An Overview of King Lear
I chose King Lear as the classic tragedy to analyze. Famous for its difficult plot and its intriguing themes of family, loyalty, madness, and community, it is rich with ideas to pursue. Arrogant, powerful, and sure of himself, Lear decides to retire and pits his three daughters against one another for the choicest pieces of his realm: they must outdo one another in professing their love for him. Two sneaky daughters (Regan and Goneril) compete as directed, and the third, Cordelia, states simply that she loves him according to her bond, no more nor less (I.1.97-99). Outraged, he cuts her out of the will and divides the land between the other two, prompting them to scheme with one another to reduce his meager luxuries, and then against one another to be more powerful and have the love of Edmund, the bastard (and bastardly) son of the Earl of Gloucester. Gloucester and his legitimate son Edgar are betrayed by his illegitimate son Edmund in a story that parallels the mistreatment of Lear by Goneril and Regan. Other characters include Kent, who counsels Lear against his rage at Cordelia and is exiled because of it, and yet disguises himself to help Lear fight against the humiliations heaped upon him by his ungrateful daughters. Edgar, the legitimate son of Gloucester, is misused and also tries to work against the greed of Regan and Goneril. Cordelia’s refusal to pander to her father’s ego wins her the love of the King of France, who takes her away after Lear shames her and sends her back with his armies as he begins his successful war against England under the power of Regan and Goneril. Morally, King Lear is a tale full of violence, greed, betrayal, and malice. The violence of Lear is gut-wrenching, with a particularly horrible scene (III.7) where Regan and her husband, the Duke of Cornwall, pluck out Gloucester’s eyes for his support of the king and his supposed treason. There are few characters of good and honorable nature, and those that are, like Edgar, for example, are rather slow about identifying the treachery all around them, and are unable to prevent evil from taking its toll. Lear’s eldest daughters are unquestionably evil, as is Gloucester’s illegitimate son Edmund. Lear, self-absorbed and secure in his reign, apparently never bothered to ensure his daughters were raised to be good and moral women, thinking perhaps that his greatness alone deserved their awe and love.