A Powerless Perspective

Where is the love?  We initially witnessed lack of family commitment in Richard II, when he banished his own cousin, Bolingbroke. Now, King Lear has problems with his daughters. It’s amazing some times to see in Shakespeare’s plays that people would choose power over family, but this seems to be a common theme.  

The conflict between King Lear and his daughters is interesting to me because it is different from what we are normally used to seeing,  from the plays we read from Shakespeare this semester.  We are usually accustom to the king embracing their role, as well as using their power in ways to benefit their own needs.  KIng Lear has a unique situation where he wants to scale back his rule and give most of the responsibilities to his daughters.   When he realizes that his own daughters betray him, it leaves the king in a feeling of loneliness and hate. King Lear says, “Save what beats there.  Filial ingratitude!  Is it not as this mouth should tear this hand for lifting food to ‘t?  But I will punish home” (3.4.15-17).  These are his daughters that he raised, fed, and took care of. I can’t help but feel somewhat sympathetic towards him, but it also makes me slightly change my overall perspective on a king’s rule.  There are the kings we read about that abused their power – and then King Lear.  Before reading this play, I felt the kings took full advantage of their throne.  Now, there’s the argument that this is exactly why a king’s rule should maximize usage of their power.  The moment King Lear lets his guard down, his own family takes full advantage.  It leaves me thinking that maybe a kings job is to be power hungry.  If not, there’s always the risk of someone threatening to take rule.

King Lear learns to see things from a commoner’s perspective.  King Lear says, “Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you, that bide the pelting of the pitiless storm, how shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you from seasons such as these?” (3.4.29-34).  This is interesting, as Lear being stripped of rule, feels sympathy towards the poor.  He begins to understand the other side of living he never gave a chance to see as king.  King Henry first existed amongst the commoners and then became into power.  Due to this order of events, we had a chance to see how quickly Bolingbroke forgot about his friends (such as Falstaff).  The order of these two events both have significance.  Lear feels sympathy because he started from the top, and then lost everything.  Through this experience, King Lear finds out how superficial his daughters are; but he also learns some morals along the way.  

King Lear losing his power helped me to look at the power of the king from a different perspective.  It also helped the King look at himself differently as well.  I enjoyed being able to see a very different scenario then what we have been reading in our Shakespeare class.  It provided me to look at situations differently, and allowed me to be more open-minded towards what a kings power should be.




3 thoughts on “A Powerless Perspective

  1. elisebrucche

    I was really taken with the point you made about kings having an obligation to protect their throne from their families. It certainly seems like monarchs have to be wary about appearing to complacent or lenient. As you noted, the minute that any of Shakespeare’s king ease off the push for power, other, younger, candidates arise. The persistence with which this scenario arises definitely seems to suggest specific criteria, or perhaps flaw, inherent in a kingship. In his philosophical text,The Republic, Plato argues that a tyranny (or rule by one) is one of the most problematic forms of government. If even one other person lives in a tyrant’s land, than there is the potential for a coupe. As a result, kings (which are pretty much analogous to Plato’s tyrants) always need a little extra something to justify why they deserve to rule, e.g. divine appointment. Yet, divine appointment does not necessarily protect you from your relations as theoretically their blood holds some of the divine too!

  2. michaeldrago

    Interesting note about the sharp difference between Lear and the other kings we’ve read about. It’s also worth noting the primary difference between King Lear and the other plays that we’ve read which deal with monarchies; those previous plays were history plays, while King Lear is a tragedy. And of course, both of those types of plays come with different expectations. As with all tragedy plays, the primary character needs to possess certain flaws which will inevitably bring about their downfall; for Lear, those flaws included his unwillingness to deal with the more grueling responsibilities associated with the crown, a desperate need to feel love, and an inability to perceive the attempts of others to manipulate him. His enemies, of course, were all too quick to take advantage of these flaws.

  3. zacharyschiff

    One of the most interesting things about the fool to me is his ability to criticized Lear without being punished. We discussed this in class to some degree: perhaps it is that the fool speaks in songs and riddles, and thus his criticism has a kind of fictional distance. Or, maybe it is the Fool’s social distance from Lear that allows him to speak with immunity. Given Lear’s hypersensitivity to language, both Cordelia’s and Kent’s, it is amazing that he should tolerate the sometimes nasty, and indeed, as you suggested, intelligent, wise words of the Fool. Lear’s terse, often monosyllabic responses to the fool are so amusing to me: he doesn’t even dismiss the fool, but plays a long with him and seems to listen to him, in a way. When the fool asks, “dost thou know the difference, my boy, between a bitter fool and a sweet fool?” (1.4.118-119) Lear responds “No lad; teach me” (1.4.120). The Fool’s ability to unflatteringly tell the sensitive King the truth is one of the great mysteries and charms of the play, to me.


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