Here are the songs that various groups have connected with the Romantic poetry we have been analyzing. Feel free to post your own connections and analysis here — and I’ll add your song to the playlist.
If Janina Were a Man
Historically women’s contributions to society, conversation, and the workplace are much less appreciated than men’s. Women are taken much less seriously and as a result, are also compensated on a lower scale; specifically regarding women of color, these disparities are heightened. Throughout Drive Your Plow Janina attempted to get credit, her voice heard, and her theories taken seriously during the hunt for the party responsible for the murders.
Janina functions to such a large degree outside of the parameters of a patriarchal society many of her rational observations concerning detective work are disregarded. If Janina were cast as a man I strongly believe that her ideas, though not all given the unrealistic nature of some, would be given more consideration. Moreover, many of her seemingly “manic” or “unreasonable” behaviors would seem strategic and even effective in the investigation of the killings. I think Taylor Swift does a great job depicting these vocabulary differences in the following clip.
Animals vs. Humans: Who does she care for?
Janina our main character loves animals, she loves them so much that she defends them on a daily basis. But how does she feel about human beings? We know she loves children and she feels that teaching a child up to the age of 10 is very important because you can install your beliefs in them, and try to shape them (114). But we also know that she likes Dizzy, even though she calls him fragile and small with girlish hands, but on pg.75 she says “I had always cared about Dizzy very much, and I didn’t want him to take me for a lunatic. Not him.” This shows me that Dizzy as a person has a good relationship with Janina, because of their connection with Blake, but also because they believe in each other. But what about Oddball, I mean he had been Janina’s neighbor ever since she moved there. She does seem to be friendly with him, but when she was telling him about his theory of the animal killing humans, he told her to keep her theory to herself (not knowing that no animals did the killing) and that it could do her harm. But the fact is that she felt hurt by his statement, maybe because he didn’t believe what she felt that she was doing helping the animals, or maybe it’s the fact that he cared.
A pattern I saw in Janina’s choice of friends was that they don’t harm animals like the other kind of humans she doesn’t like. They don’t hunt and maybe they eat meat, but we don’t know that they do. Although Janina didn’t know Boros, she did see that he didn’t like that people would harm the trees that the insects lived in. And even he felt a way when she asked him which insect is more useful (135). He didn’t like that, and they connected more when he said “From nature’s point of view no creatures are useful or not useful. That’s just a foolish distinction applied by people.” From that point, I think Janina liked him even more. Janina may not have a lot of friends but the friends she does have, connect with her. Even a person that wasn’t in the book for long was a little shop assistant who was wearing a fake fur hat, which Janina pointed out to us. That was how their friendship began. Even if it was a small encounter I believe that Janina liked her because of the fake fur hat.
It’s clear that Janina thinks of animals as humans, and will do anything for them. (Like Kill). But I don’t think of Janina any different from when I was first introduced to her. I still have compassion for her. And even if she doesn’t like humans that much, she has really good friends that are human.
Comedy: Wanna Laugh Or Not…?
What makes a comedy, is it something that makes you laugh, giggle, or fall out of your chair on the floor cracking up? Well, in order to find out you must know what a comedy is. The merriam-webster definition of comedy is,
a literary work written in a comic style or treating a comic theme
And comic means to cause laughter. So now that we know what consists of comedy, what is the answer to the question. For me, it’s all of the above, a good movie or tv show that you can just sit back, watch, and laugh about. Well in this case a Comedy, Thriller, Action, Crime Fiction Adventure, and Buddy Cop, movie gives us that representation. I present Rush Hour, starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.
Rush Hour is about saving a Chinese diplomat’s daughter when she is kidnapped, and of course, he would want his finest on the job so he reaches out to Lee a detective from Hong Kong, knowing that he can help the FBI search for her, but the FBI doesn’t want nothing to do with Lee, so they hire LAPD’s joke James Carter also a detective, making him think he is essential to the case. In the start, Lee and Carter can’t stand each other, but they choose to work together to solve the case on their own when they figure out they’ve been ditched by both the FBI and the police.
Although this movie is based on crime and danger, the plot between Lee and Carter being total opposites working together makes it funny. And the fact that this movie stars a Black and a Chinese man, and them being in an interracial partnership, it can seem like this movie would have failed. But because of this unexpected form of two people from different lives but similar coming together, being totally opposites but forming a real friendship. Made the movie funnier, but also treated that comic style of entertainment. Grossing a total of $245 million worldwide according to The Numbers.
In this scene, Lee and Carter are just now meeting, and Carter don’t want to watch over him like the FBI wants him to but wants to find out some information regarding the girl, and Lee wants to ditch Carter so he can start investigating. They both want to help solve the case but just don’t know how to work together yet. This part of the movie is funny, because of Carter’s ideas of Lee but also the way he was hanging on to the bus trying to catch up to Lee, and when finally catching up to him his ego got in the way, and he started to posing for pictures. While Lee at the end speaking English, and Carter’s face because he didn’t know the whole time. Makes it that much better.
In this scene, Lee and Carter are better acquainted now and starting to like each other. They start to bond over the song War by Edwin Starr which comes on the radio while they are staking out a restaurant, and Carter starts to critic Lee on how to sing it. Then Carter starts to dance, and Lee shows him an arm move. And then Lee even teaches Carter how to take a gun away from someone, like he did him. The whole singing and dancing part is funny all by itself.
The way this movie presented itself made it so interesting, like you are in the movie with them. The whole plot from start to finish is a work of art. Rush Hour must have been a big comedic hit, because they made two more after it, and a fourth one is on the way. Even one of the most famous lines in this movie is…
You may have heard of it, well this is where it came from. It is funny because of the way Carter is expressly trying to talk to Lee when there was no need for it.
Comedy can have a meaning beyond laughing, because sometimes in life not everything is funny or to made to be funny. Which is what this movie brings to the table, it gives us a sad moment of a little girl being kidnapped and through the journey of the movie makes us laugh, and then provided us with a happy ending. Comedy can be used for de-stressing your self, or when your having a hard time, you look at the good things of life. Because they say “Laughter is the best medicine.” So if you want to laugh or not…I recommend this movie, guaranteed to make you laugh.
King Lear Through The Freudian Lens
Like Shakespeare, the neurologist Sigmund Freud has left a lasting impression on his respective field of study. Freud is the founder of psychoanalysis and his theory, the Freudian Theory, postulates that the personality is composed of three distinct aspects: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is categorized by following instinctive impulses and urges; the superego is the moral and self-critical conscience component of the personality; the ego acts as the realistic middle ground between the superego and the id. All three classifications can be used to characterize the characters in King Lear.
Id: The id is best demonstrated by Goneril and Regan who act out their immoral impulses by unremorsefully betraying their father for personal gain, going to extremes to get what they want by means of using others, and viewing those who disagree with their opinions as weak.
Ego: Both the Fool and Edgar act as the voice of reason by expressing the truth to Lear, understanding the inner workings of society, and gaining insight into reality.
Superego: Kent is the middle ground between greedy Goneril and Regan and the moral Fool and Edgar. Kent acts as Lear’s conscience, recognizes Regan and Goneril’s cruelty, and understands the error of Lear’s actions.
women and other animals
A theme surrounding King Lear is that of women in power. Throughout the play, when either Regan, Goneril, or Cordelia was in power or undermined the power of men, they were characterized as animals or monsters. Thought to be too emotional or just evil in general. Yet men in power were simply viewed as powerful, intelligent, and good. Even when Edmund betrayed both his brother and father, he still gained positive attention from Goneril and Regan who enjoyed his sort of “bad guy” behavior. This pattern is very familiar as still women in power are a taboo topic in most societies. Still viewed as too emotional to rule/lead. This doesn’t have to relate to extreme positions of power necessarily either such as president or queen, but a mother leading her household or a woman as manager. This is a persistent motif in the story, perhaps to show who is deserving of authority and power. And when the women in the story end up powerless/dead it reinforces that they are too corrupt or emotional for that power.
Edmund and Edgar: How Two Brothers Drove The Plot of King Lear
The feud between Edmund and Edgar was one of the key subplots in King Lear. It told a story of betrayal, trust, and manipulation, and much of what happened in the play was due to either of the brothers. In the play’s second act, the rivalry begins when Edmund cuts himself with a sword and frames Edgar. The dominos fall soon after as Gloucester and the kingdom turn on Edgar. It’s later revealed that destroying Edgar’s reputation was the first step in Edmund’s attempt to overthrow the system and take over the power. Edgar realizes this and chooses to fake his death and run away. He takes on the new identity of Poor Tom and does everything in his power (or lack thereof) to hide who he really is. Throughout the play, Edmund sees his plan come to life and is close to getting what he wants. As Regan and Goneril enter the picture and fight over Edmund, Edgar guides a lost King Lear and helps him see a new side of the world. The brothers remain vital characters throughout the play and even have a standoff at the end. The play ends with the long-lost Edgar finally defeating the person who ruined his life and becoming the kingdom’s next ruler.
Edmund and Edgar having their own subplots helped the entire flow of King Lear. Without the two of them, there would be a lot of holes in the plot, especially toward the end. Edmund was manipulating what happened in the kingdom and was part of many decisions that would be significant to the story. On the other hand, Edgar was with a broken Lear and a blind Gloucester. The two played incredible parts in the play and connected the puzzle together. Without the conflict between Edgar and Edmund, the events in King Lear would not have happened. They are the two most important characters in the entire play, and because of them, the Tragedy of King Lear is a legend in literature and one of the greatest plays ever.
King Lear – Ego, Pride and Greed
The Tragedy of King Lear – written by Shakespeare- is riddled with greed, despair, betrayal and suffering. There is no shortage of passages detailing the pain Lear or any of the other characters go through. However there is one point that while not overlooked, isn’t given enough attention. It is obvious from the very first act that King Lear is an egotistical ruler, especially when he forces his daughters to tell him how much they love him in exchange for a portion of the kingdom’s land, only to banish the youngest after she refuses to be untruthful when telling him how much she loves him. King Lear pride holds him back from being the best possible king for his kingdom, even when his loyal servant tries to show him the error of his ways, Lear tells him to leave too. The issue is that Lear allows his ego as king overshadow his understanding of his situations and the actions of those around him. His pride makes him think that he is untouchable, despite the fact that he willingly gave away his power. Making him nothing but a King on the words of the wind.
Greed, another major plot point of King Lear, has a few characters that encapsulate its violent methods. From Edmund, who destroyed his entire family to become heir, to the sisters Goneril and Regan, who tried so desperately to outdo one another that they end up killing themselves in the process. Greed, in Shakespeare’s plays, has never had a happy ending for those who pursue it so readily. In Hamlet, it was the king’s brother, Hamlet’s Uncle, who suffered after killing his brother in greed for the throne. In Romeo and Juliet, it was the greed of the two families and their feud, and while they may not have been the ones who died in the end, they were still the ones who suffered the consequences, losing their children. All those who indulged in greed in King Lear suffer, Edmund, Goneril, Regan, Oswald (the servant), even King Lear himself suffer because of their eventual greediness. Lear plays into the idea of karma in that regard, by making those who we see change still suffer even after they have– at least somewhat– mended their ways.
That is what makes King Lear especially tragic, because when a character finally changes their ways and better understands the world, the rug is pulled out from under them and they suffer to an even further extent before eventually falling into the cold hands of death too. It’s tragedy also plays into the idea of family, by having this family destroyed by the seams for some land or the love of another. Most people fear the betrayal of a close loved one, especially if in your mind they can do you now harm or they are less powerful than you. It is for that reason that King Lear is a tragedy caused not only by fear, greed, and ego, but also by the betrayal of family.
A motif that is strongly present in King Lear is femininity and what it means to be a “good” woman. Cordelia is described as kind, compassionate, submissive, and level-headed, which are the most wanted traits of women at the time. Goneril and Regan, however, are strong-willed and cruel, yet it begs the question: are they antagonized by their power or because of their power? The reader can recognize, of course, that their actions are vicious and heartless, but they are portrayed as worse than their husbands, whose actions are similarly as awful. Cornwall is the one that actually gouges out Gloucester’s eyes, but Regan is made the villain moreso than him. The play consistently brings up masculinity and femininity, especially women’s emotional states. A recurring idea is that women’s tears are weapons, and the larger idea behind that is that women express emotion more than men and that ability allows them to manipulate men. Lear consistently talks about tears, when he overtly calls women’s weapons tears and also when he refuses to cry although “he has more than enough reason to weep.” This contrast of masculinity and femininity gives some societal commentary on how madness and violence is perceived across genders.
A Beacon of Hope: The Power of Genuine Love and Affection in Shakespeare’s King Lear
I think that one of the most powerful passages in William Shakespeare’s “King Lear” is in Act III, Scene 4 when Lear addresses his daughter Cordelia. In this scene, Lear is in the midst of his descent into madness and has just been rejected by his two older daughters, Goneril and Regan. In a moment of desperation and despair, Lear turns to Cordelia hoping for a show of love and affection and to feel a sense of security and stability.
In this passage, Lear pleads with Cordelia to speak, saying,
O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art / As glorious to this night, being o’er my head, / As is a winged messenger of heaven / Unto the white-upturned wondering eyes / Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him / When he bestrides the lazy-pacing clouds / And sails upon the bosom of the air. (III.iv.23-29)
Through these lines, Lear is painting Cordelia as a symbol of hope and salvation, a beacon of light amidst the darkness of his current situation.
I think this passage supports a deeper meaning in the play by highlighting the themes of love, hope, and the fragility of human emotion. It also serves as a stark contrast to the cruel and manipulative behavior of Goneril and Regan, highlighting the importance of genuine love and affection in the face of adversity.
In moments of struggle and crisis, it is often easy to feel lost and alone, but the presence of someone who truly loves and cares for us can help to alleviate these feelings. Genuine love allows individuals to feel empowered and resilient because they know they have the support in place to help them through their challenges.
How Does King Lear Demonstrate the Importance of Self-Knowledge?
Throughout the duration of the play, King Lear developed immensely as a character. Wealth, power, and status are what kept him sane in Act I, however when he condemned his only true daughter and was deceived by the other two, he lost all of those things along with his sanity. Losing everything that he cherished most quickly sent him into a spiral that resulted in him realizing what he actually cared about. It was the lack of Lear’s self-knowledge that ultimately led to the chaos and tragedy. Lear’s recognition of his true values demonstrates the painful journey it may take someone as stubborn and blinded as him to dig deep into their soul and determine who they are, what they want, and what is important to them. In Lear’s case, this meant being rejected by his daughters, thrown out into the real world, and experiencing multiple epiphanies that revealed to him the cruel mistakes he made as a king. Although he was a changed man in the last act, neither he nor his loving daughter Cordelia were able to partake in actual reconciliation. If he had been aware of Cordelia’s purity of heart and the love he felt for her as she did for him, his downfall could have been prevented. In my opinion, it was this sudden end to the profound bond Lear and Cordelia had formed that was the most significant tragic aspect of the play. There was an overall theme of being too late in this play that made Lear’s suffering that much worse. The more he discovered about himself, the more he realized how foolish he was.
I am a very foolish, fond old man (IV.vii)
Self-knowledge is something that takes wisdom and experience to obtain. However knowing oneself cannot change fate, for fate does not care how in tune someone is to themselves. Fate is defined as the development of events beyond a person’s control. Lear was accustomed to being in control of everyone and everything, which led to his apparent insanity when he realized that fate does not care what title he had or the amount of money possessed. This play teaches us to stay true to ourselves and to not be blinded by the distractions that obstruct our path. Lear himself was the perfect example of what happens if we let those distractions and intrusive thoughts take over.
Power Doesn’t Corrupt. People are Corrupt.
One of the central themes in King Lear is power, and it is conveyed through power binaries such as LEGITIMATE/illegitimate, MAN/woman, and OLD/young. A central part of King Lear is how characters adapt, or fail to adapt, to shifting power binaries and the loss or acquisition of power.
The titular character in King Lear, Lear, is an example of someone failing to adapt to a loss of power. After giving up his land to his daughters, he begins to lose his mind as the people he used to command stop listening to him and his daughters try to exercise authority over him. Lear went mad because he was not able to comprehend the world around him after the binaries he understood were flipped.
Edmund, Goneril, and Regan are similar characters in the sense that they all use deceptive tactics to acquire power, and their acquisition of power involves a reversal of a power binary (Edmund, ILLEGITIMATE/legitimate, Goneral + Regan WOMAN/man). Another thing that these characters have in common is that they are all killed in the ending of the play. The statement that is being made is that power is not something that can be gained, it is something that people inherently have, and any attempt to flip power binaries would only lead to chaos.
Ran and King Lear
Akira Kurosawa’s Ran is a really good adaptation of King Lear. Many film adaptations of Shakespeare’s work make the mistake of using his exact dialogue, even when recontextualizing the story in a different setting. Ran does not. Aside from being set in 1500s Japan, Kurosawa reworked the original story in multiple ways in order to translate it to the medium and genre he occupied.
The movie’s dialogue is simple but direct. There aren’t any poetic soliloquies, but the performances are still emotive and there are several particularly impactful lines throughout the film. There are also several silent moments where characters are developed through action rather than explanation. For example, in the first scene, Lord Ichimonji, the film’s analog for Lear, suddenly falls asleep during a meeting with his sons and advisors. As the attendants leave Ichimonji to rest, Saburo, the film’s analog for Cordelia, places some shrubbery so that it shades his aging father from the glaring sun. The scene perfectly establishes Saburo’s relationship with his father without a single word of dialogue.
Ran‘s storm is not a literal tempest but rather the storming of a castle, as Ichimonji’s last refuge is sieged by the armies of his treacherous sons (analogs of Regan and Goneril). The sequence is completely without dialogue and features a moving piece of score. The montage alternates focus between soldiers as they are slaughtered and Ichimonji as he looks on in horror at the desecration of his last semblance of power.
Ran clocks in at about two hours and thirty minutes, but even that sizable runtime isn’t enough to contain the totality of Lear. So, as with many Shakespeare adaptations, some elements of the original story are cut for time. However, Kurosawa purposefully reintegrates some of the cut elements in a different context. For instance, there is no clear analog for Gloucester and his sons in Ran. However, there is a character whose eyes were gouged out by Ichimonji himself during his days as a conquering warlord. There is also a character that reflects elements of Edmund. The eldest son’s wife, Lady Kaede, seduces the middle son and plots to dismantle the ruling family, but instead of being motivated by greed, Kaede seeks revenge on Ichimonji, who also slaughtered her family during his conquering days. These changes not only serve to make the play more concise by eliminating characters that are relatively peripheral to the central character, they also provide more depth to that character by directly tying the conflict to his own foolish actions as a leader.
Speak No Truth
Throughout The Tragedy of King Lear, truth is scarce and huge parts of the play are derived from deceiving people. The most deceived of them all was Lear of course with the corrupt power system of the family he grew up in. Everyone around him would say the things he wants to hear but not the hurtful truth that would enrage him. Over time Lear’s mind is always going have a king mindset of ruling his kingdom, but with no kingdom to run, he is left with this immense confusion of how if his daughters said they loved him so much then why are they treating his gift of his kingdom like it was there’s, to begin with. With this power in Lear’s head, he banished Cordelia and Kent who were some of the only people who spoke the hurtful truth that Lear needed. Also because this is a tragedy Lear was made to suffer through the storm as a torment for his own actions and it was only after the storm that Cordelia and the French army came back to try and restore what he had lost.
Besides Kent and Cordelia, the fool also gave the truth in a very confusing manner but it always made sense to the situation. Lear enjoyed the riddles and rhymes even though they speak of the very bad things that are happening right in front of him. And despite being a jester his words are meant to be taken as truth, but even then Lear just laughs and doesn’t see what’s causing all of his confusion. The riddles could only distract him for so long for then he needed to face what he feared most. The fool along with Kent and Cordelia are looked at as crazy for standing up against the king and saying nasty things. But it’s really these characters that affected Lear the most and without them speaking out their truth and not caring for the punishment is what helped Lear along his journey. It is ironic however that Lear should’ve been listening to Kent and Cordelia who were looked at as fools, but he looks up to an actual fool for good and truthful advice.
Succession & King Lear
When I found out that the most significant connection between the HBO Max show Succession and Shakespeare was King Lear, I knew that I had to start watching the show. But how does a play from 1606 directly influence a 21st century TV show? Both themes revolve around a central power figure who divides his wealth amongst his children. In Succession, Logan, a media tycoon, serves as this figure. The transfer of power is prominent throughout both King Lear and Succession.
In King Lear, his power is divided amongst his three daughters. Whereas in Succession, Logan’s power is divided amongst his three sons and one daughter. The gender-power dynamic should be noted. One might find Siobhan, Logan’s only daughter to be most similar to Cordelia in King Lear. Both Siobhan and Cordelia embody independent female figures that seek power through themselves. They both exert power on their own and without the approval of other men.
Additionally, Logan’s sons are most similar to Edmund and other male characters in King Lear. Logan’s sons, Roman and Kendall plot against their elders and ultimately dictate the downfall of Logan’s success. Logan is poised with the decision of who will take over the family businesses but he fails to delegate the role. This is similar to Lear’s struggle to pass over the power of the Kingdom. All in all, the family dynamic and power structure in Succession mirror that of Shakespeare’s King Lear.
And Then There Were Three
At the end of the play, the only characters who survived were Albany, Edgar, and Kent (though it can be inferred that he commits suicide not long after). The survivors share a common denominator; they are all men. Throughout the play, the desire for power is heavily discussed and displayed through the characters’ actions, which ultimately cause tragedies for many. Even though some women held positions of power, their demise sent the overarching message that power is not meant to be in the hands of women. Instead, men are the ones who are more capable, righteous, and suitable to have total authority and control.
Another similarity between the men was they disguised themselves throughout the play. Edgar and Kent both formed new identities to escape their deaths, while Albany created a facade in front of Goneril and rarely shared his genuine opinions. While they are not the only characters to use disguises and be deceptive, they are the only ones with moral and true intentions.
One might wonder why Cordelia did not survive, as she was virtuous and well-intentioned, which seems to be the requirement. However, Cordelia had a misstep. She defied Lear at the beginning of the play, reclaiming her power, which is not intended for women. Having men survive furthered the message that only they are capable of maintaining order and rising above the rest.
Did Shakespeare predict the future of US politics?
Short answer, yes.
“And in the end meet the old course of death, women will all turn monsters”(III.vi.123)
In King Lear, Shakespeare illustrates the idea that women in power are crazy – they won’t be able to control their emotions when making important decisions. When Goneril and Regan obtain power from Lear, they’re actions are portrayed as monstrous and they’re characterized as, “Unnatural hags” (II.iv.319) who seek to destroy the kingdom. In Act 3, when Regan kills the First Servant, she’s called a “villain” and a “naughty lady”, to reinforce that women showing this kind of assertiveness is dangerous to the men in power.
The way Shakespeare portrayed women in King Lear was foreseeable to the future US political climate. Throughout the past 20 years, when women have stepped out of their “natural” roles, they’re depicted as dangerous, mad women. For example, Hillary Clinton was called ‘Crooked Hillary’ by Trump in hopes to portray her as a danger to society for her past. Similarly, AOC has been heavily criticized for her actions in the House of Representatives. People have called her “crazy” for doing the same things that a man in the House of Representatives would get applauded for.
Anita Hill was seen as a barrier to Justice Clarence Thomas’ trial to becoming approved by the Senate. People thought it was ploy to try to get Thomas rejected.
The political landscape of the US is very similar to the one in King Lear. When women reject the power structure put in place by society, they’re criticized. Also, one of the most important things in King Lear and to those in politics is power. When power is lost, chaos breaks loose in an attempt for someone else to regain it. If a women seeks this power, they are seen as a threat to a man’s power. Even during the 1600s, when King Lear was written, this was the societal norm, which is still very evident in US politics today.
King Lear: An Opponent to Class Supremacy
The wisdom of low-class characters in “King Lear” can be seen as a significant aspect of th play, serving as a foil to the foolishness and piousness of the upper-class characters. Through their words and actions, these lower-class characters offer a unique perspective into the events and themes of the play, displaying a level of wisdom that contrasts with the arrogance and pride of the higg-class characters. Through this point of making the least powerful of characters the wisest and intelligent, the story of King Lear makes an uncommon-at-the-time effort to disprove the idea of class supremacy.
One of the most prominent low-class characters in “King Lear” is the fool, who serves as a court jester and provides witty commentary on the actions of the characters throughout the play. In his role, he is seen as an outcast and is treated with disdain by many of the other characters. Despite this and his low social status, the fool is often the only character who speaks truth to power, daring to call out Lear and other nobel characters on their foolishness and offering sage advice. Through this role, it becomes clear that not only could Lear have avoided being betrayed by his daughters if he had listened to the fool but the fool would make a better, more intelligent ruler than Lear, consistently telling Lear to make the correct decision throughout the play.
This is also shown in King Lear’s descent into madness. As this descent begins to quicken, Lear’s madness is exemplified by him becoming delusional and confused, experiencing hallucinations and speaking in cryptic riddles. Throughout these changes, it is clear that he is beginning to mirror Poor Tom, Edgark’s disguise of a crazy beggar. Both speak and act oddly, like speaking in gibberish or singing at inappropriate times. At the same time, while Poor Tom is portrayed as already being mad, his madness is seen as a form of wisdom by the play. He is able to see the truth about society and the world, and his madness is a manifestation of his rejection of the false ideals that society upholds, unlike Lear who goes mad as a rejection of his loss of power over Britain and those around him. As the play progresses, King Lear begins to adopt some of Poor Tom’s attitudes and becomes more like him in his ability to see through society’s illusion. Cordelia best describes this change in Lear in her line “As mad as the vexed sea; singing aloud; / Crowned with rank furniture and furrow-weeds.”(IV. Iv. 2-3) Cordelia describes Lear to have replaced his crown with a crown of flowers. This symbolizes almost an ego death within Lear. He no longer sees himself as an all-powerful figure who would make his daughters fight over who loves him the most for land, he has become closer to nature and as a result, understands how small he is compared to it. While it could be argued that because Poor Tom is not an actual crazy beggar but rather Edgar in disguise, this wisdom would be coming from Edgar rather than his impoverished costume, this would not be entirely true. As is made clear at the end of King Lear as Edgar decides to help Albany continue the monarchy, an institution in opposition to the ideas Poor Tom preaches, he is his own character who not only symbolizes the poorest of Lear’s subjects but is vital in Lear’s transformation from a pious, power-hungry king into a good man weakened by madness.
Throughout “King Lear” the characters that hold the most power in the kingdom are consistently shown to be the ones who make the wrong decisions because of their hunger for more power and fear of losing it. On the other hand, the poor characters who interact with the nobility of the story are consistently shown to hold great wisdom and intelligence as a result of their ability to look past societal roles and norms. For a play set at a time of monarchs with absolute power, this idea is rather revolutionary and surprising in a Shakespearean play.
Corruption, Cruelty, and Karma
In King Lear, many present day issues and rooted problems in society are addressed in the play. These ideas and issues relate to corruption, social class, power, and karma. Specifically focusing on the socioeconomic gap which is still tremendously present in our society today.
From the start, Goneril and Regan present very two-faced speeches telling their father how much they love him, all in hopes to persuade him to give them the most material possessions, and ultimately benefit their own self interest. Yet, it doesn’t take time for them to disregard everything they said and completely betray their father. As a result, the sisters end up completely blinded by their own cruelty. Although Goneril and Regan aren’t the only characters in the play that did anything and were willing to harm anyone to be on top, it is clear that all they cared about was their dignity and perceived status.
Another person that reflects similar qualities was Lear. Throughout the play, his behavior demonstrates his pride in power and status, and overwhelming passion for wealth. In our society, most individuals have to climb either the social or political ladder, meanwhile Lear began at the top. For Lear, everything just came easy to him from the start. However once Lear fell from his status he finally understood his apathetic, and especially selfish nature. It is when both Gloucester and Lear are at their lowest, that they recognize the struggles of those lower and less fortunate than themselves. During this time, they admit that those that are rich are unlikely to help when they don’t know how it feels to be at the bottom. Lear realized that he was doing nothing to help or even acknowledge the gap between social classes. Whereas, if Lear fairly distributed his wealth, it would’ve been less costly to him at the end.
Karma was one of the biggest roles in the play, that directly tied into the idea of wealth and social class. The daughters play the utmost impact in Lear’s downfall, but also their own. From the beginning, Lear’s unjust distribution of land foreshadowed a dramatic downfall that would eventually take place. King Lear suggests that jealousy and greed will always lead to deserving consequences– that will come back to you.
The Wild Side of Lear
So one line that stood out to me reading “King Lear” is from Act I, Scene IV when the Fool is consulting Lear at Goneril’s castle:
“For you know, nuncle,/The hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long,/That it’s had it head bit off by it young”.(Act 1, Scene 4, line 220-22)
I think most readers probably understand this as the Fool telling Lear that he has basically spoiled his kids too much, which is true in this situation. However, as a bit of a bird/nature nerd, I instantly recognized this quote as something more. I think diving a little more deeply and literally into this metaphor reveals some very cool science and perhaps some interesting insight about the characters of Lear themselves.
The Fool is referencing a very real naturally occurring phenomena called brood parasitism. Brood parasitism is a behavior in birds where a parasitic species lays its own eggs in a different species’ nest. The bird who has been parasitized raises the foreign chick like it is one of its own while the foreign chick usually outcompetes the victim’s chicks. In ecology, this is an obvious parasitic relationship because one species is benefited while the other is harmed; the victimized mother has wasted an entire nesting season raising a chick that is not her own while the parasitic mother hardly did any work and still passed on her genes.
From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense, as raising babies takes weeks or months during the summer and takes an enormous energy cost from the parent. Of course, that energy is well spent if a bird can pass its own genes down to the next generation, but for birds who have been parasitized, this often won’t happen. Meanwhile, the parasitical mother has saved a tremendous amount of time and energy which she can use to parasitize more nests, ultimately increasing the number of babies she can have in one nesting season while never raising any of her young herself: a smashing success from an evolutionary perspective. There are dozens of unrelated species around the world that do this, (one of them is a native species around here, the Brown-headed Cowbird) and you could go on for hours analyzing the ins and outs of brood parasitism.
For the purpose of King Lear though, it’s just important to know that the Common Cuckoo is a parasitical species native to Europe. The Common Cuckoo parasitizes the nests of dozens of smaller songbird species across its range (such as the “hedge-sparrow”) and has even evolved adaptations such as superficial resemblances to birds of prey (to scare away the victim species’ mother in order to lay eggs in the nest) and the ability to lay eggs the same color as the host species’ eggs to better disguise them. (Like I said above, there is way more you could dive into within brood parasitism or even within just cuckoos).
If the cuckoo is successful and lays its eggs inside a nest, its young will hatch before the host species’ young and will naturally grow faster than the host species’ chicks, outcompeting them for food. It’s important to realize that when a mother feeds her chicks in a nest, she is programmed to give food to the biggest, healthiest chick, who will also be the chick that is the loudest and most effectively begs for food. The identity of the biggest chick is usually just a matter of who hatches first, and so the first hatched egg has a huge advantage over their siblings, as they are able to start growing first, even if the difference is only by a few hours or days.
Parasitical chicks take advantage of this, and as soon as they are born they will instinctually push other eggs out of the nest, attack their siblings, and outcompete them for food, doing whatever it takes to survive. The result of a successful parasitism can often look very strange; the parasite’s offspring become much larger than their “mother”, and the mother works tirelessly to continue feeding the enormous appetite of her “chick”. The parasitical chicks have completely “won” the exchange, as the host mother has raised no true offspring, raised her own species’ parasite, and has probably exhausted herself feeding huge parasite babies. (This does not happen in every case of brood parasitism, as many species have evolved defenses against parasitical parents and chicks, sparking an evolutionary “arms race” between the parasites and the parasitized.)
So how does all this scientific exposition tie into King Lear? As I went through this process in my head, a lot of interesting parallels made themselves apparent to me. The comparison between the older, bigger, begging, attention-seeking chicks and Goneril and Regan almost seems too clear. Regan and Goneril were firstborn to Lear, and their pleas for attention and practical begging in front of Lear ensured their survival, at least in the context of receiving wealth and power. Cordelia is not loud and (metaphorically) large, and she doesn’t beg in front of Lear. Like an instinctual mother, Lear instantly rewards Goneril and Regan while carelessly tossing Cordelia away. In other words, Lear raised two cuckoos and he and Cordelia lost out because of it. Considering the lack of references to maternity in Lear, you could speculate if Cordelia even has the same mother as Regan and Goneril, a revelation which would make the cuckoo metaphor even more telling.
I think the theme of bad, wicked, or cunning people getting power by being manipulative and telling people what they want to hear is evident in real life whether we look at something as seemingly benign as spoiling children or destructive, like brutal dictators only promoting those who praise them. This is supported by who we see accumulate power in “King Lear” versus who is banished and stripped of it. However, it is very intriguing to see how this is a theme that occurs in nature as well; clearly, the begging, prostrating, “yes-man” trope is an (oftentimes effective) strategy employed beyond just the world of humans.