Most critics of King Lear take the position that he was a
tragic hero. However, there are critics who believe that he might be
a comic figure. This paper attempts to discuss whether King Lear is a
tragic hero or not, looking at the works of two critics, each taking
opposite sides. On the one hand, there is A.C. Bradley, who takes the
position that King Lear is a tragic hero because he demonstrates all the
characteristics of a tragic hero as Bradley saw it. On the other hand, G.
Wilson Knight believes that the play King Lear is really a comedy of the
grotesque, and that King Lear is really a comic figure. The position that
I am taking is this paper is that King Lear is a tragic hero, because he
fits all the characteristics that Bradley identifies as belonging to a
tragic hero, and more than that although there might appear to be comic
elements in the play King Lear that the tragic element seem to outweigh the
comic. Therefore, the position taken by Knight is not accurate in
describing King Lear.
The tragic hero, according to Bradley, is a person who suffers
tremendously, whose suffering goes beyond him. The tragic hero also takes
the action that produces the suffering and calamity which leads to death.
Other characteristics of a tragic hero are as follows. The tragic hero is
a person who is of high degree, and his welfare is intimately tied up with
the welfare of the state. The hero is an exceptional being, of high
degree, whose actions and sufferings are of an unusual kind, who possesses
and exceptional nature. His nature is exceptional in the sense that it is
very much like our nature, except that it is intensified.
The tragic hero is also involved in conflict, which could be either
conflict with someone else, or conflict within himself. The tragic hero is
also described as inspiring pity on the part of the viewer because of the
intensity of the suffering that the tragic hero is undergoing.
Furthermore, the tragic hero is seen as wretched, nevertheless, the
audience does not see him as contemptible. Instead, the audience sees the