William Shakespeare’s play, King Lear, is a tragedy like many of the other plays that we have read throughout the semester. One play that reminded me of the way King Lear ended was Romeo and Juliet. Both of these plays had tragic deaths that occurred due to bad timing and greed.
The first indication of this play being a tragedy is when King Lear’s daughters, Goneril and Regan acted greedy in order to gain land and wealth from their father. This is evident when Goneril expressed her love for her father in order to receive the largest portion of land. Goneril stated, “Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter; / Dearer than eye sight, space, and liberty; / Beyond wat can be valued, rich or rare; /No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honor; / As much as child e’er loved, or father found; / A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable; / Beyond all manner of so much I love you (1.1.54-59).” On the other hand, Cordelia, the youngest daughter, refused to declare how much she loved her father, which caused him to banish her from the land. This section of the play is setting up the story as a tragedy because the family cannot get along with one another. There are many conflicts that occurred between these daughters and King Lear that did not get resolved throughout the play. An example of this is when Goneril and Regan refused to allow King Lear’s men to stay with them after they were given the land. This represents greed and a tragedy due to them disobeying their father and ignoring his previous wishes. It also represents a tragedy because King Lear gives power to the daughters that do not love him and banishes the Cordelia who is the daughter that actually loves him.
Another event that occurs in King Lear that is tragic is when Edmund betrays his own father, Gloucester in order to gain his inheritance. Edmund does this by providing Cornwall with a letter that shows Gloucester’s support for a French invasion. After Gloucester is captured, Regan points out that Edmund is the one who truly betrayed his father, which is news to Gloucester. Regan states to Gloucester, “Out, treacherous villain! / Thou call’st on him that hates thee. It was he / That made the overture of thy treasons to us; / Who is too good to pity thee (3.7.90-93).” The result of Edmund’s betrayal is that Gloucester’s eyes were gouged out.
The last act of this play is very tragic due to poor timing and deaths that occurred. King Lear’s daughters, Goneril and Regan, were both dead. Goneril committed suicide and Regan was poisoned by her sister due to both sisters fighting over Edmund to be their husband. Cordelia and King Lear were captured after they lost a battle. Edmund lied to Albany about sending Cordelia and King Lear far away in order to prevent mutiny. However, when Edmund was arrested for treason, he admits that he really was in the process of putting Cordelia to death by hanging. Edmund tried to reverse this by sending a messenger to intervene before Cordelia has died. In the end, the messenger did not reach Cordelia in time and she died. King Lear enters with Cordelia dead in his arms. He grieves over his daughter by stating, “A plague upon you, murderers, traitors all! / I might have saved her; now she’s gone for ever! / Cordelia, Cordelia! Stay a little. Ha! / What is’t thou say’st? / Her voice was ever soft, / Gentle, and low, an excellent thing in woman. / I killed the slave that was a-hanging thee (268-273).” In the end, Cordelia died due to poor timing because the messenger did not reach her in time to prevent the hanging. King Lear lost all of his daughters, as a result of the previous events in the play.
The last scene of King Lear reminds me of Romeo and Juliet’s tragic ending. Romeo and Juliet both die due to killing themselves because of poor timing. Romeo killed himself by drinking poison because he thought his love, Juliet, was dead. However, Juliet took a sleeping potion and was supposed to wake up when Romeo got to the vault. Juliet did not wake up in time, which caused Romeo to kill himself. When Juliet did wake up, she saw Romeo dead. Juliet decided to take the dagger and kill herself so she can spend eternity with her lover. This reminded me of King Lear because Cordelia died because the messenger did not reach her in time to be saved. Therefore, both plays ended in a tragedy due to poor timing. Also, poison and suicide also occurred throughout both plays which represent similarities as well. This makes me question why Shakespeare used these objects to cause deaths in both of these plays. It also made me wonder why he used these themes and events so frequently throughout his plays. King Lear and Romeo and Juliet were tragic plays that ended due to predestined deaths.