So much to say on King Lear
! Even ignoring the tragedy of Gloucester (and redemption of Edgar), the Tragedy of Lear is almost a tragedy too tragic. We look on Macbeth
and see his murder-begetting-murder downward spiral, begot by a misguided ambition to regain the favor of his wife; we see Othello
and see a man living in his own illusion of himself as war-god, beguiled easily from his lack of practical cleverness; but we look on Lear and see a man of true greatness raised above the esteem of man by all worthy comrades, only to be brought down to a sub-human madness for his feelings of love-lacked, for giving all to the undeserving and for disowning the only one worthy. The tragedy of Lear begins with a competition for his affection, which he sets on his three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. While the first two beguile him, lie in appeals to his vanity, Cordelia, his favorite, offers true appraisal of her love for him: which, though it far exceeds the filial love of her sisters, fails to appease the infinite expectations and demands of love from her father - and for this she is cast out, her share of his legacy divided between her deceitful sisters.
What ensues for Lear is a madness which does not escape him, even in death. Running about the desolate landscape, amid a tempest, crowned with flowers and stripped bare, the madness of Lear is manifest, and he is dethrowned doubly from his rightful station as loved king and father and also dethrowned of his sanity. But the great sadness, which seems too much for the reader or viewer of King Lear
is the undeserved death of the innocent Cordelia. She is killed offstage at the command of the evil, likely sociopathic, Edmund, who relents his maiden-murder too late, in his own death. She is brought in, and Lear collapses at the sight of her, his only loving daughter whom he outcast and disowned, who feels now that he can never live up to her worth, rather than that she herself is unworthy of him:
And my poor fool is hang'd! No, no, no life!
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou'lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never!
Pray you, undo this button: thank you, sir.
Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips,
Look there, look there!
Lear, in his continued madness imagines Cordelia still alive, which allows at least some solace to him in his dying breath: a solace in self-delusion.
The world of King Lear
is desolate beyond description, in fact it seems that it is desolate beyond love of any kind: romantic, of which there is none manifest in the play, or filial, which dies almost at the same time with Cordelia and with Gloucester (Edgar's love of his father is genuine). This world of Lear's is not our own, but his search for love, his need of love, is a feeling too human for his surroundings. What are we if we are not loved? That is the question of the play, which answers that we are mad and halfway dead if we feel ourselves unloved (even if we are inaccurate in our estimation). What are we without love? "Nothing!
" - and "Nothing will come of nothing.
" - a sad and bleak condemnation on the future of Edgar, who unwillingly inherits the throned seat of the Nothingness which remains after Lear's, Gloucester's and everyone else's deaths.