foolear The Very Foolish King in William Shakespeare’s King Lear

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The Very Foolish King Lear

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Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear is a detailed

description of the consequences of one man’s decisions. This fictitious

man is Lear, King of England, whose decisions greatly alter his life and

the lives of those around him. As Lear bears the status of King, he is a

man of great power, but blindly he surrenders all of this power to his

daughters as a reward for their demonstration of love towards him. This

untimely surrender of his throne sets off a chain reaction of events that

sends him through a hellish journey. King Lear is a metaphorical

description of one man’s journey through hell in order to appease his


As the play opens, one can almost immediately see that Lear begins to make

mistakes that will eventually result in his downfall. The very first words

that he speaks in the play are:

Give me the map there.

Know that we have divided

In three our kingdom; and ’tis our fast intent

To shake all cares and business from our age,

Conferring them on younger strengths while we

Unburdened crawl toward death.(Act I, Sc i, Ln 37-41)

This gives the reader the first indication of Lear’s intent to relinquish

his throne. He is growing old and wants to “shake all cares and business”

from his age. In a since he wants to retire from a job that you cannot

retire from. He has no son to hand his throne down to, so he must give it

to his daughters. He offers his daughters pieces of his kingdom a form of

reward to his test of love.

Great rivals in our youngest daughter’s love,

Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn,

And here are to be answered. Tell me, my daughters

(Since now we will divest us both of rule,

Interest of territory, cares of state),

Which of you shall we say doth love us most?

That we our largest bounty may extend

Where nature doth with merit challenge.”

(Act I, Sc i, Ln 46-53)

This is the first and most significant of the many mistakes that he commits

in this play. By relinquishing his throne to fuel his ego, he disrupts the

great chain of being, which states that the King must not challenge the

position that the gods have given him. This undermining the gods’

authority results in chaos that tears apart Lear’s world, leaving him, in

the end, with nothing. Following this, Lear begins to banish those around

him that genuinely care for him; he cannot seem to realize who loves him

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