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How Successful Do you Consider Act 1: Scene 1 of King Lear to be?

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Introduction

How Successful Do you Consider Act 1: Scene 1 of King Lear to be? The play King Lear has been described as Shakespeare's most ambitious and brilliant work, and has been met with both strong condemnation and awe-inspired praise since it's composition in 1606. The opening scene is heavily dramatic and eventful, detailing the splitting of Lear's kingdom, his banishment of daughter Cordelia and servant Kent, and the worries of the character for Lear's mental health. It is written and structured expertly, and presents the play's most important themes, issues and relationships in the language that will dominate the play. The play begins with a conversation between the Earl of Kent, the Earl of Gloucester and his illegitimate son Edmund. They discuss the imminent division of the kingdom and reveal that the king is to make a decision between two dukes: Kent suggests that 'the King had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall'. The exposition here is minimal, as the first event of consequence in the play is Lear's division of the kingdom, but this does allow us to see that Lear has changed. Gloucester admits that 'It did always seem so to us... but in the division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the dukes [Lear] values most'. The purpose of this conversation is really to introduce the sub-plot. ...read more.

Middle

This communicates to the audience that Lear has made a grave error in divesting his power, and when combined with Kent's reminders of his close and loyal relationship with Lear - 'My life I never held but as a pawn, to wage against thine enemies' - suggests that Lear's behaviour is unusual, if such a trusted servant is willing to admonish him openly. The reader cannot judge Lear's behaviour because it is the opening scene and we have no point of comparison, but we know that Kent considers himself the 'true blank of [Lear's] eye' and if he is concerned then the audience must also call Lear's behaviour into doubt. The characters of the sisters, Cordelia, Regan and Gonerill are also well established during the opening scene. The first opportunity which the two older sisters are given to speak is in response to Lear's question of 'which of you shall we say doth love us most'; their replies are of unrequited love for their father; Gonerill claims that it is 'A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable', and Regan states that her love is so profound that she makes herself 'an enemy to all other joys'. This is contrasted sharply with Cordelia's first line, a simple aside in which she reflects 'what shall Cordelia speak? love, and be silent'. ...read more.

Conclusion

The country and characters are divided in the very first scene. Another important function of the opening scene is to introduce the themes of the play. In the very beginning refrain between Gloucester, Edmund and Kent, we see many elements that will reappear in the wider play: father-child relationships are subject to careful measurement, with Gloucester's relationship with his two sons - 'Who yet is no dearer in my account' - measured in the same way as those between Lear's relationships with his sons-in-law - 'It appears not which of the dukes he values the most'. The words of measurement, 'more', 'most', 'weighed' and 'neither' appear throughout the play and foreshadow the crisis caused by Cordelia's use of 'nothing' in the rest of the scene. Also, the theme of blindness and the difference between looking and seeing is evidenced in this first act, with Kent pleading with Lear to 'let me still remain the true blank of thine eye', and to 'see better'. This prefigures the imposed blindness of Gloucester later in the play. The opening of King Lear is highly successful in establishment of characters and in it's depiction of dramatic events. The plot is clearly explained and the themes of the play are introduced skillfully. The opening works so well because it begins with the climatic event that will shape the entire course of the play, and sets a reckless pace that is sustained throughout the play, until Lear's death. How successful do you consider Act 1:1 of King Lear to be? ...read more.

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