Redemptive Readings

  • Created by: Pip Dan
  • Created on: 20-09-17 16:47

Whilst some critics argue that 'King Lear' is a play about the pointlessness of human suffering, others chose a redemptive interpretation which focuses on Lear's reconciliation with Cordelia and the restoration of order in the final scene.

A key tenant of the redemptive interpretation is that suffering allows a person to realise the value of their life and the lives of others. That suffering allows humans to be thankful for what they have, in line with many philosophical arguments including the Irenaeus Theodicy.

  • At the heart of this idea, is that Lear has an astonishing lack of self-understanding and appreciation for what he has opposed to the suffering of others in the first few acts. He is only able to define himself by his power but when that is questioned by Goneril he starts says 'this is not Lear', showing is fundamental lack of understanding
  • It could be argued that as a tragic hero Lear's fatal flaw is perhaps pride, selfishness or as Maynard Mack suggests an inability to realise the importance of human relationships. Shakespeare reveals Lear's fatal flaw in the very first scene, unlike in his other plays for example Othello, so that the audience can see how Lear realises his flaw and moves away from it. It is argued that the main action throughout the entire play revolves around Lear’s painful suffering and his purgatorial learning experience, all stemming, of course, from his rash, ignorant behaviour in the first act
  • The idea that Lear must suffer to realise is faults is a common interpretation. The storm scene is seen as the start of this realisation as Lear realises the power of nature, the cruelness of his daughters and the innocence of Cordelia. He utters his first unselfish thoughts, as is evident when he asks the Fool 'How dost my boy? Art cold?' and shows sympathy for the 'poor naked wretches'. Not only does Lear express sincere concern for others during this soliloquy, but he also expresses regret for the way that he has treated his subjects when he says that 'O, I have ta’en / Too little care of this!'. Indeed, this is the first time in the play that Lear admits any kind of wrongdoing
  • His reunion with Cordelia is often seen as the end to Lear's spiritual pilgrimage. That not only being forgiving by her but showing that he doesn't want to the throne shows that he has become a changed man

It can be argued that in the end, King Lear almost ceases to be tragic (A.C. Bradley). Certainly, Lear’s suffering is severe, but Shakespeare shows that it is Lear’s suffering that leads to his learning and his subsequent redemption. Prior to Lear’s painful banishment, he is a pampered, flattered king living a false life, full of false love. It is excruciating for Lear to face that his life…


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