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.

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