Self-Discovery in Shakespeare’s King Lear

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Self-Discovery in King Lear

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Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!

Methinks he seems no bigger than his head:

The fisherman that walk along the beach

Appear like mice.

Although this quote from Shakespeare’s King Lear is made by Poor Tom to

his unknowing father Gloucester about the terrain far below them, it accurately

summarizes the plight of the mad king. Lear is out of touch with his

surroundings, riding high upon the wave of power associated with the monarchy:

even those closest to him are out of reach, viewed with a distorted lens. It

is through this lens of madness that Lear views his friends and family, and thus

he is stripped of everything before he can realize the folly of his judgment.

Reduced to a simple man, Lear is forced to learn the lessons that God’s anointed

is already supposed to know. This is the purpose of the secondary characters of

King Lear; they serve to show the many complex facets of Lear’s complex

personality, as they force him to finally get in touch with his self-conscious.

For example, the Fool, oddly enough, acts as the voice of reason for the

out-of -touch King. He views events critically and thus seems to foreshadow

situations that an ignorant Lear is completely oblivious to. This is evident in

act 1, scene 1, when a prodding Fool asks the king if he knows the difference

between a bitter fool and a sweet fool. When Lear admits that he does not, the

Fool attempts to lay it all out in front of him:

That lord which councelled thee

To give away thy land,

Come place him here by me;

Do thou for him stand.

The sweet and bitter fool

Will presently appear;

The one in motley here,

The other found out there.

The Fool attempts to show the king the folly of his ways. He is essentially

calling Lear a bitter fool, insinuating that his foolishness will be the cause

of such bitterness. This comment is taken lightly, but only because the Fool is

a satire of the king himself, and thus is the only one allowed to criticize him.

Lear has a preconceived notion that he will be able to give up all of his land

and his throne, and yet still somehow hold on to the power that he is so

accustomed to.

Alas, the king does not listen. He continues to believe he still has the

power that he has long since conceded. He does not believe that by deviding the

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