Is Physical Loss the Only Avenue to Emotional Gain?

In the play King Lear losing power is what humanizes Lear. He goes from a prideful King obsessed with others expressing how much they love him to a man with empathy for others and even regret for the way he mistreated his daughter Cordelia. This happens as a result of him being stripped of his kingdom by his daughters Goneril and Regan. Based on the path he was on it seems that this was the only way for him to have a more mutual recognition for others. This theme of loss allowing others to become a better person was prevalent before King Lear in many tragedies and remained extremely popular long after, even stretching into modern movies and TV shows.

Losing a person’s sense of pride of power as Lear did when he lost his Kingdom has actually become the premise for many comedy tv shows rather than tragic plays. This is seen in Community, where Jeff Winger loses his high power job as an attorney. As well as in Bojack Horseman where Bojack loses his fame. Even in Schitt’s Creek, where the family loses all of their money. In these shows and many more the protagonist starts arrogant and rude like Lear loses their most central identity. Only after this can they become a better and more complete person like Lear, though in the end they succeed rather than suffer a tragic death. In addition to TV shows this is seen in countless movies such as many of Leonardo DiCaprio’s movies (Catch Me if You Can, The Wolf of Wall Street, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, ect.) and on the comedy side many of Will Ferrell’s movies (Blades of Glory, Talladega Nights, Anchorman, ect.). This idea has been embedded in a huge amount of stories for centuries in such a way that it seems like the only way to force some characters to develop.

As a result of this theme being central to some of history’s greatest stories, stories have been written about characters forcing themselves to self destruct and lose it all so that they can reach a Lear esque enlightenment in the end. Think of the famous Fight Club line, “It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.” In this movie Tyler Durden leaves behind all of his systems that he believed before gave him worth to pursue this freedom. In fact, this idea has bled into the actions of real people. Few embody this better than Chris Mccandless, the man who is the subject of the book and movie Into the Wild. Chris was a man who would soon become a lawyer and was obsessed with literature, mostly classics like King Lear. Following his parent’s divorce he left this all behind to live with no money in nature in search of enlightenment. Eventually, just as he seemingly began to understand the world he too perished, this time from a parasite rather than grief. It was knowledge of these stories that led him to this lifestyle as many stories, like King Lear, portray it as possibly the only way to becoming a better person. So why wouldn’t Chris give up everything? It feels like a small price to pay for becoming an enlightened person. On another note, King Lear could have had the same line of thinking. As he had most definitely read the tragedies and live through them and now saw an opportunity to live like them. It feels very possible that Lear’s madness was caused by his own sense that he was a bad person and needed to be self destructive to save himself.