King Lear Stands as an Excellent Example Term Paper

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King Lear stands as an excellent example of one Shakespeare's tragedies, and in certain senses it is the most obviously "classical" in its sense of tragedy. The basic plot of the play involves Lear, who is the aging King, deciding to step down and divide his kingdom between his daughters, Regan, Goneril, and Cordelia according to their willingness to declare their love for him. While Regan and Goneril willingly flatter his pride given the prospect of worldly remuneration for their praise, Cordelia refrains resulting in her disinheritance. In this moment, we have the classical powerful figure, Lear, making a decision based on his vanity (classically defined as hubris) that will cause all of the rest of the horrible events in the play. Thus, we see that Lear fits the pattern of what is typically considered tragic, so how can there be room for comedy? Unfortunately for those who prefer easy categorization, Shakespeare often blends the elements of comedy and tragedy as he does perhaps most famously in the scene with the porter in Macbeth that occurs right next to the scene in which Duncan is brutally murdered. The graveyard scene is another such famous Shakespearean scene that gleefully mixes bathos and pathos. King Lear, indeed, is no different, although the sources of comedy differ. Most intriguingly, the comedy within King Lear derives from figures that would normally be more at home in Shakespeare's comedies than in his tragedies. The Fool, for example, is a strange and slightly surreal figure that seems to resemble Shakespearean figures such as Feste from Twelfth Night and Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream. His asides and comments offer both levity and an air of the supernatural to already odd moments in the play. Edgar, who dresses himself as the character Poor Tom, similarly resembles a figure out of one of Shakespeare's a comedy of errors, and his decision to save his insane father from suicide by pretending to convince him to jump off of a cliff also recalls the tortures of Malvolio in Twelfth Night. Thus, Shakespeare is able to inject massive amounts of humor into his play by using figures that would normally be more at home in his comedies. The resultant mix is Shakespeare's ability to once again anticipate a development in twentieth century modernist theater (in the case the tragicomedy of Samuel Beckett) by literally hundreds of years.

Indeed, the humorous aspect of King Lear is not to be ignored, and in fact this element is so prominent that at one point the play was even rewritten and edited to end like a comedy instead of a tragedy:

Indeed, a 'happy ending' involving the marriage of Cordelia and Edgar was part of Nahum Tate's revision of the play which was the accepted version from 1681-1838. Marriage is the traditional ending in Shakespearian comedy...

Comedy in King Lear")

And certainly, one of the main reasons for the persistence of this interpretation is the prominence of the character known only as The Fool within the play. The Fool is supposed to be King Lear's former court Jester who he brings with him between his daughters' houses, but as King Lear goes insane the fool's comment become both funnier and more and more deeply odd and unusual. Indeed, The Fool's comments are so odd that it has given many commentator's pause to consider his role and even his reality, such that some have even suggested that the fool is little more than a physical manifestation of King Lear's diseased and insane brain incorporealized so that the audience may see the extent of his madness. In one extremely poignant scene, King Lear has been ousted by his daughters and is forced to spend the night in a hovel in order to fell from the terrible rain and whether attacking the house in an outdoor onslaught. Indeed, at this moment, King Lear comes to realize for the first time the folly of his policy and the treachery of his daughters and in this moment, we, as an audience might begin to have some sympathy for his earnest expression of grief. The Fool, however, responds to Lear's heartfelt outpouring with a witty remark that provokes laughter…[continue]

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