Meaning of KING LEAR in English


tragedy in five acts by William Shakespeare, performed in 160506 and published in a quarto edition in 1608, from an inadequate transcript of foul papers, with use made of a reported version. The First Folio version was prepared from the quarto collated with a promptbook of a shortened version. One of Shakespeare's finest tragedies, the work displays a pessimism and nihilism that make it a modern favourite. The aging King Lear decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, allotting each a portion in proportion to the eloquence of her declaration of love. The hypocritical Goneril and Regan make grand pronouncements and are rewarded; Cordelia, the youngest daughter, who truly loves Lear, refuses to make an insincere speech to prove her love and is disinherited. The two older sisters mock Lear and renege on their promise to support him. Cast out, the king slips into madness and wanders about accompanied by his faithful Fool. He is aided by the Earl of Kent, who, though banished from the kingdom for having supported Cordelia, has remained in Britain disguised as a peasant. Kent eventually brings Lear to Cordelia, who cares for him and helps him regain his reason. The subplot concerns the Earl of Gloucester, who likewise spurns his honest son, Edgar, and believes his conniving illegitimate son, Edmund. Edmund allies himself with Regan and Goneril to defend Britain against the French army mobilized by Cordelia. He turns his father over to Cornwallwho gouges out Gloucester's eyesthen imprisons Cordelia and Lear, but he is defeated in battle by Edgar. Jealous of Edmund's romantic attentions to Regan, Goneril poisons her and commits suicide. Cordelia is hanged. Lear, broken, dies with her body in his arms. Shakespeare's contemporaries believed Lear to have been a historical monarch. For Shakespeare, however, although he gave the play something of a chronicle structure, the interest lay not in political events but in the personal character of Lear. The main theme of the play is put into the mouth of the evil Regan, speaking to the pitiful Gloucester: O, sir, to wilful men The injuries that they themselves procure Must be their schoolmasters. The various stages of Lear's spiritual progress (a kind of conversion) are carefully marked. He learns the value of patience and the worth of unaccommodated man. He begins to realize his own faults as a king and almost understands his failure as a father. He begins to feel for the poor naked wretches and confesses, O, I have ta'en / Too little care of this. His instability of mind, almost a predisposition to madness, is shown from the beginning. His terrible rages and curses, first upon Cordelia and later upon Goneril and Regan, and his ranting and tyrannical language all foreshadow his breakdown. His faithful counselor is plain with him: Be Kent unmannerly / When Lear is mad; and his daughters shrewdly judge him: he hath ever but slenderly known himself. He is painfully conscious of approaching madness, but gradually the bombast of his sanity gives place to a remarkable kind of eloquence, flowing easily and never incoherent. His ravings are intelligible to the audience, however perturbing they may seem to the other characters on the stage. They express a point of view that, had he understood it earlier, would have saved him from many errors of judgment. The mode of speech of the mad king contrasts strongly with the congenital inconsequentiality of his Fool and the assumed madness of Edgar as Poor Tom. King Lear's subplot focuses on the fortunes of Gloucesteranother father suffering from filial ingratitude and from his false judgment of the characters of his children. This subplot is introduced in the opening scene, in some detail, as if it were of as much importance as the main plot. The stages by which Gloucester similarly learns by suffering are clearly indicated. He begins by being the cheerful sinner, but gradually his sense of pity and duty become stronger, and he reveals himself to Edmund: If I die for 't, as no less is threatened me, / the King my old master must be relieved. This revelation of his good intentions to the treacherous Edmund leads directly to his downfall and to his being blinded. Two of the good characters, Edgar and Albany (Goneril's husband), also grow in moral stature and strength in the course of the play. At first, Edgar seems rather ineffectual, quite unable to cope with the villainy of his half brother Edmund; but eventually he emerges as a strong character, confirmed by suffering and by compassion, able to fight and overcome Edmund in the ordeal at arms; and eventually, as one of the survivors, he is entrusted, along with Albany, with the future of the kingdom. Albany, too, is gradually built up, from being the weaker partner in his marriage to being the spokesman of virtue and justice, with an authority able to cope with the force of Edmund's malignant energy. Yet the representatives of goodness and of hope in King Lear do not emerge dynamically, and it has been difficult for champions of Shakespeare's moral and religious orthodoxy to combat the play's great pessimism.

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