Notes on King Lear Act 1 Scene 1 and Act 3 Scene 7

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King Lear

INTRO •English poet, playwright, and actor •widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language •unknown birthdate, baptised 26th April 1564, Warwickshire •arguably his most celebrated/complicated play •King Lear is written in the form of a tragedy. Structurally he gives up power and control and therefore dies low in status – all suffer because of his misguided, selfish actions •The titular character descends into madness after disposing of his estate between two of his three daughters based on their flattery, bringing tragic consequences for all. •wrote in Christian in times, but set in Pagan era so he didn’t offend the King/Queen •wrote for Elizabeth I, Henry VIII daughter – ‘divine right of Kings’ – King Lear giving up control was seen as madness – giving up power and then realising it was a mistake – relevant •play encompasses all of society from ‘kingship’ to ‘beggars’ •all based on hierarchy, patriarchy, (similar of that in both poems •Lear represents England and what can happen when power is divided 

ACT 1 SCENE 1 •establishes characters and their good/bad natures. Tragedy begins in earnest •Lear delivers speech to Gloucester and Kent – his advisors -on the fact he is giving up power •a Jacobean audience would see this is as foolish; it would be political suicide in their eyes. He is devolving responsibility and the audience would see that this opening scene is foreshadowing trouble •his speech is full of imperative language which conveys his natural authority and how he expects to be obeyed •uses the word ‘we’ a lot – automatically assumes his peers agree with him •says ‘to shake all cares and business from our age; Conferring them on younger strengths’ this shows that he thinks youth will be better for the country – youth v age – key theme •’while we unburdened crawl toward death’ the throne is metaphorical burden and he wants to rid of it. He still wants the power of kingship but through his daughters without the bother of controlling the kingdom – wants a better life – selfish, egocentric – link to poem •’future strife may be prevented now’ mistakenly thinks he can prevent future problems by handing over power – but the darker purpose is really his lack of want. This is ironic as it foreshadows future problems. •conventions of seniority and a fairy-tale ideology are adhered to by Lear thinking all troubles are over when he hands out power

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•before handing power to daughters, he puts them through a love test, asking each of them to tell him how much she loves him. Goneril and Regan give their father flattering answers. But Cordelia remains silent, saying that she has no words to describe how much she loves her father. Lear flies into a rage and shows an absolute sense of power when he disowns his daughter. He calls Cordelia a ‘Hecate’ which means a Goddess associated with witchcraft. He goes even further to say that she is a stranger to him; ‘And as a stranger to my heart and ...

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