Characters of 'King Lear'

  • Created by: Elmo
  • Created on: 16-07-17 12:00


Shakespeare uses a number of techniques to create a sense of character and manipulate our perception of the characters throughout the play to the extent that we do not maintain a fixed view on any of the main characters as we are able to see them change and develop over the course of the play's five acts. 


The main complexity of the character of Lear is rooted in whether we do perceive the king to be a man "more sinned against than sinning". It seems that Shakespeare manipulates our sympathies towards Lear so our reaction to this issue fluctuates throughout the play. He appears to be at the peak of his powers at the beginning of the play, and with all that pomposity that comes with it aas his court and family, except Cordelia, fawn over him. Yet very early on we see that this regal and powerful character really has feet of clay - he is insecure of his need for emotional gratification from his daughters and he clearly has a highly impulsive and destructive nature that belies his high office and level of responsibility.

The extent in which Lear truly deserves his ousting by Goneril and Regan is obscured during the play since the audience do not fully see the riotous behaviour he is supposedly perpetrating in their households. We mostly hear about his behaviour through the reports of his daughters, therefore we may be unsure whether to trust these assertions (eg. Act 1 Scene 3). However, while we are unsure of the extent to which Lear is deserving of the treatment he receives from his daughters, it is fairly certain that our sympathies towards him become stronger as the play progresses and his situation worsens. When Lear appears onstage in Act 4, Scene 6 clad in the ridiculous crown of weeds, he poses a highly tragicomic figure. Once lear is reunited with Cordelia it could be said that his madness is soothed somewhat. As he gains a better sense of perspective of his own faults and flaws, we begin to see his complaints as more justified. From the brash and hyperbolic curses of Act1, by Act 4, Scene 7 he is able to articulate his anguish in a much more measured and poetical manner; no longer overblown, pompous and self pitying monarch, Lear appears to be more noble when he has been brought lowest.


Cordelia is a character notable for the fact that she asserts a pressence throughout the play while being absent for much of the action. Her willingness to retain her integrity and stand up to her father in the first scene sets a moral benchmark from which the other character's actions throughout the play can be measured. Some critics have viewed Cordelia as a redemptive character holding almost messianic qualities, as she returns to the play to restore moral order and justice. Once again, this can be seen in the way other characters talk about her more than her own actions…


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