King Lear By William Shakespeare: A Theme Of Discovering True Self
As discussed in the South Park essay, Socrates makes the claim that a virtuous person cannot be harmed. This is, in part, because the practice of philosophy and dialogue helps Socrates to be true to himself. In the play, King Lear by William Shakespeare, King Lear goes through a process of discovering his true self. In the beginning, King Lear’s pride and obsession in combination with honor prevented Lear from seeing his true self. But, a series of bad decisions and deaths help Lear find his true identity. Throughout the play, Lear endures some pain and suffering that affects his sanity. This caused Lear to lose some of that pride and power, which he had in the beginning of the play. Through all of this, we begin to see the growth of King Lear and his ability to both forgive, and become self-aware.
King Lear’s true identity is only revealed as a result of the life changing events that take place. It is only after these experiences that King Lear becomes truly virtuous. Lear’s journey of self-awareness starts with his pride and his need to be praised and appreciated by his daughters. In the opening scene of King Lear, Lear asked his three daughters, Regan, Goneril, and Cordelia, to publicly declare their love for him. Lear uses this “competition” as a way to divide his kingdom among his daughters. Regan and Goneril plead to Lear and told him that they love him and they cannot love another man more than Lear. Cordelia refuses to speak about her father in that way, and Lear gets mad and states, “Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again. ” (Act I, Scene I). Cordelia refuses again to participate and states, “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty According to my bond; no more no less” (Act I, Scene I). Cordelia speaks honestly but also hurt Lear’s pride by not flattering him. As a result, Lear gets so angry that he banishes Cordelia from the kingdom. Also, when Lear’s trusted advisor, Kent, comes to Cordelia’s defense and tries to reason with him and inform him that he’s making a terrible mistake, Lear banishes him too. By doing this, he loses the only child who truly “loves” him and he loses his most loyal advisor, who only wanted to protect him. This shows the lack of self-awareness because he doesn’t understand his own daughters. Goneril and Regan are only trying to manipulate Lear into giving up his kingdom, and he also fails to see the true love that Cordelia is trying to give him.
Lear values his image more than loyalty and the life of his daughter. With Goneril and Regan in charge of the kingdom, Lear still wants to be treated as a king but he doesn’t want the obligations that comes with being king. His two daughters become unhappy with Lear so they turn against him and cast him away. Throughout the play, Lear is both ignorant of himself and his life. The Fool plays a major role in trying to help King Lear find his true identity. The Fool essentially becomes a voice of reason for Lear, and just like Kent, he tries to help him see who he has become and the mistakes he has made. In the first act of the play, Lear states, “Does any here know me? Why, this is not Lear. Doth Lear walk thus? Speak thus? Where are his eyes? Either his notion weakens, or his discernings Are lethargied. Ha, sleeping or waking? Sure, ‘tis not so” (Act 1, Scene 4). The fool responds with “Lear’s shadow” (Act 1, Scene 4). Lear is starting to sense that he has lost sight of who he is and he is slowly losing control of his sanity. The Fool is trying to tell Lear that he is nothing more than a shadow of his true self. The Fool is trying to open Lear’s eyes to the realization that he does not need to look outside of himself in order to find his true self. He does not need to look past his shadow because Lear holds everything he needs in order to be himself. The Fool remains with Lear up until the third act, providing Lear with a source of wisdom. Even after the Fool leaves, Lear continues to become more insane, but he simultaneously becomes more self-aware.
An important turning point in the play is the scene where Lear leaves Gloucester’s castle and finds himself wandering around a raging storm after being cast out by his daughters, Goneril and Regan. Lear begins to scream into the storm and starts to say, “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow! You cataracts and hurricanes, sprout till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks” (Act III, Scene II). This quote shows that Lear has gone mad and has lost a sense of who he is. He feels betrayed by his own blood and has lost his power. He tries to gain back some power by preaching with the Gods to use their power to wipe everyone out. Lear realizes that he is now powerless. But, through this adversity both physically and metaphorically, Lear also gains a new perspective on life. This is the real turning point for Lear and he decides that he wants to be with the people he loves. Through this journey of turmoil Lear is able to take steps towards self-awareness. During his self-awareness journey, Lear feels sympathy for the first time in the play. When talking with the Fool, Lear states, “My wits begin to turn. Come on, my boy. How dost, my boy? Art cold? I am cold myself. Where is this straw, my fellow? The art of our necessities is strange That can make vile things precious. Come, your hovel. Poor Fool and knave, I have one part in my heart That’s sorry yet for thee” (Act III, Scene II).
During the storm scene, Lear begins to realize his neglect that he had for the poor in his kingdom and he feels ashamed of it. Lear moves from worrying about things that only affect him to being sympathetic with others. Lear at one point feels pity for the Fool, he states: Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,Your loop’d and windowed raggedness defend you. From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’enToo little care of this! Take physic, pomp. Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,That thou mayst shake the superflux to themAnd show the heavens more just (Act III, Scene IV). He acknowledges that he once had the power to help others but did nothing. He’s becoming more self-aware of his actions and the wrongs he has done in is life. His understanding of others suggest that Lear might have an understanding of himself. He is proving his growth and acknowledges his actions. One of those wrongful actions is the way he treated Cordelia. When Lear reunites with Cordelia he states, “I am a very foolish fond old man, fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less. And to deal plainly I fear I am not in my perfect mind” (Act IV, Scene VII). He begins to explain to Cordelia that he is an old foolish man and confesses that he may not be himself. Lear continues by saying, “Be your tears wet? Yes, faith. I pray, weep not. If you have poison for me, I will drink it. I know you do not love me, for your sisters Have, as I do remember, done me wrong. You have some cause; they have not” (Act IV, Scene 7). Lear is recognizing his ignorance and stating the fact that he understands that Cordelia might be mad and potentially want to hurt him. He is acknowledging his guilt and wrongfulness. But, then something tragic happens and Cordelia dies. Lear mourns over Cordelia but her death showed us the depths of his growth.
By the end of the play, life changing events and experiences show us that it is obvious that Lear has gained some sense of his true self. After going on this journey, Lear ultimately found his true self. It took eye opening experiences in order for Lear to get to his true identity. Since, Lear was able to achieve his true self, Socrates would believe that Lear became virtuous over the course of the play. To be one’s true self is to be virtuous. Socrates would also state that since Lear became virtuous, he was also unharmed. Socrates is not entirely correct with this statement though. The process of finding his true self was grueling for Lear, it ultimately paid off with being able to understand his true self. The only way to becoming one’s true self is through pain. Therefore, Lear does get harmed because Cordelia dies.
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