Shakespeare: King Lear
Good King, that must approve the common saw,
Thou out of heavens benediction com'st
To the warm sun
Approach, thou beacon to this under globe,
That by thy comfortable beams I may
Peruse this letter. Nothing almost sees miracles
But misery. I know 'tis from Cordelia
Who hath most fortunately been informed
Of my obscured course, and shall find time
>From this enormous state, seeking to give
Losses their remedies. All weary and o'erwatched,
Take vantage heavy eyes, not to behold
This shameful lodging.
Fortune, goodnight. Smile once more; turn thy wheel.
"The theme of King Lear may be stated in psychological as well as
biological terms. So put, it is the destructive, the ultimately
suicidal character of unregulated passion, its power to carry
human nature back to chaos....
The predestined end of unmastered passion is the suicide of the
species. That is the gospel according to King Lear. The play
is in no small measure an actual representation of that process.
The murder-suicide of Regan-Goneril is an example. But it is
more than a picture of chaos and impending doom. What is the
remedy for chaos? it asks. What can avert the doom? The
characters who have mastered their passions give us a glimpse of
the answer to those questions."
-Harold C. Goddard,
The Meaning of Shakespeare, 1951
Shakespeare's tragedy, King Lear, is often thought of as not only one of
Shakespeare's best works, but also one of his best "poems". The language
follows in Shakespeare's trademark format using iambic pentameter in much
of the play. Shakespeare's It is we ll known for its many universal
themes. Some of these themes are: Dealing with he folly of old age and the
ingratitude of youth; Good versus evil; Nature; Vision and blindness; and
Fortune. These themes have been examined for hundreds of years in many dif
ferent forums, but what makes this play so unique is the fact that
Shakespeare incorporates all of these issues in just one tale.
One character that examines some of these issues is a character named
Kent. Kent is a significant character in King Lear, as he is involved from
the beginning to the end. Kent is the ideal first mate to the commander of
the ship of state. From the moment we meet him and observe his tactful
response to Gloucester's bawdy chatter, we know we can rely on
this good man. It doesn't take long for us to become better acquainted.
When Lear banishes Cordelia, and Kent speaks up in her behalf, he is bold
but courteous. And he sticks to his guns, even at the risk of his own
banishment. The measure of his devotion
to his master, the king, is shown by his assumption of a disguise. This
enables him to continue in Lear's service. There are several additional
facets of Kent's personality. He can be hotheaded, as in the outburst that
infuriates Lear in the very first s cene. And his treatment of Oswald is
hardly gentle. Kent even shows a sense of humor in his lengthy description
of Goneril's steward. Kent is not a great philosopher, but he does
acknowledge that there are greater forces determining our fates. He
endures disfavor and discomfort stoically. His devotion and faithfulness
are always in our minds. In the midst of the final turmoil, we still have
compassion for Kent when he tells us that he cannot fulfill the only
formal request made of him. He cannot share the
responsibility for restoring order to England because he is nearing his
As mentioned before, Kent clearly belives in a greater sence of fate and
fortune. This is exactly what his speech is about in act two, scene two.
Kent is at the bottom of the wheel of fortune, and he is looking for the
wheel to turn in his favor. Dissecti ng the speech line for line is the
only real way of understanding the speech. The first line, "Good king,
that must approve the common saw," is an allusion to Lear and his duties
as his subjects percieve them to be, with the word "saw" meaning proverb.
"t hou out of heavens benediction com'st to the warm sun," means that
Lear, out of heavens blessing once again will be in the sun, or recognized
as the king. "Approach thou beacon to this under globe" is the idea that
Kent wants some sort of illumination, wh ether it be the sun or the moon,
to come to his place at the dredges of the society. "That by thy
comfortable beams I may peruse this letter" means that Kent wants to read
a letter that he has received, but is unable to, as it is too dark.
sees miracles but misery" clearly Kent is at the bottom of the wheel of
fortune, being placed in stocks and left outside, and he is the embodiment
of this "misery" and he realizes that this letter he holds could indeed be
a miracle of sorts. "I know 'tis
from Cordelia who hath most fortunatly been informed of my obscured
course and shall find time from this enormous state, seeking to give
losses their remedies." This is the idea that Cordelia has been informed
of Kent's "interesting" situation and may be
able to help him out in his mission. "All weary and o'erwatched, take
vantage heavy eyes not to behold this shameful lodging." Kent realizes
that while he is helpless to do anything but sleep while locked in the
stocks, and figures that it would in fact be to his advantage to sleep and
forget about his predicament and get some well needed sleep. "Fortune,
good night. Smile once more, turn thy wheel." Kent recognizes that he
cannot get any lower on the wheel of fortune and that it is only a matter
before he comes back to power with Lear.
King Lear is a timeless tale of honor, betrayal, usurpation of power and
greed. Clearly Shakespeare was not only a great poet, but he was also an
observer. He recognized certain qualities and emotion that all humans
exhibit. The reason that he was so incr edible was that he was able to
balance between the fiction and magic of Lear and his daughters, and the
truth and realities of greed and power.
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