King Lear English Revision A2

Scene by scene analysis

key themes

character analysis

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  • Created on: 31-05-13 20:42
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King Lear English Revision
Characters
Lear
Classic tragic hero- a powerful but fatally flawed ruler who, through hubris (excessive pride
or arrogance), destroys both himself and those around him.
Initially Lear is introduced as a powerful character- it is made obvious that he has
experienced absolute power for many years.
o His disinheritance of Cordelia and banishment of Kent affirm that he is a despotic
monarch
o
He craves flattery rather than truth in the `love test'
Gradually his sanity and senility comes more and more under scrutiny
o By the end of the first scene Regan comments `he hath ever but slenderly known
himself'
Once he has given away his freedom the play charts his journey from pride and arrogance to
self-knowledge and redemption
The further Lear descends into madness, the sharper becomes his awareness of the world's
evils
Briefly he emerges from his tortured madness to find some kind of peace and reconciliation
with Cordelia
Infuriatingly self-obsessed, morally blind, unjust and unfair
Cordelia
Speaks only in four scenes yet her presence permeates most of the play
Early exchanges with Lear show honesty in the face of falsity
o her asides to the audience accentuate the integrity of what she says and feels
o she abhors deception and pretence (`Who covers faults, at last with shame derides')
Takes courage to stand up to her father
Her candid assessments of her sisters' behaviour smack of insight and perception (`I know
you what you are')
When she returns to England her regal qualities are often accentuated (powerful costume
changes etc). Her language resonates with words of healing and therapy, leading some to
interpret her in a particularly Christian way.
In displaying unconditional love and forgiveness for her father, she is a symbol of hope and
goodness
That her life should be so pointlessly extinguished is perhaps the cruellest act of all
Gonerill
Speaks first in the love test and instantly displays how devious and deceitful she is. Her
words are `slick' and `oily' and play to Lear's vanity- she exploits his weaknesses.
Systematically schemes with Regan to erode the last vestiges of the King's power (reduce
followers and make him homeless)
Hates her husband and plots adultery with Edmond
Poisons her sister
When Edmond is mortally wounded she kills herself- an act of courage or perverse
self-destruction?
Regan
Initially seems less spiteful and more restrained than Gonerill
As the play unfolds her sadistic disposition comes to the fore
o Proposes Kent's punishment in the stocks should be extended (`Till night, my Lord,
and all night too')
o Wants to deny Lear even one follower

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Orders the castle gates to be locked against him
o Participates fully in the torture of Gloucester- urges Cornwall to take out the other
eye les `One side will mock another'
o Ambitious
o Keen to seek sexual pleasure, competing for Edmond's favour
o When poisoned she meets what many see as a symbolically just demise
Gloucester
Lear's loyal and long-serving counsellor
Like Lear he is an elderly father who misjudges his children and who achieves self-knowledge
and reconciliation with his virtuous child only after…read more

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Gloucester does die of a combination of shock and joy when Edgar finally reveals his identity
to his father. Edgar might have delayed telling his father the truth out of fear that something
like this would happen. There are also reasons that Edgar might not reveal himself to his
father that have nothing to do with cruelty. Cavell, taking multiple sides as usual, suggests
that Edgar's horror at his father's weakness made him silent.…read more

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Ultimate act of loyalty is when he hints that he will follow his master into death: `I have a
journey, sir, shortly to go: / My master calls me; I must not say no.'
Themes
Madness
In Jacobean England, the mad were thought to be possessed by devils and therefore had to
be confined and whipped to expel the demonic spirits
Shakespeare was particularly interested in madness as an agent of beneficial change.…read more

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Lear's disordered thoughts range over morality, justice and authority, and erupt in
savage emotion: `and when I have stol'n upon these son-in-laws / then kill, kill, kill,
kill, kill, kill!'
o At last, reunited with Cordelia, his mental torment ceases
Act 5
o The murder of Cordelia threatens Lear's wits once more: `howl, howl, howl, howl!'
o He dies, his final words suggesting that he is deluding himself that she lives.…read more

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The play opens with Lear portrayed as an absolute monarch who demands unquestioning
obedience. Ruling on god's behalf.
Such absolute rulers also acknowledged a god-given obligation. It was their sacred duty to
keep their kingdom intact. Elizabeth emphasised that she had to answer to god for her
government of the kingdom. It would be a sin against their divinely given authority to
abdicate or divide their country.
Jacobean society was one in transition.…read more

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Lear's love trial (1:1).…read more

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Gonerill and Regan also detest this `aged tyranny' and want to take over power,
wealth and status
Families satisfy the human need for a sense of belonging and the security of love. Edgar and
Cordelia remain selflessly devoted to their fathers
At the beginning of the play Lear seems unable to understand or value family love- he
demands his daughters proclaim it publically.
A major function of the family is to provide security for its members as they pass through
childhood, sickness and old age.…read more

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Context
Nature, the cosmos and humankind
Plotinus rejected the belief that the stars guide human fortune, arguing that such a belief
gave people a ready-made excuse for their own bad behaviour
The great chain of being was the theory (held by Elizabeth's mathematics tutor Dr John Dee
among others) that that which is `base' within society could be refined to make it nobler.
Considered by some to be heretical as it showed dissatisfaction with god's natural order.…read more

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Sir William Allen, a former lord mayor of the city, in old age split his estate between his three
daughters and arranging to live with them in turn. Once they had his money, the old man was
treated with cruelty and disrespect
The eldest daughter of Sir Brian Annesley tried to have him certified as infirm of mind in 1603
but his youngest daughter, Cordell, challenged her sister in court.
Hazards of transferring power
Inheritance in Elizabethan and Jacobean England was determined by male primogeniture.…read more

Comments

Sarah-Louise

The spelling mistakes are extremely annoying.

Lydia13

Really helpful resource for anyone studying King Lear. Lots of detail however not so much info it's overwhelming! Thank you.

Lauren Meisner

This resource is really useful thanks so much!

Lauren Meisner

This resource is really useful thanks so much!

Charlotte

You are an angel; this and your volpone/blake one is great!!!!!!!!

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