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Explore the Ways in Which Shakespeare Presents the Character of King Lear.

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Introduction

Explore the Ways in Which Shakespeare Presents the Character of King Lear Lear is the title character of the play, and Shakespeare finely crafts his presentation to manipulate audience sympathies and reflect significant changes in the character. Lear is presented through his own language and the language of other characters, such as the Fool and Kent. Often the opinions of another character will contrast with that of Lear, offering us an objective view of the King's behaviour. The way he is presented is changed constantly throughout the play, and this can be seen through the close analysis of several key scenes. Lear does not appear in the very first scene of the play, but is discussed by his courtiers, Gloucester and Kent. They speculate on the division of the kingdom, and who the King favors most out of two dukes... 'I though the King had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall' The fact that these two nobles spend their time discussing the King shows us his importance, and the importance of his decisions. We learn from the discussion that the King's thoughts have become difficult to predict. The function of beginning the play without Lear is that it shows his status in comparison to the nobility. When Lear makes his entrance, Gloucester ends his conversation abruptly and announces that 'the king is coming'. Lear's power is reflected by the reaction to his appearance - immediate silence and respectful attentiveness. Later in the play Lear's entrance will command no such respect, but here it is clear and immediate. Shakespeare presents him in this sudden and dramatic entrance as a powerful and decisive King, who feels no need to greet the other characters but instead swiftly issues the other characters with instructions: 'Attend the lords of France and Burgundy, Gloucester'. Shakespeare crafts Lear's dialogue so that he speaks to his subjects either in short, decisive commands - 'Give me the map' - or in grand, sweeping statements - 'Although last and least, to whose young love the vines of France and milk of Burgundy strive to be intressed'. ...read more.

Middle

It is in this act that the Fool becomes part of Lear's entourage. The Fool is the voice of reason in the play, and enters as soon as Cordelia leaves. Shakespeare uses the Fool as a substitute for Cordelia; the Fool offers critical comment on Lear's actions, but does so in the form of rhymes and riddles, and thus avoids Lear's instant dismissal by speaking his mind cryptically. It is a comment on Lear's judgment and character that the only member of his entourage who speaks the truth to him, he has employed as a 'fool'. It reminds us that we cannot trust Lear's state of mind, and shows that he has a warped sense of wisdom. When Lear goes to remonstrate Regan and Cornwall for putting Kent in the stocks, they deny to speak with him. Lear demands that Gloucester summon them: 'Deny to speak with me? Mere fetches, the images of revolt and flying off. Fetch me a better answer'. Lear commands Gloucester to 'fetch' him a better answer, but the order is not complied with, and Lear begins to realise his lack of power. This is a contrast to the situation in the first act, where Gloucester complied with Lear's commands without question. Lear's response to this insubordination is not decisive, but highly emotional: 'Vengeance, plague, death, confusion!' Shakespeare not only shows in this conversation that Lear has lost his power over his subjects, but that he has no effective means of dealing with their rebellion. Lear's response to Gloucester is meaningless: unlike his anger at Cordelia in the first act, which was expressed with the same emotional language - 'For by the sacred radiance of the Sun, the mysteries of Hecate and the night' - but also backed up immediately with practical decisions - 'I do invest you jointly with my power'. Lear no longer has this option available to him. ...read more.

Conclusion

Whilst Lear does descend into madness in this third act, it also marks a turning point for his spiritual development. Lear is shown as a man stripped down to only his necessities, who has been taken from the ultimate position of power and plunged into poverty, but who admits that it 'can make vile things precious'. This line has two significances - Lear has begun to appreciate the small things in life and recognise what is truly important, and Shakespeare is suggesting that, even though Lear has been 'vile', there is the possiblity of redemption in his darkness. Lear certainly becomes more sympathetic in these scenes. He tells the Fool: 'Poor fool and knave, I have one part of my heart that's sorry yet for thee'. Lear is, for once, unselfish and sympathetic towards one of his companions. The Fool is of course a surrogate character for Cordelia, and Shakespeare intends for there to be a bitter irony in Lear's good treatment of the Fool, when he was unwilling to extend the same treatment to his most beloved daughter. Lear also extends his sympathies to the poor and homeless. He begins to realise that in years of total rule over his kingdom, he has neglected those less fortunate: 'How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, Your looped and windowed raggedness defend you From seasons such as these? O I have ta'en too little care of this.' Shakespeare shows us in this prayer that Lear's state of destitution, whilst driving him mad, has actually driven him towards a better view of the world - that out of his madness there is a chance of sanity, and of redemption. He has, through his own bad experiences, gained an understanding of humanity which he did not previously possess. He shows this through his kindness to the Fool and his growth of concern towards Kent - 'Prithee, go in thyself, seek thine own ease'. Explore the Ways in Which Shakespeare Presents the Character of Lear ...read more.

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