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Transcript of King Lear
In Shakespeare’s text ‘King Lear’ the concept of insight is demonstrated through the sub-plot and specifically Gloucester
Gloucester’s insight is very ironic as it took the removal of his eyes for him to metaphorically see the nature of events and people surrounding him
When Gloucester was able to see, he believed the lies of Edmund and was blind toward the goodness of Edgar. Edmund was able to deceive Gloucester, and Edgar, due to their trusting nature
Gloucester exclaims “I stumbled when I saw” which refers to Gloucester making mistakes when he had sight through placing his trust in the wrong people. However as soon as his eyes were removed, he was able to ‘see’
If Gloucester had seen the truth, he would not have been blinded, this is ironic as it was essential to loose his physical sight for Gloucester to experience insight
Irony of Insight
Lear’s downfall is reflected by language devices such as pathetic fallacy which reflects the natural world mimicking Lear's state of mind. Moreover madness and mental decline are often accompanied by dramatic reinforcements
Shakespeare’s stage direction ‘Storm still: Enter Lear and Fool’ (act III, scene 2) and dialogue reinforce this. “I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness. I never gave you land, called you children. You owe me no subscription.” – Lear, act III, scene 2.
The exposure of Lear to the elements conveys his vulnerability and having been stripped of everything he valued. Nature mirroring the protagonists metal state emphasises the occurring events and provide the audience with insight into dramatic changes in characterisation
Supporting theme &
King Lear is a commentary on madness. Madness is a major theme in the play, and it can be seen that the mental decline of King Lear is due to some identifiable catalysts, for example the severing of familial ties. This happens when Lear banishes Cordelia, also when Goneril and Regan lock him out of their parts of the kingdom.
King Lear - Catalysts of Madness
Alignment of Ideas
'Korol Lir' 1971
Kozintsev's Russian version of King Lear keeps closely to the original play while relying heavily on cinematographic techniques to convey meaning
Kozintsev created a bleak presentation of Shakespeare's play through the use of largely empty lifeless rooms, vast stretches of the barren and decaying landscape which evoke emotion
theorists & productions
Nature mirroring Lear's mental state is a notion explored in Shakespeare's play as pathetic fallacy is used to emphasise the occurring events and imbalance of natural order. Korzintsev identifies this theme as a major part of the play which he highlights in his 1971 production of King Lear, 'Korol Lir'
This Russian adaptation of Shakespeare's play presents a bleak set through the barren and decaying landscape which portrays Lear's destruction of natural order. In addition, presenting nature in such a way assists greatly in communicating Lear's madness. The menacing atmosphere surrounding Lear throughout his mental decline is a symbol both Shakespeare and Korzintsev utilised to convey the dramatic downfall of Lear
Lear is shown to subject himself to the elements as his madness overrides his mind. Although the storm is violent and seemingly rages at Lear for his actions he does not respond with such emotions nor takes responsibility for his faults. Instead Lear still seems to blame Goneril and Regan for his declining mental state and overall misfortune while displaying self-pity:
"Here I stand, your slave - a poor infirm, weak, and despised old man." - Lear, act III, scene 2
Harlos Denny Production, 2001
Blindness & Insight
Madness & Insight
Madness & Nature
Madness - Blindness - Insight
Madness in King Lear
Kenneth Muir’s critical theory on ‘King Lear’ identifies 3 main events (or “shocks”) responsible for King Lear’s madness, that occur in a linear progression:
1. His treatment by Goneril (act I, scene 4)
2. When Lear finds Kent in the stocks (act II)
3. Lear’s rejection by Regan
Poor Tom (Edgar), is introduced to Lear prior to Lear’s mental decline, which occurs later in the same scene. Muir has used this to create a connection between Lear’s mental decline and Poor Tom, suggesting that he too is a main catalyst to Lear’s madness, and responsible for propelling his mental decline: “What finally pushes him [Lear] over the borderline is the sudden appearance of Tom who is...What Lear had feared to become”. He suggests that Lear begins to relate or identify with Tom, which causes Lear to become mad himself.
This is seen when Lear talks to Poor Tom, as he begins to express notions of madness:
“What! Have his daughters brought him this to pass?”
”Death, traitor! Nothing could have subdued nature to such lowness but his unkind daughters”
King Lear is a commentary on madness and insight, and how catalysts or events can lead up to the mental decline of a protagonist. This is seen in the madness, or the lead up to madness of King Lear, where there are clear catalysts such as the severing of familial ties
The severing of familial ties can be seen as what ultimately causes Lear’s downfall, and moreover insanity. This is seen in the banishment of Cordelia, which Lear soon after realises was a mistake, which is seen in the line “O, let me not be mad, not mad…I would not be mad!”, which Lear says in reply to Kent suggesting it was crazy of him to banish Cordelia. This is a prophecy of Lear's madness, and the first suggestion within the text of a mental downfall. From here it can be perceived that the banishment of Cordelia is the first of many catalysts that drive Lears mental decline
Similarly, Muir's theory supports this notion, as he indicates both Goneril and Regan as catalysts that drive Lear towards his downfall. “Lear is driven insane by a series of shocks. First, there is the attack by Goneril…the third shock, the rejection by Regan”. Muir believes that King Lear's rejection or mistreatement by his two daughters push him closer towards his downfall, as the two events identified above are both immediately followed by rants or references to madness by Lear
Therefore the severing of familial ties is a major catalyst, that drives forward Lear's madness, which is supported by the critical theory of Muir
Another theorist who supports this notion is Shurbanov. Shurbanov agrees that to a certain extent the daughters are responsible for Lear’s madness. The power struggle between Lear and Gonerill and Regan demonstrates Shurbanov's idea that there is a constant battle between the more powerful (Lear) and the less powerful (women). He acknowledges that the power being passed onto those who shouldn’t have power causes Lear’s madness. Shurbanov's theory states that the reason why Lear cannot deal with being completely powerless against Gonerill and Regan (who in fact should be below him) is because he ruled in a totalitarian society. Lear had complete power and control over everyone in his society. When he lost that power his incredible rage came through eventually leading to his madness. Shurbanov believes that too much power is given to leaders in totalitarian societies and Lear went mad because of his leadership of in this society.
In this contemporary production of King Lear some characters and their roles in the play have been altered from Shakespeare's original writing. These changes in casting have altered certain relationships and interpretations of the play
The Harlos Denny changes the fool into an old women. Elderly people are often used as a symbol of wisdom, this production also does not mention that the old woman is mad, but focuses more on her being a symbol of wisdom. The casting of the fool as a woman also changes Lear's relationship with the fool as Lear shows sympathy towards the old woman where as in Shakespeare's original version, Lear only thinks of the fool as mad until he experiences insight.
There is also another significant change in the play relating to the illegitimate son of Gloucester, Edmund. Shakespeare's original version of the play characterises Edmund as a very poor character because he is not entitled to any material possessions, he is not physically poor but because he is the bastard child he will not inherit anything. For example, land. This is a very important thing to note. Harlos' production has completely changed this idea and dresses Edmund as a very powerful and attractive figure. This is extremely different to Shakespeare's original version, as Edmund appears to be quite successful, wealthy and a very charismatic despite being eternally illegitimate.
Our group understanding of King Lear explores the irony in Gloucester's insight. Only after Gloucester's eyes are removed is he able to see that he has trusted the wrong son, this is very similar to Lear as it is only after his two daughters have taken everything from him does he realise that Cordelia was the most loyal daughter after all. Gloucester's son, Edmund who is the bastard child is portrayed as the son who is not entitled to anything, for example land and therefore power. The audience is given an idea that he is less well off then his brother, Edgar. This might mean that he is not very well kept, or not a very well presented person. Harlos Denny's production characterises him as very successful, well dressed and wealthy man. This is completely contrasted to our own understanding because Edmund is continuously referred to as the bastard child and the child who is much below his brother in comparison. We have analysed this notion and so explored that although he is not physically poor or from a low socio-economic status. his whole life has been based on his illegitimacy, which we believe would negatively affect how he presents himself.
Lear's insight is originally told by the Fool. Lear feels sympathy towards the fool as he is mad, Lear does not realize that the fool is actually telling Lear of the insight he will experience. This understanding is contrasted to the Harlos production because the Fool is cast as an old woman. This is extremely unusual because the old woman is used as a symbol of wisdom and insight. This is unusual with our understanding and Shakespeare's original play because the fool was not originally cast as a female. The jump from a mad fool to a wise woman is very ironic because in King Lear all female characters do not survive, all of them are either the catalysts for King Lear's mental decline or misunderstood despite good intentions. A woman being cast as the Fool is an extreme contrast to our understanding and Shakespeare's original play
Shurbanov views King Lear through a Marxist perspective. The Marxist theory is based around the idea that people in society are put into classes depending on their wealth and power. Marxism identifies that the ‘lower classes’ have a struggle to obtain any power or wealth. Shurbanov believes this to be a true representation of the nature of society
Shurbanov believes that ultimately Lear’s madness and anger was caused by him ruling in a totalitarian society, one where every aspect of life is regulated by the state, or in this case the king. Shurbanov theory adds that totalitarian societies create mad, angry leaders because of the fact that they need to be in charge of everything and expect to always be in the greatest position of power
Shurbanov also notes the power struggle between the upper class of Edgar and the lower class of Edmund
• Our understanding perceives the catalysts of Lear’s madness and anger to be the severing of familial ties, specifically the banishment of Cordelia and Regan and Gonerill cutting out their father. The realisation that he banished his only good daughter only adds to his madness.