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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.

  • Marked by Teachers essays 6
  1. Marked by a teacher

    How effectively does Shakespeare present Lear's loss of power in the play?

    4 star(s)

    Also in the first scene of the play, the way that other characters address Lear shows his authority. They perform his wishes and address him with formal titles. When Lear issues his command to Gloucester his immediate response is "I shall, my Lord". This shows the respect the characters have to show towards the King, emphasising his power. The characters also use flattery when addressing Lear, which shows his power as they are trying to stay in his favour by appealing to his ego. When Kent tries to make Lear realise his error in dismissing Cordelia, he addresses him as "Royal Lear, whom I have ever honoured as my king, loved as my father", which combines flattery with respect to try and win Lear over to Kent's way of thinking.

    • Word count: 2822
  2. Marked by a teacher

    Consider the role of the Fool in King Lear. How important is he to the play as a whole?

    4 star(s)

    His role had established characteristics and responsibilities. Among them the Fool had license to roam the stage and interact with the audience often joking and talking directly to them. He had great popularity with the audience of the time, with his role a bridge between the action on stage and the audience's own experience. Today it may be thought of as 'low comedy', but in its day it was welcomed. Shakespeare exploited the aspect of the Fool to make him a major character in the play as well as a commentator on the action, much the way the chorus functioned in a Greek tragedy.

    • Word count: 2163
  3. Marked by a teacher

    King Lear: Act I Scene IV

    3 star(s)

    Lear realises himself that he has been 'neglect of lately' which is bizarre to an audience as he is, or was the King. Despite his current status, he still was noble: does nobility and respect dissolve with retirement? Indeed, Lear probably didn't retire but rather quit his responsibilities and leadership but still, an audience may begin to sympathise with Lear as he is receiving nothing from his daughters, nothing as a father, and nothing as a nobleman. The first amazing sign of disrespect against Lear is that of Goneril's steward Oswald.

    • Word count: 1190

Conclusion analysis

Good conclusions usually refer back to the question or title and address it directly - for example by using key words from the title.
How well do you think these conclusions address the title or question? Answering these questions should help you find out.

  1. Do they use key words from the title or question?
  2. Do they answer the question directly?
  3. Can you work out the question or title just by reading the conclusion?
  • To What Extent Can King Lear Be Described as the Tragic Hero of Shakespeares King Lear?

    "Did Shakespeare set out with Aristotle's blue print in mind when he created Lear? We will never know but in my opinion he does seem to fit the main characteristics Aristotle outlined. The only argument against this I can see is the fact the audience does not witness Lear's great, admirable qualities before we are introduced to his 'tragic flaw'. If we look at our first introduction to Macbeth, one of Shakespeare's other 'tragic hero's' for example; The audience is told of how he fought bravely for his country and we see him promoted to Thane of Cawdor before we learn about his 'tragic flaw'. Despite this however I believe King Lear is one of the all time great tragedies and Lear himself most definitely deserves the title 'tragic hero'."

  • King Lear. The seeds of tragedy are sewn in Act 1 scene 1. To what extent are the events inevitable with reference to the opening?

    "In conclusion to my essay it is important for the seeds of tragedy to be sewn in act 1 scene 1, as this provides the audience with a sense of the inevitability of tragic events keeping them engaged with the play. Further more, by foreshadowing tragic events in the opening, the play takes into account the perception of a good tragedy made by Aristotle. However, it could be argued that the seeds of tragedy in the opening are not necessary as this makes a tragic ending more unexpected and therefore the modern day reader may find this more exiting."

  • To what extent is King Lears flaw the infirmity of his age?

    "I have thus attempted to explore several pernicious faults integral to Lear’s character, for Shakespeare had a phenomenal understanding of human psychology, and to pinpoint one sole personality trait or action of Lear’s to his downfall is to be guilty of a reductionist treatment of a writer of such stellar genius as Shakespeare. (On a similar note, King Lear can certainly be called a universal allegory; however, the word allegory does justice to neither the depth nor the dynamicity in the experience it presents. One must be careful with the treatment of language, as that would only be fair considering Shakespeare’s own careful, passionate and inventive use of language that characterizes all his indisputably great works). To conclude, I have above shown the elements which ascribe Lear’s development as a character and I have considered and explored a range of different hubristic facets which together amount to and portend King Lear’s ultimate calamity."

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