Lear The Failure Of Authority English Literature Essay

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The failure of authority in the face of chaos happens in Lear's wanderings during the storm. Witnessing the powerful forces of the natural world, Lear comes to understand that he, like the rest of humankind, is insignificant in the world. This realization proves much more important than the realization of his loss of political control, as it drives him to think about his values and become humble and caring. Because Lear has lost all authority, his kingdom is brought under chaos as Goneril and Regan fight for absolute power. His loss of authority, is the reason and the beginning of all the tragic events that took place afterwards.

Lear's descent toward madness is evident in the play , when he cries, "O fool, I shall go mad!" (II.4.).

The theme of madness is seen more in Act III as we come upon at least three different forms of madness in three different characters. King Lear is driven, to a madness he had predicted in this Act, but he is accompanied by two others whom are meant to be playing fools or madmen but to whom he feels the very sincere. These two men, are Edgar as poor Tom and the fool. Edgar pretends to be mad acting as poor Tom that is different from Lear's actual madness.

He comments, "Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are, That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, 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!" (III.4.). This is a a ver important moment for Lear, as he is on the edge of madness. He will go further into madness, it seems, as soon as he comes face to face with Edgar the reflection of madness. Madly, he attempts to strip himself naked only moments later before being stopped by the Fool, whose madness (when faced with Lear's) becomes simple as he tries to look out for his master's safekeeping. In this, we see again how sane the Fool has been all along and how real Lear's madness is to make the Fool's speech become so sensible.

Lear fights on against his daughters and is encouraged by comments that Edgar and the Fool make. The Fool's remark "He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf" as referring to Lear's idiocy in trusting his two wolflike daughters (III.vi.). Edgar, for his part, speaks like a madman who sees demons everywhere; since Lear has started to hallucinate that he sees his daughters, the two madmen get along well. For instance, when Lear curses his absent daughters ("Now, you she foxes!"), Edgar curses them likewise (III.vi.). Animal imagery will be applied to Goneril and Regan again later in Lear's cursing of his daughters: "The little dogs and all, Tray, Blanch, and Sweet-heart, see, they bark at me" (III.vi.). Having lowered his sense of himself to a "bare, forked animal," he now makes his vicious daughters animals as well but they, of course, seem like predatory, disloyal creatures to him (III.iv.)

It is important to consider Kent in his disguise along with the disguise Edgar takes on as Tom the beggar. Kent takes on the disguise as a peasant to be near to Lear. However he has no authority and can only protect Lear to a certain extent. In his appearance he is a peasant, Caius but in reality he is Kent, Lear's bodyguard and loyal friend. Edgar, takes on the disguise as poor Tom of bedlam. He does this to come back to his father and find out who was plotting against him. This is his appearance but in distinct reality he Edgar the legitimate son of Gloucester. Appearance vs. Reality is also shown in the clothing of Goneril and Regan. The beautiful clothes they wear in appearance is a contrast to the ugly and deceitful, manipulative character they have in reality.

In King Lear, Shakespeare creates many conditions in which humans live in the world. The main characters in the play are used to portray Shakespeare's ideas of evil between the characters and in the world. Shakespeare presents the conflict between good and evil by carefully separating the characters into two groups in order to bring out different attitudes to life.

Shakespeare is pointing out that the subplot carries significant weight in his message. Furthermore, stylistically it makes sense for the subplot to start the Act because the main plot had finished the Act before and the two plots generally alternate. Edmund speaks with the courtier so that he can learn of Regan and Cornwall's approach and so the audience can see his inherent ability to quickly manipulate information and use it to his advantage. Within moments, he has succeeded in convincing Edgar that Albany and Cornwall are after him and that it is better to draw swords.

Edmund also easily manages to demonize Edgar in Gloucester's eyes with out arousing any suspicion toward himself. His appeals to Gloucester are craftily devised, even to the extent that he brings up the subject of his position and inheritance in such a manner that he creates sympathy in his father while further ruining Edgar. These events further establish Edmund as evil, especially compared to the gullible Gloucester and Edgar, and move him closer to the monster we will see him become. We see Gloucester making attempts to overcome the cruelty Cornwall and Regan show to Kent when they put him in the stocks and to Lear when he is closed out in the storm. However as he is overruled on both occasions, we note that Gloucester is too weak to follow his conscience at this point in the play.

The horrific action of all but two children in the play, Cordelia and Edgar, is summed up by Gloucester as he enters the hovel to speak to Lear. He cries, "Our flesh and blood, my lord, is grown so vile/ That it doth hate what gets it" (III.4.136-137). The vileness, the evil, of Lear's two daughters and of Edmund (though ironically, at this point Gloucester is still speaking of Edgar) is such a betrayal that it has made the skin crawl and wish to reject the beings it helped to create. They havetorn away any human tie to their parents in such a vile way that hatred is the only word which can describe the relation. We also learn from Gloucester that Lear's daughters are now trying to kill him. Not only have they stripped him of all dignity, and turned many of his own knights against him, and thrown him unsheltered out into a raging dangerous storm, but they have finally cut the corner of pretense in which they said they would accept their father if he came without train and resolved to kill their own father who gave them all of his kingdom.

This evil leads Lear to his belief that madness on a large scale can only result from the betrayal of daughters. He has sincerely been led astray in his trust and loyalty and thus plunges into a darkness and a madness which the storm, the hovel, and the night quite literally and symbolically portray. Shakespeare portrays the transformation of man into storm and storm into man as Lear goes mad. Personifying the storm with himself and the children he has begotten, Lear wails, "Rumble thy bellyful. Spit, fire. Spout, rain./ Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire are my daughters" (III.2.14-15). Regan and Goneril move ever closer to their tragic ends as they progress in their evil, as evidenced through their desire to kill Lear and the blinding of Gloucester. Regan, thought at first to be the less evil of the two by Lear, leads the charge against Gloucester. Gloucester responds finally to the demands of why he sent Lear to Dover by addressing her and her sister as the basest of evils. It is her nails he mentions, not the power of Cornwall, even though the two have been joined in the punishment of Gloucester. He says, "Because I would not see thy cruel nails/ Pluck out his poor old eyes" (III.7.56-57). Ironically, this statement has greater truth for Gloucester himself. Regan taunts Gloucester after one eye is blinded and then takes the sword herself to kill a servant who stands up for Gloucester's honor. Moreover, she happily brags to Gloucester that his trusted Edmund was the one who alerted them to his treachery and then sends Gloucester out to "smell his way to Dover" (III.7.93-94). In truth, we recognize this woman as more of a beast, a "bare, forked animal" than any of the characters against whom she is battling.

In Act III, Lear rushes from a fight with his daughters into a raging thunderstorm.

Symbolically that storm is a representation of Lear's own fury and the evil doings of his daughters, while also foreshadowing the mental storms to come for Lear and Gloucester. Gloucester predicts the disasters to come through comments such as, "'Twill be ill taken" (II.2.155). He cannot be referring to the household itself with this comment, spoken about Cornwall's action in putting Kent in the stocks. Likely the action would be ill taken by Lear but also by the Gods and they prepare to show their fury and unleash their storm.

The importance of the storm, and its symbolic connection to the state of mind of the people caught in it, is first suggested by the knight's words to Kent. Kent asks the knight, "Who's there, besides foul weather?"; the knight answers, "One minded like the weather, most unquietly"(III.i.1-2). Here the knight's state of mind is shown to be as turbulent as the winds and clouds surrounding him. This is true of Lear as well: when Kent asks the knight where the king is, the knight replies, "Contending with the fretful elements; Strives in his little world of man to out-scorn The to-and-fro-conflicting wind and rain" (III.i.4-11). Shakespeare's use of pathetic fallaca literary device in which inanimate objects such as nature assume human reactions amplifies the tension of the characters' struggles by elevating human forces to the level of natural forces.

Lear is trying to face down the powers of nature, an attempt that seems to indicate both his despair and his increasingly confused sense of reality. Both of these strains appear in Lear's famous speech to the storm, in which he commands, "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! / You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout / Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!" (III.ii.1-3). Lear's attempt to speak to the storm suggests that he has lost touch with the natural world and his relation to it-or, at least, that he has lost touch with the ordinary human understanding of nature. Along with Lear's increasing despair and projection, we also see his understandable fixation on his daughters: "Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters: / I tax you not, you elements, with unkindness" (III.ii.14-15). Lear tells the thunder that he does not blame it for attacking him because it does not owe him anything. But he does blame his "two evil daughters" for their betrayal (III.ii.21). Despite the apparent onset of insanity, Lear exhibits some degree of rational thought, he is still able to locate the source of his misfortune.


In Acts two and three of Shakespeare's King Lear, Lear's detrimental flaws are further highlighted. We are introduced to the hamartia with which Lear gradually entangles himself. This is evident from Lear's very first stage presence in Act two, where he argues; " 'tis worse than murder. To do upon respect such violent outrage". This statement is symbolic of the fact that Lear is beginning to come to the realization of his mistake. Lear is deeply troubled by this and further highlights the tragic flaws in his character by refusing to accept the fact that his daughters are deceivers. Lear's odd desire overshadows his better judgement and metaphorically blinds him. This is highlighted where he says; "They are sick… They have traveled all the night? ... Fetch me a better answer." These qualities are further highlighted in Act two, where Lear's pride and shame forces him to refuse Regan's request to reduce his army. This is in an attempt to disguise the fact that he has become dependent on his daughters and has lost some dignity. Lear's constant reference to nature to correct his mistake in Act three is somewhat ironic, as it is his defiance of nature that is gradually causing his downfall. This is evident where he says "Crack nature's molds, all germens spill at once that makes ingrateful man." Lear's mental state begins to crack in this act and further highlights the tragic end that will befall him. This is evident where he says "Didst thou give all to thy daughters? And art thou come to this?"


Goneril continues to be displayed as vile and contemptuous in Acts two and three. She selfishly dismisses any guilt that would be inborn in a reasonable person acting in the self-fulfilling manner in which she did. This can be seen in Act two where she tells Regan " 'tis his own blame hath put himself from rest, And must needs taste his folly." The extent to which Goneril is cruel and villainous is highlighted in Act three where she orders for Gloucester's eyes to be plucked out. {this act as a contrast between woman like qualities} This highlights the fact that she is inconsiderate and quick to resort to violent measures.


Regan is presented as having similar character traits as her sister Goneril. She is presented as being just as devious and cruel in Acts two and three. This is evident where she puts the disguised Kent in the stocks. Additionally, this highlights the fact that Regan is concerned about pleasing Goneril. This is demonstrated where she says "My sister may receive it much more worse To have her gentleman abused, assaulted…" Regan's villainous qualities are further highlighted in Act three, where she disrespectfully plucks Gloucester's beard. This further emphasizes the fact that her actions are reflective of that of her sister's. We see where Regan is also perceived as a very uncompassionate person. This is evident when Cornwall orders for Kent to be placed in the stock and she argues "Till noon? Till night, my lord, and all night, too."


In Acts two and three, Kent is presented as a faithful, loyal and courageous servant. This is evident in his confrontation with Oswald where he argues "Draw, you rascal! You come with the letters against the King…" Kent can also be considered as a violent person. This is evident through his thorough flogging of Oswald. Additionally, Kent is presented as a very blunt person who is easily taken over by his emotions and feelings. This is evident where he says "I have seen better faces in my time Than stands on any shoulder that I see Before me at this instant."


In Acts two and three, the Fool ironically continues to play the role of that voice of reasoning. He continues to poetically highlight the truth that is somehow hidden from the knowledge of Lear. This is evident where the Fool says "Let go thy hold when a great wheel runs down a hill lest it break thy neck with following; but the great one that goes upward, let him draw thee after." This is symbolic of Lear handing over his sovereign powers to Regan and Goneril. The Fool's wisdom allows him to make informed statements that gradually reflect the life of Lear. This is demonstrated in Act three where he says "He that has a house to put 's head in has a good headpiece."


Similarly to King Lear, in Act two, we see how Gloucester fabricates his own destruction. This is as a result of the fact that like Lear, he is gullible and foolish. This is demonstrated where Gloucester is quick to believe Edmund, his bastard son. This can be seen where Gloucester asks "Now, Edmund, where's the villain?" Gloucester is also metaphorically blind in the sense that he is unable to see beneath Edmunds devious plans. Gloucester desperately turns to blame nature for his mistakes and the misfortunes that gradually befalls him. "By the kind gods, 'tis most ignorably done."


In Acts two and three, Edmund continues to display the negative character traits that come with his bastard nature. He selfishly takes advantage of his brother's trust in him for self benefit. This is evident where he deviously tells his brother "O sir, fly this place!" Edmund does this to appear the loyal son, thus making it easier for him to deceive and overthrow his father. The fact that Edmund is an inconsiderate opportunist is highlighted where he tells Cornwall of Gloucester's aid of Lear. "This is the letter he spoke of, which approves him an intelligent party to the advantage of France." Edmund allowing his father to be prosecuted by Cornwall's camp is symbolic of the fact that he is an extremely cruel villain who would sacrifice anyone for his own benefit.


Edgar, the legitimate son of Gloucester according to Elizabethan society, allows his brother to take advantage of his trust for him in Act two. This is evident to the point where Edgar swears his innocence to Edmund; "I am sure on't, not a word." This highlights the fact that Edgar being as sincere as he is, would not expect his brother to be capable of such actions. Additionally, this also demonstrates the fact that like his father he is metaphorically blind. Edgar is made to flee and disguise himself as a madman-beggar, thus disguising all traits of himself; "Poor Tom! That's something yet. "Edgar" I nothing am." Edgar's loyalty is further demonstrated in Act three during his conversation with Gloucester; "A servingman, proud in heart and mind".


Cornwall is presented in Acts two and three as a person who believes strongly in self-justice. This is evident where he decides to put Kent in the stocks after hearing Oswald's complaint. The fact that he still puts Kent in the stocks after hearing that he is King Lear's servant highlights the fact that he has little or no respect for Lear. Cornwall can also be described as a person who enjoys being the ruler and prides himself in his own leadership. This is evident where he states, "Leave him to my displeasure", and "Bind him, I say." The fact that Cornwall is a very cold-hearted person is highlighted where he plucks out Gloucester's eyes.

In this soliloquy Edgar describes how he heard himself declared a wanted man, and how he hid himself from pursuers. This emotionally wounded man has no way of escaping, so he decides to disguise himself as a filthy, near naked mad beggar. He then hides himself in a hallow tree. This soliloquy is very significant because it informs us of what Edgar is feeling and his internal emotions.