Lear’s claim that he is “a man more sinned against that sinning” is undeniably true, but the pathos of his fall is elevated – made more profound and resonant – by the inescapable reality that much of his suffering is ultimately self-inflicted. As voiced by Bradley: “the storm which has overwhelmed him was liberated by his own deed”.
Lear’s fall is a product of conflict – a conflict that is alternately embedded in philosophical differences and a clash of generations.The most obvious generational conflict which exists in the play is that between Lear and his daughters Goneril and Regan. Nature is deeply rooted in the play (perhaps because it deals with a time before Christianity took a foothold in Britain) and is found both metaphorically and physically manifesting itself throughout: the main antagonism in the text comes in the shape of children (the natural preservation of oneself) doing something fundamentally unnatural (that being to turn against their own father).Numerous characters comment on the stark savagery of this throughout the play including Edgar, Albany and of course Lear himself: “Tigers not daughters”, “Whose warped looks proclaim what store her heart is made on”, “Twas this flesh begot those pelican daughters”, “Ingratitude, thou marble hearted fiend, more hideous when thou show’st thee in a child, than in the sea-monster”, “You unnatural hags, I shall have such revenges on you both. ” These metaphors help emphasise that though it could well be considered inhuman it is...
normal in most species from rabbits to salmon for the parents to decline in order for their children to take their place.It could be argued that the essential tragedy of the play is that Lear’s innate stubbornness is what prevents this changeover of generations from taking place.
In the very first scene he announces that his purpose of the division of his kingdom is that he might “shake all cares and business from our age conferring them on younger strengths” yet he shows by his actions this is only half meant. He wishes to be rid of the responsibility of being King while maintaining the prestige of the station and the power over his life which only being an autocrat can bring.He keeps himself an irrationally large entourage and is grievously offended when Oswald addresses him as “my lady’s father” seemingly angry that this is what he has demoted himself to having given up his crown. Lear makes the decision to give away his lands before his death without really considering the ramifications. It seems odd that a man who has summoned a meeting to announce the division of his kingdom, and the dilution of his power, holds on so tightly to that power when questioned.
The use of the word ‘allegiance’ also shows the King holds this in high regard, and makes us question whether he is comfortable with his own decision. It is also ironic that the recipient of this rage is Kent, Lear’s most faithful Earl. ) He spends the rest of the play attempting to reverse his earlier mistake but is met at every junction with the harsh realisation that though his power
was easily given up it cannot be easily regained. In this manner Shakespeare’s Lear become a metaphor for growing old in general. As children grow they take over the roles their parents used to have and the parents are forced to realise that that the flow of time only moves in one direction.Lear attempts to oppose generational progress and he and all he cares for is destroyed in the attempt.
This then gives rise to a philosophical conflict. It is perhaps best evidenced when Lear confronts Goneril and Regan in Gloucester Castle. He is so hurt that Goneril wishes him to half his retinue that Regan demanding that he quarter it stings him to his core. Favouring Goneril’s option as the best of a bad situation he cannot cope when they both continue to lower the total number of his allotted attendants until it has decreased from a hundred to none.
They suggest this is logical as there is no need for him to have his own forces when theirs can handle all his needs and moreover say a house with two commanders is never sensible. “What need you five-and-twenty, ten or five” / “What need one? ” Lear’s response to this attack of logic is typically impassioned “O! reason not the need. ” It would be simple to look harshly upon Goneril and Regan’s lack of empathy for their father and his emotions but it is illustrative that after this dialogue Lear explodes and rails against both Goneril and Regan after swearing that he would never do so against the latter because of her “tender hefted nature”.This exemplifies Lear’s violent vacillations in temperament evident from the opening of the play.
Lear acts with passion and emotion but often this leads to irrationality and outright childishness on his part. His daughters cruelly employ logic and rationality but this leads to them being cold, manipulative and treacherous: they are concerned only with their own interests. This is not a separation caused by the differences in ages but rather one based on a fundamental difference in outlook.Lear underpins his demise through his own tendency for excess, encapsulated by the fondness for flattery he exhibits in the throne room scene. The scene he has meticulously contrived is pure indulgence (since the opening scene – showing Gloucester and Kent discussing the division of the kingdom – makes clear that Lear’s intentions are common knowledge among his attendants, and presumably throughout his court).
Lear’s construction of this scenario is intended to provide a platform for affection, furnishing his daughters with the perfect opportunity to communicate their love for him.In this way, Goneril and Regan are merely playing the tune Lear wishes to hear, softening the blow of his abdication through reinforcement of his standing as a loved father. Cordelia decides to “love and be silent” and in doing so hurts her father, stings him, cracks his heart through her refusal to put her feelings into words; by virtue of her position as Lear’s favourite, he surely expected hers to be the most loving, generous and praising speech. An objective witness – audience and readers, for example
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