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"Consider the sources of the plots of King Lear and the significance to Shakespeare's contemporaries"

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Introduction

Rob Williams "Consider the sources of the plots of King Lear and the significance to Shakespeare's contemporaries" As the essay question splits itself conveniently into two separate sections; the sources of Lear and the significance of the play to Shakespeare's contemporaries and the fact that they are not directly linked, I intend to answer both in separate essay answers. Sources of the plots of King Lear; It was very unusual for Shakespeare to introduce his own plot material into his plays; almost everything he wrote has a subject matter in the ancestry of literature. The same is true for King Lear, he used many sources in getting the base-line story, but it required his genius and intellect to place them together to create the true tragedy with its multiple plot lines that his play turned out to be in the end. His subtly in creating modern 'rounded' characters rather than moralistic stereotypical ones, along with his delicate interweaving of the two plots, meant that his work was far superior to the ones he 'plagiarised' (or took inspiration from - dependant on your point of view!). The main version that Shakespeare had likely read and from which he had definitely borrowed was The True Chronicle History of King Leir and his Three Daughters. ...read more.

Middle

In nearly all other adaptations of the tale the play ends happily, or at least not in the melancholy of Kent's lines 'all cheerless, dark and deadly'. It is this ending that makes it a true tragedy, for Lear is a 'changed' man, he is reunited with Cordelia, and poetic justice would argue for them too live 'happily ever after'. It is by dispensing with such poetic justice, and adding an original ending, that Shakespeare creates the ultimate tragedy. The Fool was purely a Shakespeare creation. The Fool was needed to be Lear's guide and conscious during his fall, as a commentator for the audience and a voice of reason. He stays with Lear until he realizes that he has erred in his judgment of his daughters and in giving away his kingdom. Once Lear has realized that he erred, then the Fool's role in the play was no longer needed, and he disappears. The significance to Shakespeare's contemporaries Although dealing with universal, eternal themes, one must remember that Shakespeare was writing for an audience over four hundred years ago. He was writing in the time of 'enlightenment', where Britain was experiencing major social changes, from that of a basically feudal social order to a basically capitalistic one. ...read more.

Conclusion

Both countries were firmly against this, and there was certainly a chance of civil war breaking out had James tried to unite the countries. Thus contemporary audiences would have automatically associated the division of the kingdom, and the threat of civil war between Albany and Cornwall, as representing the division between England and Scotland. A final significance (but certainly not the final significance) for the Shakespearian contemporaries was the major theme of madness. Madness, both feigned and real, plays a large part in Shakespeare's writing (a further example Ophelia (real madness) and Hamlet (feigned madness) in Hamlet). The age in which he lived was harsh and unfeeling; especially when dealing with those who were insane (even though many of our Kings, Henry VI for example, were clinically insane). People with physical and mental disabilities mocked and even punished for being disabled. However as suggested a more humane society was developing, one with sympathy for insanity. Shakespeare takes this in Lear one step further, by suggesting (then very radically) that there is indeed much "reason in madness". He also challenges the age-old hierarchal monarchic system; many critics have suggested that Shakespeare is suggesting that it is infact insane to follow this 'social hierarchal system' and that only in 'madness' can one find the profound insights. 1 Kenneth Muir - Quotation taken from website on Lear, http://www.library.upenn.edu/etext/furness/lear1619/index.html ...read more.

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