Wednesday, July 12, 2006


King Lear is about transformation. It is about the evolution of Lear from being a king to being a man. This is of note to the analyst because Lear becomes a sympathetic character by the end of the play. For the majority of the play, Lear is essentially an egotistical bastard. He banishes Cordelia because she refuses to flatter him. He banishes his most loyal servant for supporting Cordelia. He is blinded by his own ego. By the end of the play, Lear realizes the extent of his personal failings and the disastrous consequences of his actions. This realization is what destroys him but it is also what redeems him in the eyes of the audience. He performs his morbid tale and the audience loves it. I think this is largely what sets Shakespeare apart from earlier playwrights. For example, the majority of ancient Greek tragedies are excellent in form. However, in my opinion, rarely are characters in these plays terribly sympathetic. This may not be a problem for the academic, but I think that the majority of people (perhaps especially commoners in the 1600s) find it difficult to care about the graphic deaths of unrelatable caricatures. Shakespeare's popularity was not simply a random event. Something very basic separates the noble Greek tragedies from Shakespeare's tragedies. I think this fundamental difference lies in the simple fact that Shakespeare's characters, even his most capricious, are relatable to the common man. Never before had the plots of kings and nations been something to which a common pauper could identify. Lear loses his kingdom and finds the truth. He loses the world and gains his soul. Even though Lear dies, he dies a character fundamentally different than Lear at the beginning of the play. The long and terrible process of this transformation is what attracts the interest of us as viewers, and it is the culmination of Lear's evolution that fulfills us as human beings.


Blogger Admin said...

Shakespeare is credited with the 'invention of the human' - what we today might refer to as character or personality. The figures that he presents are mostly entirely relatable. In fact some are so human as to be as inscutable as the real thing, ie. Hamlet. That is because they exhibit personality, depth and character traits that are human, as opposed to mythological or constrained, as you noted, to the one dimensionality of comic or tragic personas. I think it is interesting to note that in ancient Greek plays, the characters wore masks, (called persona by Jung) that allowed only a single expression. The audience was already familiar with all of the elements of the story, every action and word in a sence, preordained. In Shakespeare, even though you know the outcome, the actions, words, nuances, emotions of every character are completely open to (the actor's) interpretation. To some extent this means that the play is open to an audience's interpretation as well. We know what the actor will say, but still wonder how he/she will say it. Will he play this part cool or go over the top, angry? The reason we don't know is because of that human ambiguity within and between Shakespeare's words; thus rendering the whole work figurate, yet simultaneously fimbrial.

12:17 PM  
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1:16 AM  

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