|Teacher: Mr. Masselli|
Topic: King Lear notes Dec. 10, 2011
King Lear’s decline into madness begins the moment he gives away his crown. Bear in mind that he chooses to do this; neither Goneril nor Regan seize power by force. Once he performs this voluntary act, he becomes the metaphorical wheel roaring downhill, dragging with him those who would help him. At the same time his act initiates the rise of Goneril, Regan, and Edmund. The people he banishes, Cordelia and Kent, will return to help him despite his rashness, but in Shakespeare’s dark world it will do no good. Until the end Lear will remain "a man more sinned against than sinning."
The consequences of mortality emerge in this play with horrifying impact. Lear takes off his crown and expects to keep respect for his abdicated office, respect for his paternity, respect for his old age, and respect for mortality. He gets NOTHING. Wearing the crown he uses his power to reduce Cordelia and Kent to nothing; the instant he takes it off, fortune reduces him to nothing, but his fall from former greatness brings suffering beyond what is experienced by any other dramatic character. The physical pain caused by the storm is nothing compared to mental anguish Lear feels as he comes to terms with what it means to be mortal.
At the end of scene 1, Goneril plots with Regan to use their newfound power to control Lear. The sinister intent grows as Goneril places her servant, Oswald, above her father then tells him to dismiss 50 knights. The fool’s sarcastic riddles foreshadow the hopelessness of Lear’s situation, and as background music for Lear’s exchange with Goneril , illustrate Lear’s loss of authority. Goneril tells Lear: "put away these dispositions which transport you from what you rightly are." Incredulous, Lear asks "who is it can tell me who I am?" The Fool answers "Lear’s shadow." It is the shadow that impotently curses his daughter and mistakenly assumes: "I will resume the shape which thou dost think I have cast off forever."
Side by side with Lear’s loss of power is the rise of Edmund. Edmund is Godless. He will rise by wit rather than an appeal to the heavens. He is unashamed of his bastardy, enjoys the opportunity to take advantage of a gullible and good father and brother, and revels in his cunning in his monologues. He loves nobody but himself. He is unstoppable until fate turns against him; his only mistake is not thinking that his time will come.
Despite being tricked by his half brother, Edgar is smarter. His situation allows him to realize that his universe is indifferent. As Tom of Bedlam he discovers what it means to be mortal, from observing his own suffering and recognizing the greater suffering in others, who by all accounts, have a right to expect better treatment in their old age. He never gives up on life, encouraging his father in his time of greatest need, and waiting for the chance to pay back his brother.
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