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The King Lears Enlightenment English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1731 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In King Lear, Lear goes through a process of attaining a true insight of himself, human nature, and the world. At the beginning, the vanity and the self-image of ultimate power dominate his character. However, a series of loss throughout his life provides him with many precious lessons about the conception of true love, about the nature of a man after rejecting his power, and about the real poverty of people around him.

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After the unexpected attitude of two older daughters, Lear realizes that real love is manifested not in words. At the beginning, a strong need for praise is set as a standard which he uses to divide his kingdom among his daughters. The one who praises him most will receive the largest dowry. Lear also finds himself blind to assume his reward will ensure his accommodation in the future. However, the following reality hurts him strongly. It is also the turning point for Lear when he realizes his partial blindness and learns the lesson about true love. When his daughters are reluctant to accept him in their houses, he shouts: ‘O, how this mother swells up toward my heart! / Histerica passio, down, thou climbing sorrow; / Thy element’s below.-Where is this daughter?”(7.224-226). “Histerica passio” is referred to one kind of mental illness, and Lear’s sickness is the surprise, the fear, and ultimately, the pain in his heart. His previous assumption about his daughters’ love is destroyed. They said they loved him strongly, but “where is this daughter?”, he disappointedly asks himself without any reply. They just show their love when they need Lear’s reward of property; however, when Lear needs an accommodation, no one accepts him. Lear shouts “how this mother swells up toward my heart” to illustrate that an extreme sorrow fills up his mind and his heart. He cannot suffer it and runs off into a storm. The power of the storm elevates the process of change within Lear. What he changes is how he sees himself and his daughters. He realizes that his daughters’ love is for his kingdom, not for him. “O Regan, Gonoril, / Your old kind father, whose frank heart gave you all- / O, that way madness lies” (11.18-20), he states. The term “frank heart” can be interpreted in two different ways. It may be the divided kingdom Lear gives to his daughters, or it can be his strong hope and belief toward their loves they show up in the love test. In either meaning, he gives them to his daughters already. However, now Lear receives nothing, except their ungratefulness. Their love is just a rhetorical promise, or, more painfully, a lying story. Consequently, “that way” makes his “madness”. His enlightenment also illustrates when he insists, “Ha, Gonoril! Ha, Regan! They flattered me like a dog, and told me I had white hairs in my beard ere the black ones were there … When the rain came to wet me once, and the wind to make me chatter, when the thunder would not peace at my bidding, there I smelt them out. Go to, they are not men of their words. They told me I was everything; ’tis a lie, I am not ague-proof.” (20.95-103). He uses an interesting metaphor – “the rain came to wet me” – to illustrate that his old assumption about his daughters’ love was wiped out of his mind. His suffering in the storm has brought him new insight that “they are not men of their words”. They swore they loved him to attain his kingdom, but then they betray their words. He subtly uses the term “not argue-proof” to show how desperate he is when gradually seeing the treachery of his daughters, Goneril and Regan. “Argue-proof” refers to the immune to fever or shivering, but, in this context, he is “not argue-proof”. He is a normal human-being so he still gets extreme hurt when his daughters betray their love toward him.

True love should be expressed by action rather than by hollow words, and capturing that lesson requires Lear to ask for the forgiveness when he has made an error. The primary point about true love assumption is apparently illustrated when Lear meets his “true” daughter, Cordelia. She refused to exaggerate her love toward him and be banished, but she returned to take care of him. Experiencing her kindness, Lear easily feels that she truly loves him; consequently, he regrets about his folly treatment to her before. He offers to Cordelia, “if you have poison for me, I will drink it.” (21.69). Lear is in a state of illusion, but also of great humility because he knows he has wrongly punished her when it was her sisters who should have suffered that treatment. Lear shows more of his humility when he asks his daughter, Cordelia: “You must bear with me. / Pray now, forget and forgive. I am old / And foolish.” (21.82-84). An almighty king as Lear, of course, hardly says he is foolish, but now Lear does. It proves that Lear himself admits his previous serious blindness about love, and he gains a new visionary insight which is accompanied by a true humility.

A series of loss throughout the play teaches him a lesson in common humanity. People respect him just for his title. Once he gives it up, he is totally powerless and becomes a normal man like others. His position as a successful king leads him to overestimate his power, and he thinks of himself as almost a God. This perspective turns out to be a fatal mistake only when the first acts of disobedience of his daughters occur. He confusedly re-evaluates himself: “Doth any her know me? / Why, this is not Lear. Doth Lear walk thus, speak thus? Where are his eyes? / Either his notion weakens, or his discerning are lethargies. Sleeping or waking, ha? / Sure, ’tis not so. / Who is it that can tell me who I am? / Lear’s shadow? I would learn that, for by the marks/ Of sovereignty, knowledge, and reason/ I should be false persuaded I have daughters” (4.215-225). Many questions are raised in succession, expressing clearly Lear’s confusion about his real power. “Sleeping or walking, ha?” – These terms suggest his incredulity at what seems to happen in front of him. He always assumes he can keep his daughters in line by virtue of his authority as a father, but, in fact, he loses all of his privileged position. That reality makes him frustrated. Additionally, the self-question “who is it that can tell me who I am? / Lear’s shadow?” demonstrates that Lear begins to realize the amount of control he possesses and his position in his own kingdom. It’s not Lear himself any longer, yet “Lear’s shadow”. An image of an egocentric king is replaced by one of a powerless, weak, and despised old man. The struggle in his self-esteem causes him to run madly into a storm. At this time, he acknowledges that he has nothing. Additionally, when Lear meets Tom, the beggar, in the storm, he discovers humans as no more than animals, except how we wear clothes. Clothing makes him a king and nothing else. He sees all of humanity in a bare level: “Is man no more but this? Consider him well. Thou owest the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume. Here’s three on’s are sophisticated; thou are the thing itself. Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art.” (11.92-97). By listing a lot of nice material from the animal for his clothes like “silk” of “worm” or “wool” of “sheep”, Lear illustrates that only clothing distinguishes between him and the beggar. Once they remove their clothes, they are equally “unaccommodated man.” Accordingly, Lear thinks the way to reach at man’s essence is to uncover human nature; in particular, he strips away his clothing to cast aside his customary status as a king and therefore bring himself in line with common image of humanity embodied in the poor beggar. Clearly, Lear changes his vision about human nature in which his kingship is just a symbolic status; he is still a normal man once he rejects his coverings.

During the storm, Lear also learns about the poverty of people around him. He begins to think of the poor who suffer the extreme storm with the little that they have: “Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are, / That bide the pelting of this pitiless night, / How shall you houseless heads and unfed sides, / Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you / From seasons such as these?” (11.25-29). He effectively uses many lively words such as “houseless heads” or “looped and windowed raggedness” to draw in the readers’ mind a picture of how harsh the poor’s condition is during the storm. He raises his concern for the poor as a big question that he had never posed in his life before. By those details, Lear approaches the notion of wide sympathies with his fellow sufferers, with the naked Poor Tom, and with the poor wretches. Now he feels the same needs like others and the basics needs of human beings when struggling with the nature. “O, I have ta’en/ Too little care of this. Take physic, pomp,/ Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,/ That thou mayst shake the superflux to them/ and show the heaves more just” (11.29-33), he states. With the regretful tone by the term “I have ta’en / Too little care of this,” Lear now has a better idea of how he should use his power as a king. He finally realizes that the throne must associate with privileges as well as obligations.

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Lear’s new lessons involves realizing that he was blind in judging the love of his daughters toward him, that all men are equal and it is only the clothes that make them different, and that many people in his kingdom are struggling with their poverty. The self-discovery in King Lear is not just for Lear himself, but also for other characters like Gloucester or Albany. Though most characters finally paid for their late self-awareness with their lives, what would their lives have been without it? The play has a sad ending, but its lessons still remain in any audience’s mind.


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