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AS and A Level: King Lear

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Writing about tragedy in 'King Lear'

  1. 1 While reference to Aristotle’s ‘guidelines’ on tragedy is valid, remember that Shakespeare had not actually read the ‘Poetics’ in which Aristotle’s views are expressed. These were not published in England until a later date.
  2. 2 Consider why there are comic scenes, such as those with the Fool, in tragedies.
  3. 3 Does Lear have one ‘tragic flaw’ or several?
  4. 4 Is Lear’s the only tragic outcome in the play? Consider others, such as Gloucester, Cordelia, Kent.
  5. 5 Spell ‘tragedy’ and ‘tragic’ correctly.

Five recurring patterns, references or motifs in 'King Lear' that you need to consider when writing your essay

  1. 1 Blindness.
  2. 2 Madness.
  3. 3 Parent/child relationships.
  4. 4 Honesty/dishonesty.
  5. 5 Clothing/nakedness.

Key themes of 'King Lear'

  1. 1 Justice.
  2. 2 Authority and power.
  3. 3 Self knowledge.
  4. 4 Compassion.
  5. 5 Apperance versus reality.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  1. How does Shakespeare explore madness in King Lear in Act 3 Scene 2?

    However, Lear?s madness could also be staged and he may simply be communicating his problems to Kent and the Fool in a rather hopeless and hysterical way, giving the impression that madness is not in control of him. For example, Lear uses the pronouns ?thou? and ?thy,? which shows that Lear still perceives himself as King, superior to Tom and thus will not refer to himself at Tom?s level. On the other hand, these status markers could be reflective of Lear?s arrogant personality that he is clinging onto his power, despite all his loses.

    • Word count: 737
  2. Evaluate Shakespeares portrayal of Nature and loyalty in King Lear up to Act 2 Scene 1?

    These views of ?the natural? are directly paralleled by Lear, at which point the plot and sub-plot become established. Lear sees his patriarchal dominance as completely natural; he finds the hierarchical structure of his family normal. Therefore the ?love test?, which for the audience seems an absurd act of narcissism, is perceived by Lear as acceptable. It is these two attitudes to ?the natural? that are the reasons for the beginning of shortcomings of the two powerful leaders throughout the play, and this is due to the conflicting opinions of their children on what ?the natural? is.

    • Word count: 1790
  3. How does Shakespeare create a sense of unease in Act 1 Scene 1 of King Lear?

    There can also be a sense of unease within the family, for example the way in which inter-family relations and conflict are dealt with, and the conversations and situations between the members of one family, a unit that by definition is supposed to be closely linked, can be seen as being uneasy, or generally uncomfortable. The audience themselves can too be subjects of unease- watching the opening of the scene they witness the slowly growing tension and conflict and feel the unsettledness of the situation.

    • Word count: 2053
  4. "Regan is no less a sympathetic character than Cordelia" In light of this view, analyse this comment taking into account dramatic effect.

    Lear establishes his favouritism of Cordelia early in the play- ?I loved her most?. Cordelia acts as the ?spoilt? youngest child, and Regan, as middle- child, feels repressed and entrapped in the family. Given that the result of the love-test is pre-determined, there is therefore no real reason for it, and the products of the test will be unavoidable jealousy, falsehoods and rivalry. Thus, from a psychoanalytical interpretation of the play, Regan?s deceit can perhaps be excused for the parental tyranny and she had endured.

    • Word count: 1295
  5. Describe your view of Shakespeares depiction of the three sisters. What impression do you think he intended the audience to form of Gonerill, Regan and Cordelia? Use quotations in your answer.

    When the duke of France antithetically addresses Cordelia as ?Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich being poor,/ Most choice forsaken, and most loved despised? we recognize her as a Christ-like figure: ?as having nothing, and yet possessing all things? (Bible, 2 Corinthians). The fact that she embodies a model of virtue favourably contributes to this case; she is the sole daughter who consistently proves her values, morals and principles to be genuinely noble. Kent?s words ?duty shall have strength to speak? further suggest that she not only acts in a dutiful manner, but that she represents duty itself.

    • Word count: 1757
  6. How does Shakespeare present Lear's increasing lack of power and authority up to and including Act 1, scene 4.

    Again this presents Lear?s power and authority. During the opening scenes of the play Shakespeare emphasizes Lear?s power through the use of language. The use of ?royal we? signifies Lear?s power as King. He describes his daughter, Cordelia as ?our joy? although he actually means ?my joy?, this highlighting his royal status. We see how much power Lear has by the way other characters address him in a formal manner at the beginning of the play. When Lear?s demand is declared to Gloucester at the beginning of the play, his immediate response is ?I shall, my Lord? this portrays how other characters obey to his needs without complaint, thus emphasising Lear?s power and authority.

    • Word count: 1107
  7. King Lear is a play dominated by the contrast between wisdom and foolishness. In what ways does your reading of the first three acts incline you to agree or disagree with this view?

    Kent and Gloucester discuss the division of the Kingdom. There are rumours about King Lear?s intentions towards his two sons-in-law, the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall. Therefore, one can argue that the play is dominated with this idea of power and the giving of the Kingdom. Throughout the play there is a strong sense of foolishness and madness which is primarily presented through King Lear. Right from the outset we get this sense that Lear is a complex tragic hero, who excites a variety of responses. The first reference to his foolishness is his absurd actions of Act One where he plans to divide his Kingdom between Cordelia, Goneril and Regan.

    • Word count: 1336
  8. To what extent is King Lears flaw the infirmity of his age?

    From one fairly rudimentary standpoint, Lear is indeed going old, and so ?the infirmity of his age? might well present itself as a reasonable, but not unique, causal factor for his downfall. As the play advances, however, several flaws become apparent with the King?s behaviour, and all these flaws portend the wretched denouement. To begin with, Lear is clearly lacking in self-awareness. ?To know thyself?, the humanists? rallying cry, is a markedly confusing concept for Lear, who appears unable to fathom its significance in rapport to his individual self (??Tis the infirmity of his age; yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself?).

    • Word count: 1044
  9. The Nature of Redemption and the Limits of Pessimism in King Lear

    In asserting that Bradley?s view of pessimism is inaccurate, I would seem to contradict a common intuition. However ?pessimism? might be defined, it is generally seen as a distorted viewpoint that overemphasizes the negative and cheerless aspects of existence. Indeed, the word itself usually has a pejorative ring to it, for it brings to most minds a rather repellent blend of feeblemindedness and moral failure. Pessimism is seen as a sort of slander of existence, for the gloomy world the pessimist claims to inhabit is nothing more than the projection of her own weaknesses and shortcomings.

    • Word count: 2797
  10. King Lear: Greed and Blindness into Madness

    Originally, Edmund acted upon jealousy and was mainly obsessed about inheriting his father?s land and fulfilling his desire to be Gloucester?s favorite. Unfortunately, as time progressed, his jealousy slowly evolved into madness. This is revealed through his aside speech, ?If I find him comforting the king, it will stuff his suspicion...between that and my blood? (3.6.18-21). Although Edmund?s insanity and madness was not displayed through his actions or speech like that of King Lear?s, it was obvious that greed is what influenced his actions.

    • Word count: 1002

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