William Shakespeare’s King Lear
Introduction • King Lear is known as “Shakespeare’s most unforgiving tragedy”. • The play reduces human beings to their most vulnerable and “elemental state” to investigate the depths of human nature. • “The play abounds in daring philosophical ideas about the meaning of human existence, the place of human beings in the world and the frailty of lines demarcating madness from sanity and chaos from order.”
Introduction • “King Lear has been argued as the most truthful play. The ugliest of human traits are examined: ingratitude, jealousy, meanness, hatred, deceit, lust, flattery, treachery. However, these are also foiled with other characters who demonstrate unflinching loyalty and goodness.”
Quick Details • Setting - ancient, pre-Christian Britain. There is no Christian morality or sensibility. • Performed/Produced in 1605. • It is the only Shakespeare play that has a fully developed sub-plot integrated with the main plot. • Shakespeare’s sources for the play were Holinshed’s Chronicles and, primarily, The True Chronicle History of King Leir, and his three daughters, Gonorill, Ragan, and Cordella. This was “published in 1605, but acted much before that, in 1594”.
The Great Chain of Being • “Literally means: ‘ladder or stair-way of nature’. It is a concept detailing a strict, hierarchical structure of all matter and life. • The chain starts from God and progresses downward to angels, stars, moon, king, princes, nobles, men, wild animals, domesticated animals, trees, other plants, precious stones, precious metals and minerals.” • If there is disturbance in this structure, its repercussions will be felt in other places in the hierarchy.
Motif • Nature • This is the most dominant motif in the play. It not only deals with mankind’s powerlessness to the powers of nature, but also those ‘natural’ aspects of humanity that can’t be denied…as “it’s in our nature”. • Consider who denies nature, or uses it to argue, or try and understand people’s choices.
Motif • Nothing • Within the first 90 lines of the play, this important motif is introduced. • Ironically, the play seems to place value or significance on nothingness. • It has a lot to do with reducing mankind to its most base form, with no ‘artifice’.
Motif • Blindness and Knowledge • This symbol is used both with Lear and even more literally with the subplot of Gloucester and Edgar/Edmund. • Consider this famous line: “Was blind, but now I see…”
Motif • Identity (especially within social contexts) • Reputation, titles and status are important factors in Shakespeare’s plays. He often examines how ‘things aren’t always what they appear to be’.
Plot Overview • http://www.60secondrecap.com/library/king-lear/3/ Did you catch all that?