Naturalism or Realism

The natural elements of this play bring about the ideas of what defines Naturalism. Naturalism is defined as a genre around the mid-19th century, but once again Shakespeare beat it to the punch. Beginning in 2.3 there tends to be a great deal of detail describing Lear’s age and how it affects his ability to rule. It is one of those basic parts of life that can often be ignored, especially while reading a text, but the truth is that it can always be argued as a factor that influences a character’s actions. During Regan and Lear’s exchange she takes a stab at his physical well-being as a means for his stupidity: “O, sir, you are old; / Nature in you stands on the very verge / Of her confine. You should be ruled and led / By some discretion, that discerns your state / Better than you yourself” (2.4.139-43). From my vantage point I do not see anything that Lear could possibly do in this situation to support his argument because of how blatantly Regan presents the facts of her case: Lear is old, therefore his mental and physical abilities are diminishing. Looking at the play from this perspective presents a very naturalistic perspective, but it can also lean toward the side of realism. These events are fueled by human emotions, such as greed and envy. Lear’s wishes to stay at Regan’s present his personal desires and those of the rest of the characters. This exchange between Goneril and Lear illustrates the confines of this realistic situation: Goneril: “Why not by the hand, sir? How have I offended? / All’s not offense that indiscretion finds / And dotage terms so.” Lear: “O sides, you are too tough!” (2.4.190-3). Goneril speaks from her desires to rid herself of her association with a man that she feels dwindles her chances of obtaining wealth and power. She wants to make sure she is around the right people at all times and by any means necessary, even if that means being ruthless in the treatment of her father. This is without a doubt a concept of realism due to the focus on individual needs and how they influence actions. So what category does this play fall into? There are aspects of naturalism, realism, and it is all encompassed in drama and history. There is no clear way to define this work, but it is definitely groundbreaking in context, much like all of Shakespeare’s works.


4 thoughts on “Naturalism or Realism

  1. Cyrus Mulready

    It's interesting, indeed, to think of Shakespeare as a precursor of Naturalism, Cory! There is certainly a thread of this idea running through the play, I agree. what's notable, too, is how this is set off against the fairy tale qualities of the play (see Caitlin's post below), and the sense we get of unreality at important moments in the play.

  2. danielleadams

    This is a very interesting post that draws parallels between King Lear and elements of Naturalism that I had not noticed. I think it is true that there are many elements of Naturalism throughout the play, especially through its portrayal of pessimism, the effects of heredity and social environment, and the general lack of a godlike presence able to guide the characters or influence their "fate". As part of their hereditary makeup, Lear and his three daughters seem similarly susceptible to despair as made evident by their tragic endings that can also be said to have been influenced by the corrupting social environment of the royal court. Further, the lack of a godlike presence or an element of "fate" shows that Lear and his daughters have been led to their demise due to the consequences of their own faulty decision making and not because of a divine scheme. In this paradigm of the "survival of the fittest" it seems that no member of Lear's family is able to withstand the pressures of power and loss.

  3. Jenn Mathias

    I would have never took notice to this. It is an awesome point your making, connecting Lear's age to naturalism and to the idea of getting old and the body becoming less able to govern people. We obviously know that she is telling him all of that because she wants the early inheritance, but the idea is still very interesting.

  4. Meaghan Platania

    I love the connections you have made here between the genre of Naturalism to the elements apparent in this play. Once again, further evidence that Shakespeare will truly be a writer of all time. I often wonder if during the time in which Shakespeare lived if he, or the people around him, knew just how good of a writer he is and would be for a very long time. I wonder if he was as popular then as he is now and I wonder who the Shakespeare of our time would be? Just some food for thought.


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