Family Ties

In Act 5, as Lear and Cordelia die their indominable family tie is shown. What made Cordelia stand out from her sisters, was her pure heart and good intention. Her character comes back into fruition at the end of the tragedy. Cordelia is unlike her sisters in the fact that she did not profess disingenuous love to her father.

In the end of the tragedy, Lear realizes the mistakes he has made with his daughter, his sorrow is exacerbated by his impending death. “When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down and ask of thee forgiveness.” (V.III.) In the end, Lear finally is holding himself accountable for his action of banishing his daughter. Often times when one is nearing death, they have this realization and try to right there wrongs before it is too late.

Cordelia’s pure heart cannot bear to see her father in his condition. Despite all the pain he inflicted upon her, she still cares for him. So much show that she says, “For the, oppressed king, I am cast down. Myself could else outfrown false Fortune’s frown.” (V.III.) When Cordelia reunites with Lear in the last scene, she wishes it was her who is sick not him. Only a daughter’s love can forgive a father for his atrocious actions.

Love is fickle, complex, and unexplainable. The love between Cordelia and Lear shows a true love that stood over time. Cordelia is an admirable character for her ability to forgive. Readers also see Lear’s growth as he realizes the consequences of his action. Act 5 offered a bittersweet ending in a true tragedy style of writing, as readers learned from the characters downfalls in the story and not all is lost in love.

King Lear, Narcissism & Leadership

Chaya Bhuvaneswar’s take on King Lear is compelling and presents a characterization of the King as a narcissist whose ultimate suffering is being anything different. In fact, in their article, The Madness of King Trump: On Being Unfit to Serve, they claim that the King’s Act 1 Scene 1 attack against Cordelia is only a tough love lesson on what it means to be royal. Is it harsh? Maybe. But in their words, Lear “like other egocentric rulers, rewards sycophants and punishes honesty whenever it strikes them as a threat to their grandeur.”

What follows is an intricate analysis of leaders and well, their narcissism and mania. The following question is posed: “What leader isn’t something of a narcissist, elected or no?”

Sure, no-one can argue that there are selfish political figures concerned more with their own interests rather than a constituents.

But is putting yourself first actually being a leader?

Can someone who lacks empathy, like a narcissist, be a leader?

A central point of the play is Lear learning to understand others. Lear starts to regains his empathy in the storm. After being confronted by his daughters, he recognizes the hardships that await those outside the comfort of his kingdom walls. He compares himself to them and realizes while he is complaining about how many servants there are to his name, some have no choice but to sit out in the storm. Eventually, that empathy also extends to Cordelia. Through it, he remembers why he was in power in the first place and turns the play into a humbling, arguably heroic narrative for the King.

This is when we see Lear at his best. Even though it was too late.

Maybe that’s why we excuse narcissism and “unfitness” in leaders especially political ones. If we are judging the capability of a leader based on their influence and their ability to command a troop into battle, then yes. A narcissist would be perfect for the job. Narcissists are expectional at manipulating opinions and influencing minds in order to get what they want.

Using that as the measuring point, the question is no longer whether narcissists can be leaders but when do you draw the line? And if they are the precedent, who is to follow? When Lear was deemed to mad to lead, Regan and Goneril stepped into the picture and brought wicked plans with them.

Lear doomed himself. Why? Because as narcissists do, he alienated himself. He begins the play by banishing Kent, his most loyal servant and sending Cordelia away, his most loyal daughter. He isolated himself until the power was only in one vehicle and was so easy to take. Like candy from a baby.

King Lear and Social Class

In Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of King Lear, multiple character’s realize the injustice baked into our society through social class. Both Lear and Gloucester realize, when at their lowest, that they are not alone in their struggles. The injustices that they faced in those moments was an experience shared widely across their kingdom, by many, many more people. They both come to the realization that they haven’t been doing enough to address the gap between the social classes, and realized that it is too late for them to make a difference because they had lost all of their power. They both remark on how the rich and those in power should experience what it is like to be poor and to suffer. If the rich knew how they were feeling, they would be more likely to do something about it. Lear adds that the rich will not act in the favor of the poor because they enjoy their current lives and refuse to see the struggles of those around them. This idea, although written hundreds of years ago, is still incredibly relevant today. There are millions op people in this country who are struggling to make ends meet and living paycheck to paycheck, off of wages that aren’t enough to survive. The working class has been routinely manipulated and abused in order to fund the extravagant lives of the wealthy. Those currently in power don’t want to do anything in order to aid the working class, partially because they enjoy their comfortable lives themselves, and partially because they are in league with the wealth, who want to use working class people for as much labor as possible and hoard all of the profits for themselves. The play argues that, if the wealthy were to experience what it is like to be poor, and that it is not a choice, they wouldn’t be so cruel and would make an effort to help them more. While I think this idea is a good one in theory, the wealthy would never be put in the situation of the poor, and if they were, there would be another wealthy person to take their place and continue to manipulate the working class. I think, in agreement with Lear, that the best way to aid the working class and make things right is to redistribute the wealth that those in power have accumulated and hoard for themselves. If their wealth was redistributed among the people, we would have a better, more efficient, and equitable society in which we don’t have people starving and dying ion the streets, or going bankrupt because they can’t afford healthcare.

Bastards in Shakespeare’s England

Edmund the bastard has a label scarred onto him which he cannot shake off, and which causes him to hold a unquenchable desire to secure power and prove himself worthy of respect and his fathers title. In introducing Edmund, Shakespeare ensures the bastard label is made clear, and makes Edmund’s feelings around the label known. “Why brand they us with base?….” Shakespeare must have included “bastard” as a central character trait for a reason, given the English societal customs of his period.

Using “bastard” as a central character trait was not unique to King Lear for Shakespeare. In “King John” Phillip the Bastard served as a more noble representation of a bastard. Bastards are included in a number of other Shakespeare plays, but with more minor roles.

Shakespeare seems to feel sympathy for bastards in his plays, even for the villainous Edmund. His writing appears to sympathizes with the grievances Edmund lays out in his “Stand up for Bastards” speech.

One theory for Shakespeare’s bastard focus is rumored to be that he had a bastard son of his own. A book recently published called “Shakespeare’s Bastard” suggests Shakespeare’s godson, who became a famous poet and shared a unique facial feature with Shakespeare, was actually Shakespeare’s illegitimate (and only) son.

Of course the book merely speculates, but the importance of the Bastard label in English society remained. The coat of arms of all royal bastards was required to feature a band dexter to signal their baseness. A papal decree from 786, almost 750 years before the birth of Shakespeare, declared english royalty “must not be begotten in adultery or incest” and that “he who was not born of a legitimate marriage” could not succeed to the throne.

There had been a few famous English Royal Bastards, but none who became as powerful as Edmund in Lear.

Robert, 1st Earl of Glouster, for example managed to secure power by being the oldest illegitimate son of the king. He was entrusted with holdings in Normandy by his father.