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Explore shakespeare's use of the Renaissance idea of fatalism and imagery linked to the theme in the play 'King Lear'

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Introduction

Explore shakespeare's use of the Renaissance idea of fatalism and imagery linked to the theme in the play 'King Lear' In a play about individual tragedies, fatalism plays an important part. Shakespeare effectively uses cosmic imagery to define his characters and to explore the idea of journeys linked to self-discovery by relating it to the imagery of rotating circles. Shakespeare uses Renaissance theology to explain character motivation. In the 16th century there was a great belief in astronomy. People believed in the harmony of the spheres and they were ruled by this idea of thhe natural alignment of the nine planets in their orbits. Shakespeare incorporates this into "King Lear" in highlighting Edgar and Gloucester's superstitious beliefs and using Edmund as a contrast to show that unnaturalness and disharmony are connected. Another symbol of natural alingment of fate used is the "Wheel of Fortune"; a Pagan idea in which life is considered to go round in a circle, a never-ending rotating odyssey in which life works toward its peak and experiences downfall after. In the play, King Lear experiences his own journey on the "Wheel of Fortune" as does Edmund who comes to realise and accept his own fate at the end of the play. The plot moves in opposite directions at the start and merge together to form a circular plot. Both the wheel and spherical references throughout the play lead to an anticipated climax in which the circular main-plot and sub-plot at the end with characters reaching self-realisation through confrontation of justice, and honesty and the wheel of fortunes. Edmund is arguably the most unnatural character due to his bastrd status and evil nature. In his first soliloquy, Shakespeare uses the idea of having 'nature' as his 'goddesses' to explore Edmund's true self. Edmund turns away from the belief of the alignment of planets and harmonies and towards nature as that is all he can be really sure of. ...read more.

Middle

Kent is a symbol of the hierarchy which Lear casts off during the first scene as he can be seen as a conservative and backward looking figure due to his determination to address Lear as 'my lord' and 'my liege' throughout the play. He suffers punishment stoically in Act II as a direct result of Lear, and out in the storm he only thinks of his master's comfort. Gloucester Kent and Cordelia all belong to Lear's 'wheel of fortune' which contains Lear's 'wheel of fire'. Their actions all revolve around Lear and Lear's behaviour affects their own fate. Each time the wheel turns for Lear discovers something new about himself. For example, Lear frees himself from social etiquette by tearing off his clothes. He realises that an 'Unaccommodated man is no/more but such a poor, bare, forked animal that thou art' (Act III.4.103-4) showing us he has released himself from all his material gains believing himself to be a better man for it. The 'poor, bare, forked animal' is referring to Poor Tom, Lear is aiming to reduce himself to identify with Poor Tom. 'Unaccommodated' means unfurnished or unsupported by a well-fitting environment. Lear also realises that his daughters have treated him unfairly and describes himself as 'discarded' by Regan and Gonerill. Only then is he able to think of others. This is shown during the storm scene, when he is caring towards the Fool by saying 'In, boy, go first. -You houseless poverty' (Act III.4.26) This character development shows us how considerate Lear has become considerate towards others, rather then thinking about himself. But Lear has only become more compassionate after being on the receiving end of Regan and Gonerill's behaviour, which is linked back to the 'wheel of fire'. Self-realisation is only gained through Lear' suffering. The irony here is that Lear is thinking selflessly. He, himself is a 'houseless poverty'. He has given all his assets away. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, the pain and sorrow remains in this scene, even though the causes of evil have been destroyed and Albany and Edgar insist on justice and so the spheres seem once more aligned. Shakespeare uses cosmic imagery mainly to emphasise what is natural and unnatural to the characters in the play and how this affects their actions. In the context of the time, this is justifiable, as astrology, the harmony of spheres and the wheel of fortune were the basis of life along with the question of what was unnatural and natural of all life in renaissance. This play also focuses on how people see themselves in their world, Lear's tragedy remained individualistic on his own wheel of fortune, his actions affected everybody else's. Edmund's refused to accept this pagan idea until the last scene in which hr realised that he was the root of all evil in the play, the devastating effects of his own actions came into play in the final scene. Both Edmund and Lear thought that they could control their own destiny. Gloucester and Edgar saw themselves under the huge cosmos of spheres and the alignment of planets controlled mankind. Lear and other characters use cosmic imagery regularly to emphasise the points they are making reinforcing the normality of the use, thus making Edmund stand out. The 'wheel of fortune' is used to explain why the characters and the plot develop and give the audience a sense of forthcoming events and impending doom. Life goes round in a continuous circle, which the characters cannot escape no matter how powerful they are, death is the only escape. All the characters must move forward even if the results are tragic; they are only consequences of their own actions, therefore human judgement still remains faulty. Lear never fully learnt his lesson. He still remained individualistic by obsessing over Gonerill and Regan's injustice to him, right to the very end; he was selfish in his personal tragedy. Human nature still prevails, all men must fall according to the 'wheel of fortune'. ...read more.

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