whole play. There is always constant drama and disagreements about the power of the kingdom throughout the play. Now Power can mean a lot of different things and I feel like almost everyone in the play thinks that they have more power than they really do. So how do you quantify power? Power is handed from one person to the next throughout the play but does that really mean that they do have that much power?

This is unrelated to power and how woman are treated in the play but the way in which characters that are in disguise is used multiple times throughout the play is very interesting to me. It gives that extra spice to the play.

We Dismantle Patriarchy Over Here

While reading King Lear I was taken aback with the blatant misogyny in the book. Although in someways society has dismantle some bits of the patriarchy there is still a long way to go. The same concepts in King Lear that women are fragile,inferior, and too emotional are still used today. Like in the book while the Gentleman was describing Cordelia’s reaction when receiving the letter he said,” Her delicate cheek. It seemed she was a queen-Over her passion, who, most rebel-like,-fought to be king o’er her” (Act 4, Scene 3, Lines 14-17). Having emotions and being delicate are human traits that we all have. The interesting observation that I made about how patriarchy/ misogyny works it that it gets internalized by some women so much as if its in their subconscious. While Goneril was talking about Edmund she believes he is a real man she said,”[O, the difference of man and man!]-To thee a woman’s services are due”(Act 4, Scene 2, Lines 33-34). Goneril kinds of insinuates that women owe men something which is not true, women do not owe anybody anything. I see some women actively working to dismantle the patriarchy/ misogyny, while others believe that they are here to be in service for men or that they are weaker gender it gets to the point where they are constantly seeking “male validation” and constantly concerned with how men will perceive them instead of and more importantly how they perceive themselves. The cultural shift that took place in Gen Z (I know cultural shift sounds corny but its true) is amazing I see many women in Gen Z not trying to please men, fit in the gender roles, and not engaging in “pick me” behavior. I think that’s a truly powerful powerful place to be- to march to the beat of your own drum and not be defined by what others/ society says. Like I said before we have a long way to go with dismantling the patriarchy that has been heavily ingrained but ways to make sure that your not apart of problem could be checking your own biases continuously (no matter how progressive you think you are/ how much you fight for women’s issues). Of course men must be participants in dismantling the patriarchy by recognizing their privilege, educating themselves, continuously actively working against the patriarchy.

The Portrayal of Women as Animals

Throughout the play, the female characters, Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril, are associated with animals. Characters in the play often compare the female characters to animals and in moments where King Lear is extremely upset at his daughters, he shows a lack of respect towards his own children. The metaphor of animals representing female characters depicts how men in the play view women. The comparison of women to animals signifies how women are viewed as less than human. Women are seen as inferior to men. This comparison also reflects how women are perceived as primitive. The common belief is that animals do not think and act like humans do. Animals cannot reach the same levels of achievement and power as humans can. When male characters compare women to animals, it shows that those male characters believe that women cannot achieve the same things as men. This idea connects to the play’s idea of power. The comparison signifies that women cannot hold the same level of power as men because they are inferior. As Lear loses his power, he becomes angry at his daughters. When he talks about his loss of power and family conflicts, his anger at his powerlessness is coupled with his lack of respect towards women. This relates to the comparison of women to animals, he is angry because his daughters took his power, and he believes that women are not equipped to hold positions of power.

Women As People?

Gender roles, specifically women and their roles in both society and family is a prevailing idea throughout Shakespeare’s King Lear. The three women in the play are King Lear’s daughters: Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. The play begins with an ultimatum from King Lear to his daughters to profess their love for him and in return they were offered a split of his kingdom. When Cordelia felt that her love abounded a meer profession to her father, she did not comply and was henceforth removed from the chance to get part of the kingdom. King Lear was upset by this, feeling as though this meant that she did not love him and their entire relationship previous to this point in time was quickly forgotten. In this instance, all Cordelia was to her father was a nuisance. She was quickly removed from the kingdom and her character was not brought back until the end of Act 4. Her other two sisters remain as prevalent characters throughout the play, but their only purpose as characters is to inconvenience Lear. While Regan and Goneril are apart of every act and a decent amount of scenes, Shakespeare does not care about them. Shakespeare writes the other antagonist of the play, Edmund, as having a reason to betray his father while Goneril and Regan are simply just “emotional.”

As Goneril and Regan get control over the kingdom, Shakespeare writes them in as monsters. They take away their fathers knights, his power, his name, and eventually his sanity. They are portrayed as villainous, emotional, and unfit-to-lead and become hated by almost every single character in the play including Goneril’s husband, Albany. He says, “You are not worth the dust with the rude wind / Blows in your face” (IV.II line 39-40). The readers can clearly see that without a man in power or to watch over the women, everything turns to chaos. It seems as if their emotions and feelings towards their father cloud and dictate every decision they make. Even at the end of act 5, they are both fighting over Edmund who appears to be a real man “To thee a woman’s services are due” (IV.II line 34).

Throughout the play, it is evident that the women have no real role other than to mess everything up. They are seen as unfit to lead, emotional monsters, who can not do anything without the help of a man. Shakespeare did not intend to write them into the play as real people who are heroic or have any significant importance to the play other than to be a nuisance to their father and everyone around them.

Seeing Through The Smoke and Mirrors

In class we’ve talked a little about the motif of sight and blindness. The meta-performance of the onion that is King Lear has a way of veiling motivations behind several layers of storytelling. We, as the audience, have the unique ability to peel back and examine each layer to understand the whole. The fundamental question is why are there so many layers, and what truth lies at the center?

The many narratives and manipulations aren’t pointless complications to confuse the audience. At first glance, the motivations to conceal true identity, intent, and such may seem like they come from a place of selfish want. We do see this in characters like Edmund, Goneril, and Regan. Their greed and lust for power, control, and legitimacy drive their performances. However, we find more noble characters such as Edgar or Kent staging performances, but doing so for the benefit of others. Therefore, we must rule out the purpose of these layers as purely a way to conceal bad faith actions. Instead, let us consider the possibility that these narrative layers best serve to draw us further into the story, expanding it and pulling us deeper and closer to its intended meaning.

Still, if there is one all-encompassing truth to the story of King Lear, I don’t know it. It seems a story with many layers must also contain many themes. To disregard all other meanings and choose one would be to rob the story of its complexity and Shakespeare’s craftsmanship. That said, one of the driving motifs in the story is finding sight in blindness, or reason in madness, which really isn’t much different. Gloucester only understands the truth about his sons after he has been blinded for his blindness. Likewise, through Lear’s madness his eyes are opened to poverty, justice and the lack of it, who actually loved and didn’t love him, and more. Witnessing these revelations should hopefully prime us as the audience to be willing to accept truths from where we least expect them. Our modern society is plagued with misinformation, false stories and manipulations, and much of it is spread with truly malicious intent. But in an age of misinformation, King Lear invites us to peel back these layers, to find reason in the madness, and hopefully to emerge a little wiser from it.

What Even is Power???

One of the biggest themes that stood out to me is the concept of power. Power is a weird idea and one that I honestly understand even less after analyzing this story. My biggest question is what does having power even mean in reality because in this story everyone that feels like they have power doesn’t really. The power shifted among many of the characters but nobody even had the power that they thought they had.

People have a natural craving for power that whether or not you know it, is deeply inside every person in my opinion. I think that while everyone seeks some amount of power, nobody ever knows what to do with it once it’s in their possession. Power is something that can control the actions of people and that is seen throughout all the best movies, books, and shows. There is almost always a power that is being sought after or controlled in every good story. But I don’t know if I can think of a single story where the original person with power retains it from start to finish. This holds true in King Lear as we see power get tossed around like a bag of rocks throughout the story. I don’t think anyone knows how to truly the power they have during the novel.

Furthermore, I’m not sure if I know what power means. I think the people considered to not have the “power” in stories are oftentimes the most powerful characters. Power is truly just a social construct that has held to form throughout all of humanity but for reasons I do not understand. Honestly, I think power is pretty overrated.

Mitch “Caius” McConnell

Trump’s second impeachment (February 2021) involved four days of trials and statements—including a statement from Mitch McConnell. According to McConnell, someone who notoriously blindly followed and supported everything the former president vouched for,

“There is no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.”

As soon as I heard him utter the words I was reminded of Shakespeare’s King Lear and Lear’s relationship with Kent, his loyal servant. Throughout the play you see various examples of different dynamics between those in power and their servants. Some characters, such as Lear, prefer someone who would be on beck and call and not ask questions or make suggestions. Considering Trump’s obvious attempt to pack his cabinet with those of the same views as him, he and Lear would get along in that regard.

McConnell, someone who made himself a hypocrite following the passing of Justice RGB and going back on his word in 2016 all in support of Trump’s ideals, made an unpredictable move during the impeachment trials. He stated that he thinks Trump is in the wrong, something that most Trump supporters refuse to admit.

This “betrayal” is similar to Kent’s argument to Lear. He tries to show Lear how problematic actions were and Lear lashes out at him and bans him from his kingdom. Kent, ever the faithful servant returns under a disguise of a beggar named Caius and still does his best to serve and assist Lear. McConnell did vouch for Trump to be tried on the state level as opposed to federal, which would produce a different option than being convicted after being out of office. Plus he still voted to acquit so he didn’t suddenly change his ways overnight.

Only time will tell is McConnell is more of a blindly trusting servant or more similar to Kent where he does everything for good and to help Trump not further ruin “the Republican reputation”. However, his statement at the trial was certainly a big step.

If you want a good article to read there was one written by NPR which I found very helpful:

https://www.npr.org/2021/02/19/969139850/the-republican-rift-goes-far-deeper-than-just-trump-and-mcconnell

Identity in King Lear: All The World’s a Stage

Identity is a major theme throughout King Lear. Starting at the very beginning of the play, there are allusions to the world of theatre and acting. When asking to hear his daughter’s speeches, Lear doesn’t care if it’s the truth, he just wants them each to take their roles of the grateful daughter and work with them. Later, both Kent and Edgar disguise themselves out of necessity, and when pretending to be someone else for so long, the lines often get blurred between a character and one’s true self. However, the difference between Kent and Edgar is that the purpose of Kent’s disguise is to protect Lear, while Edgar’s is to protect himself. The characters are often unable to see through disguises, particularly Lear, as he is too lost to think of anything but himself and his daughters. The use of false roles and deception shows parallels to another one of Shakespeare’s plays, As You Like It. In As You Like It, Jacques, the melancholy fool, gives a long speech about how “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” I find it interesting how two of Shakespeare’s prominent plays express the same theme of life simply being acting. Everyone is playing a character and putting on a disguise or a facade in some way, and those who fail to disguise themselves properly often suffer the most. The ability to manipulate one’s identity can seem to be a strong shield against others, but in the end, there is nothing that can truly protect the fragile nature of one’s true self.

It Doesn’t Matter Anyway

by Jasmine W

King Lear operates on several complex levels in both its literary and thematic message. While the story and its characters’ actions all have a lot to say about the larger meanings of life, I found it very interesting to also witness a little bit of an ode to life’s simplicity as I followed along. As Gloucester famously states, “As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods; They kill us for their sport” (IV.i.41-42). When drawn in by the tragic plot full of betrayal, death, and irony, it is easy to forget about the story’s relation to the rest of the world. In retrospect, however, each and every one of the characters and our lives does not matter. Regardless of what happens to us, life and time move on.

It is here where a connection can be drawn between Shakespeare’s King Lear and Albert Camus’ The Stranger, which we read earlier in the year. In fact, I think almost any work of fiction can be viewed in part through and existentialist lens; nuanced reminders of just how insignificant human life is are present everywhere. That being said, I am a firm believer that the meaning of our life can only be determined by us, and dwelling on its insignificance in the face of eternity does not help anything. (But if that’s what you want to do, by all means, go for it.) If you make a mistake, it should be deemed that by yourself, and not by society’s standards.

Upon reflection, I find it thoroughly amusing that a play as tacky (in my opinion) as King Lear can raise such philosophical questions such as the meaning of life.

Power in Society

Everywhere you go, there is going to be an imbalance in power. This is the way society has been constructed from day one. Tensions are created between different ethnicity’s and genders based on individuals getting the false sense that they are somehow “better than others” based on them having more power. In the play, we see how the power Lear has is immense, but easily thrown away. His own daughter stole the throne from him and take it as theirs. Power causes a great divide, because people will often do anything the can to obtain it.

Power has only increased for the people that posses it as time has gone on. With technology being such a prominent facet in our everyday lives, the power you have can seem bigger than ever with the ability to reach countless people. Too often, however, power is used in the wrong way. Goneril and Regan loved the power Lear had more than him himself. Because of this, they stole the thrown from him. Being someone in power has its positives and negatives in society. Power can easily be abused, and those not in as much power could easily abuse the power of others. Needless to say, power creates a lot of issues in modern day society, and in King Lear.

Expectations are Often Blind of Reality’s Likely Course

As seen in Act 1, scene 1, of Shakespeare’s King Lear, Lear intends to divide his kingdom amongst his daughters. It is inferred in this scene that King Lear expects his power will stay dominant over the kingdom despite the decision to give it all up. Clearly, Lear has been delusional from his previous safe and non-problematic rule enough to think that he will still hold power when he has chosen to give up his rule. However, giving up his power was not the cause of his loss of power, but it was who he gave it up to that destroyed him.

In my true heat
I find she names my very deed of love;
Only she comes too short
– (Regan, Act 1, Scene 1)

Regan and Goneril profess their “love” for King Lear saying that words can’t even describe their love, despite saying previously that words cannot describe how much they love their father. Lear turns a blind eye to these obviously exaggerated and distorted comments for the sake of his expectations. Instead of seeing what is clearly happening right in front of him (Goneril and Regan sucking up to their father in order to get the lands), Lear does not care as he believes that whatever he expects to happen, will happen. This is the downfall of Lear, and Shakespeare makes it a theme in the play. People in power often think that whatever they think is law, so how could any outcome that they didn’t want happen? That is the mindset of people like King Lear and the sisters until they too have suffered as the commons do. Perspective is one thing that almost never coexists with power.