Personality Typing in King Lear

One of my favorite things to do when I encounter a new story is to try my hand at assigning them a Myers-Briggs personality type. When it comes to King Lear, some of the characters were abnormally easy to gauge, as they served as archetypes for a few different types. Lear, for example, is a typical ESTJ. Generally seen as power-hungry and strong-minded, ESTJs have a cognitive function stack of Te-Si-Ne-Fi. This means that their dominant function is extroverted thinking (Te), which harshly analyzes the world around them to process and organize information. In King Lear, we see this in his tendency to look at information from a purely rational perspective and his blatant disregard for the feelings of those around him. ESTJ’s auxiliary function is introverted sensing (Si), which is a processing function and determines an individual’s method of processing information internally and in real-time. This manifests in King Lear’s frequent comparisons of current events, not from a philosophical standpoint, but from a more rational and pragmatic one. The combination of his dominant and auxiliary functions serves to take in information directly from the environment, analyze it based on tangible and factual data, and organize it into a logical framework that compares current and past data in order to categorize things appropriately. The tertiary function of an ESTJ is extriverted intuition (Ne), which seeks to observe and understand the possibilities of the outside world. Because this is not one of his first two functions it is used far less frequently and is developed later on in life than the Te and Si. Finally, the inferior function is introverted feeling (Fi). This function, used the least, guides the ESTJ through the processing of their own emotions.

However, while under stress, ESTJs begin to act very differently. The tendency of every MBTI type, while undergoing some kind of stressful event or period, is to fall back on their tertiary and inferior functions because of an overhwleming desire to excape. In the case of ESTJs, they begin to heavily lean on Ne and Fi, causing them to overanalyze the philosophical implications of their poor state-of-mind and hyperfixate on their feelings of confusion and unrest. Ne and Fi are the two dominant functions of an INFP, Cordelia’s type (Fi, Ne, Si, Te). I believe this is why Lear and Cordelia seem to find much more common ground by the end of the play, as their outlook and processing of information is somewhat similar.

The King’s healthy functioning is seen almost exclusively at the beginning of the play, but as he begins to deteriorate, the pragmatic and decisive nature of his ESTJ stack deteriorates with him, causing himself to get lost in an internal world of deep sorrow and complex questioning of life.

King Lear in Modern Politics

King Lear contains many motifs and examples that can be seen in politics today. This makes me marvel at how Shakespeare incorporated elements of leadership and politics that are still relevant almost 500 years later.

One major example of this correlation can be seen in President Trump’s “reign,” in which he had some of the same attitudes and leadership strategies as King Lear. For example, both Lear and Trump tried to fix all problems on their own instead of relying on others for help and advice. Lear does not really listen to those around him, as he thinks that because he is the King, he is in charge, and only his ideas are the acceptable ones.

Another example of King Lear coming to life in politics today can be seen through the President’s cabinet. In King Lear, his daughters Goneril and Reagan both praise King Lear, telling him how much they love him, and how devoted to him they are. However, it becomes clear that his daughters do not truly love him, but just wanted the power and land that their father could give them. The President’s cabinet is a group of people that the president surrounds himself with to give him advice and handle more specific problems. The idea is to have some people that do not have the same viewpoints as you, so that you have a variety of viewpoints to make the best decision for the country. Nowadays, however, it has become increasingly polarized, and the cabinet is often filled with people that have the same viewpoints as the President. During Trump’s presidency, I remember reading an article about how Trump fired one of his cabinet members for something that he said against Trump. This seems very similar to Lear kicking Cordelia out for not professing her love to him.

While it is clear that any president is not as bad as King Lear, and not nearly as crazy, the correlations between Lear and politics today do make me think about practices in politics, and the way that people have been conditioned to respond to ideas they do not agree with. This idea of hearing different viewpoints is extremely important in today’s culture, as social media has made it so people only hear ideas that they agree with, creating an even greater political divide. By keeping in mind the Tragedy of King Lear, we can avoid these problems and not fall down the rabbit hole that Shakespeare prophesied.

King Lear: A True Example of Karma

There are a few different instances of karma being a role in King Lear. But the acts and decisions of Goneril and Regan stand out to me the most. In Act 1, they give these elegant speeches about how much they love their father. Explaining how words or material possessions cannot describe how much they love him. But it does not take long for the sisters to forget every word they said and turn on their father for their self-interest. In Act 1, Scene 3, Goneril tells Oswald to start acting against Lear and treating him disrespectfully. She also tries to lessen his number of knights. With Regan being on her side, this begins the downfall of King Lear and also, where the slow downfall of the daughters.

The way Goneril & Regan act unto others in the play are also uncalled for. One of the more popular scenes in the play, where Regan insists Cornwall plucks out the eyes of Gloucester and also murders a servant. These sisters are both blinded by their own greed and self-interest, that they will do anything and harm anyone to be able to be on top. But as we all know, this mindset and their actions ultimately lead them to their downfall and finally, at the end of the play, their death.

As I came to the end of King Lear, the first thing I said to myself was, “Karma’s a b*tch.” Reading this play, it was sort of obvious that something like this would happen, but being able to experience it all happen and witness the outcome that was placed in front of us was best way for the play to come to an end. Pride, jealousy and greed will always lead to downfall and we got a good example of it in King Lear.

Manliness, Emasculation, and the Fear of Strong Women

Gender roles play a HUGE role in the storyline of King Lear. From the emasculation and takedown of King Lear resulting in a major loss of power to him to the ultimate, untimely demise of every strong, or even just, every female character, this work truly highlights sexism that was alive and prospering during the time period in which Shakespeare wrote it.

At the beginning of the play, in Act 1, Scene 1, Lear is furious at the fact that Cordelia states she will love her husband when she marries him in the future, and will thus not be able to afford every drop of her love and devotion to her father, for now, and forever. He states, “I loved her most and thought to set my rest On her kind nursery. Hence and avoid my sight!(I, i, 137-139). Here it can be seen that unconditional love is only expected of women in this play. Lear banished Cordelia because she would not love him unconditionally for her entire life in the way he expected. While parents are supposed to love their children unconditionally, Lear abandons his daughter, the one he loved the most, because of gender roles.

According to Lear, his other two daughters, Goneril and Regan, aren’t much better than Cordelia. Both of his daughters have stated that if he wishes to live with them, then he must reduce his worldly possessions to almost nothing. In this grand act of emasculation, Regan states, “What need you five-and-twenty, ten, or five, To follow in a house where twice so many Have a command to tend you? What need one?”(II, iv, 300-303). Here, Regan is completely overpowering Lear. She is “stripping” him of the last few things he has power over, to allow him to stay and be cared for by her. Lear sees this as a complete and absolute reduction of his power, which he refuses to stand for. Instead of being reasonable and giving up his men, he leaves her castle as an insane storm rages on.

At the end of the play, all three of Lear’s daughters end up dying in the battle that rages on for power and total control of the kingdom. Regan was killed by her sister, Goneril. According to the Gentleman, “Your lady, sir, your lady. And her sister By her is poisoned. She confesses it”(V, iii, 268-269). Goneril poisoned Regan over Edmund, a man, for fear that she would have stolen him from her. By having these women die over a man, Shakespeare is reinforcing the gender roles that women are petty, and exist purely for men and to fight over men. He does not even afford them their own, unique deaths. Rather, deaths by one another, grasping for a man they cannot both have. Cordelia is mourned the most by her father. He is overcome with grief when he finds her lifeless body and, in response, states, “Her voice was ever soft, Gentle, and low, an excellent thing in a woman”( V, iii, 328-329). Even in her death, Lear enforces patriarchal ideas of what women can be. He liked that she was quiet, subservient, and gentle, and in her death, that is what he is choosing to remember. Not the times she controlled an army, or stood up for herself, using her voice. He never chose to acknowledge her power.