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Reports & Essays: Literature - Shakespeare


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 own end. 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. "nothing almost 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 of time 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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