Saturday, October 29, 2011

King Lear

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Discuss a significant sequence from King Lear with close reference to language and staging

Act One Scene One

In the opening scene of the play the reader is immediately shown that Lear is beginning to make mistakes that will eventually ensure his downfall. In this scene it is obvious that Lear holds the power, shown in the manner in which he addresses the other characters in the scene. He gives orders and makes decisions.

The play begins with Lear announcing his intention to abdicate from the throne of England and divide his kingdom between his three daughters as a form of reward in exchange for their declaration of love for him.

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“Tell me my daughters

(Since now we will invest us both of rule, Interest of territory, cares of state)

Which of you shall we say doth love us most?

That we our largest bounty may extend

Where nature doth with merit challenge”

Lear is used to the flattery that comes with being king and he fails to recognize the hypocrisy of Gonerill and Regan’s professions of love. Gonerill and Regan seek to outdo each other in their declarations of love for their father. Cordelia refuses to flatter Lear with professions of her love, instead telling Lear that she loves him as a daughter should love a father. “I love your Majesty according to my bond, no more nor less”

Lear is enraged and cannot see what these words really mean. He is fooled by Gonerill and Regan’s insincere declarations of love. He disinherits Cordelia, “we have no such daughter, nor shall ever see that face of hers again.”

In Richard Eyre’s production of Lear, Lear is elevated onto the table as his anger towards Cordelia increases. This highlights his status as King and elevates him to a higher position of authority over Cordelia. Lear is clearly the dominant and most powerful figure in this scene. He speaks in a loud tone of voice, shouting as he disowns Cordelia and banishes her from the kingdom.

The camera focuses primarily on Lear during this scene, with brief camera shots of Cordelia highlighting her feelings and emotions through facial expressions. This again reinforces the idea that Lear is the dominant figure in the scene.

Lear’s servant Kent seeks to reason with Lear. He urges Lear to “See better.” Lear’s response highlights his lack of vision and poor foresight. He banishes Kent as he did Cordelia. This introduces another theme of the play, the lack of sight by characters and the blindness to the truth and to reality that they seem to exhibit. This is a recurring theme throughout the play which reinforces the idea that life must be looked at clearly and seen truthfully.

Shakespeare uses antithesis as an instrument of irony; Lear misinterprets or falsely views what is valuable, sane, natural and loyal.

The poetic language used by Lear in this scene reinforces the image of an all powerful king, who is possessive, egotistical and arrogant, used to giving orders and being obeyed. This is shown when Lear is informing Gonerill and Regan of his living arrangements. “Our self by monthly course, with reservation of a hundred knights, By you to be sustained, shall our abode make with you by due term.”

This scene introduces a major theme of the play; a lack of insight that leads to a character’s demise. Lear is unable to see into other people’s characters, so cannot see what they really are. Lear is fooled by Gonerill and Regan into thinking that they love him because he lacks the insight to be able to see into their characters. He sees only what is on the surface and cannot understand the deeper intentions behind his daughters’ speeches.

As Lear’s anger grows his foresight diminishes. He cannot look to the future to see the impact and consequences of his decisions and actions and he becomes increasingly rash and narrow-minded.

At the close of the scene Gonerill and Regan are seen to be plotting against their father, to minimise any attempt by Lear to retain authority. At this point of the play their actions do not appear to be cruel or devious, their father has acted irrationally in his treatment of Kent and Cordelia and they are concerned that he may act in such a way again.

It would have been apparent to the audience in Shakespeare’s time that Lear had committed a terrible sin by abdicating his throne, thus disrupting the natural order of society and breaking the Great Chain of Being, which states that a king must not challenge the authority given to him by God. The disorder and chaos that followed would have seemed inevitable to an audience of the time.

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