I’ve been lying in bed sick all day, but nothing can stand in the way of a determined traveler, right? Today, we leave Cyprus and arrive in England, a somewhat vague setting, which becomes clearer when you find out that the play with which we are working is King Lear.
Lear, King of Britain, has three daughters. He tells them that whichever of them can show that she loves him the most through her words will receive the largest portion of his kingdom. Goneril and Regan praise their father endlessly, plotting to take his kingdom and leave him a beggar. Cordelia, her father’s favorite, refuses to do what her sisters did, saying that she loves him just as much as is appropriate for a daughter to love her father. Enraged, Lear banishes Cordelia, who marries the King of France, and his faithful servant Kent, who tried to stick up for Cordelia. Lear learns too late that Goneril and Regan don’t really love him and begins to spiral into insanity.
King Lear is just as depressing as it sounds. In addition to his problems with his daughters, Shakespeare also includes a story that came from a different part of England’s legendary history: the story of Gloucester, Edmund, and Edgar. Edmund betrays Edgar and eventually betrays his father as well, in the hope of securing his father’s position and fortune (something he would not receive as a bastard).
Does the play have any cheerful moments to counterbalance the sadness? King Lear’s Fool provides some comic relief, but he also admonishes the king for his poor decisions. Edgar saves his father from committing suicide, and Cordelia’s reunion with her father verges on happy before plunging back into despair. Overall, Lear is not a cheerful play. It is, however, a high tragedy and well done. I enjoy King Lear because I think the struggle between parents and children in the play is fascinating and provides cautions for parents. One of which is not to bribe your children to love you.
I’ve always blamed Lear for the fate that befell him and his daughters. What was he thinking by pitting his daughters against one another? You have to admit that he started his problems. My professor agreed with this stance on King Lear, but challenged us to look at it from Lear’s perspective, which, he admitted, is easier to do when you have children of your own. Lear was old and his health was starting to fail. He was obviously not terribly stable to begin with, and he just wanted to know that his daughters loved him. He probably thought he was doing something nice for them. “Just tell me that you love me, and I’ll give you some of my kingdom.” He might not have realized that he was bribing them. He certainly didn’t know that two of his daughters didn’t love him and that this proposal would truly tear his family and kingdom apart. My professor also challenged us to consider Cordelia’s love for her father. She was his favorite, so he expected the most from her. To him, hearing her say that she loved him only as much as was proper was like hearing that she didn’t love him at all. Certainly, she didn’t love him enough to humor him in his old age.
King Lear provides lessons for people of all ages. Despite being depressing, I would recommend it.
Since my strength is almost sapped, I’m going to give a short recommendation for an adaptation. Ran, a Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa, takes a Japanese tale similar to the story of his Lear and adapts it for the screen. I have not personally seen it, but I am told that it is excellent.