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Many definitions of tragedy claim that at the end of the play positives have emerged. Is it possible to see anything positive in the ending of King Lear?

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Many definitions of tragedy claim that at the end of the play positives have emerged. Is it possible to see anything positive in the ending of King Lear? It is difficult to see any positives in the ending of King Lear. Shakespeare's other tragic works such as Macbeth, Othello and Hamlet, all have some sense of hope and renewal as order is restored however, King Lear opposes these traditions by avoiding an optimistic ending. This bleakness that is carried throughout the entire play, from Lear's disastrous actions in Act 1 Scene 1 to the climactic catastrophe in Act 5 Scene 3, has earned King Lear many criticisms over the years from such people as Nahum Tate, Samuel Johnson and A.C. Bradley who all believed that the play was too tragic to be satisfactory. In the end of King Lear there are few positives to take, so few so that even the characters begin to articulate the bleak sense of realisation, Kent in the final scene questions "Is this the promised end?" (V.iii.262). There are however many positive points exhibited throughout the play that in their own way give hope for the future. First of all, in the first scene Cordelia demonstrates hope through her actions. She refuses to participate in her father's egotistical 'love trial' by simply saying "Nothing"(I.i.88). Cordelia is portrayed as a symbol of hope in Act 4 Scene 4 where she is attempting to help her father despite the fact that Lear banished her. ...read more.


The heath which would be a natural place for disorder helps reform corrupted characters such as Lear. This constant reversal of order through the use of imagery help build up the misery and tension which manifests itself in the last scene to ultimately show there is no hope. This leads on to the next point that the form of the play helps destroy the hope at the end. The play is set out in the form of a Senecan tragedy; these tragedies show a lot of revenge and blood thirst, and this play follows that traditional sense although the ending is not traditional and continues in this revengeful manor and as Samuel Johnson said "There is no scene which does not add to the aggravation of distress."1 The ending of King Lear has many criticized many a time throughout its history primarily for its bleak ending. The plays final scene was considered to be so bleak that Nahum Tate rewrote the ending in the form of The History of King Lear (1681). This alternative play changed the ending to see Cordelia and Edgar married and allowing Lear to survive. The original was so widely believed to be too hopeless that Tate's version was the performed version for nearly 2 centuries until Samuel Phelps, who performed both versions, helped reinstated the original. Another critic of Shakespeare's work is A.C. ...read more.


The True Chronicle of the History of the Life and Death of King Lear and His Three Daughters which was first performed in 1608. The fact that the play was originally intended to be a history clearly shows that the reason as to why there are few positives to take away compared to a traditional Shakespearean tragedy allows the play to follow its own pattern meaning it should be safe from criticisms of the end. To conclude the final Act of King Lear may be widely considered negative but I disagree with this belief as there some moral positives that can be taken away. One of the primary lessons that can be learnt is that one should not be deceived by appearances and should look further than just appearances. This is a theme that is heavily featured throughout and this blindness and egotistical nature of Lear is the birth of all the play's chaos. Also this theme is featured in the last lines when Edgar says "Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say." (V.iii.324) Additionally the play shows us that honesty shall prevail and dishonesty shall fail, this point is shown as the characters that have been the villains all finish the play dead. Despite this, one negative aspect, the play does show us that occasionally the innocent do suffer, for example Cordelia, but even this negativity has a positive side as this suffering lets the ignorant characters such as Lear finally see their way. ...read more.

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