Death Attracting Death

In King Lear, I cannot help but notice the trend that death attracts death. It builds to the final scene, where the number of deaths is simply overwhelming. The attraction of death is increasing over the end of the play, beginning in 4.6. Lear states: “I will die bravely, like a smug bridegroom” (4.6 192). The mention of death is his intuitive feelings toward the matter—the first time he is not discussing the deaths of others or killings. Shortly after in the scene, Edgar kills Oswald, as Oswald accuses Gloucester of being a traitor for supporting the framed Edgar. The letter in Oswald’s pocket discusses Goneril’s plan to kill her husband, as one discovery of death leads to another: “A plot upon her virtuous husband’s life…Here in the sands, / Thee I’ll rake up, the post unsanctified / Of murderous lechers” (4.6 267-270). This is just the beginning of the tragic end and epidemic of death—it cannot stop the theme from bouncing from character to character—be it in actual death or in discussion.

Cordelia questions the purpose of her life in the beginning of 4.7: “O thou good Kent, how shall I live and work, / To match thy goodness? My life will be too short” (4.7 1-2). It is a foreshadowing of her perceived death at the end of the play—a type of attraction, although textual. Lear is sick and wishing to poison himself until Cordelia convinces him otherwise. Once death is depicted, it cannot help but to return in every scene, in every character. Edgar becomes concerned of his position of being involved with both sisters Goneril and Regan, as only one can live to be with him, and who will in the end, with Goneril’s husband is dead. He does not expect that death will be brought to both of them, however, and his falseness will be exposed. Regan is poisoned by Goneril, and later kills herself.

Edgar enters in 5.3 to solve matters with Edmund, and Edgar says: “O, that my heart would burst! / The bloody proclamation to escape, / That followed me so near” (5.3 181-182). He managed to hide away and resist death, but the more death is being discussed in the play (even the avoidance of death), the more death appears. It is like a pest that cannot be shaken. Edmund states: “I pant for life. Some good I mean to do, / Despite my own nature” (5.3 242-243). He is disturbed by the deaths of Goneril and Regan, and hopes he can be redeemed if Lear and Cordelia are alive. Brought in, the third sister Cordelia is thought to be dead, but in the end is not. Mad Lear describes: “She’s dead as earth. Lend me a looking-glass; / If that her breath will mist or stain the stone, / Why, then she lives” (5.3 260-262). She is alive in the end, but all of the characters remaining are either dead, murderers, or have narrowly escaped death—not to mention the possibility of madness. Death not only attracts death in the play, but is contagious as to touch every character. It is the tragic trend seen in King Lear.

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2 thoughts on “Death Attracting Death

  1. Elaine L.

    I never considered looking at death as something one could attract, but in the case of this play, I have to agree with you. It seems that from the very start, death was a cloud looming over everyone’s heads: Lear starts it with banishing Cordelia and Kent, their absence in his life similar to death. Tragedy calls for death, however, so this attraction to death is not as surprising as it was to me.

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  2. jolisa

    I really enjoy your description of the attraction of death in this story. We do see it in the very beginning, even before Lear banishes Cordelia, the reason we are where we are in the top of the story is because Lear rightful believes that he will die soon. I think the rest of the characters in this play had no choice but to follow their "leader." Lear from the very start sets the tone of the play, no one else can resist this looming thought.

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