King Lear Contents
- Shakespeare, William
- 1564 - 1582: William Shakespeare's Stratford Beginnings
- 1582 - 1592: William Shakespeare's Marriage, Parenthood and Early Occupation
- 1592 - 1594: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 1
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 2
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 3
- 1611 - 1616: William Shakespeare - Back to Stratford
- Social / political background
- Religious / philosophical background
- The Theatre
- Act I
- Act II
- Act III
- Act IV
- Act V
Key themes in the play, such as nature and blindness, generate clusters of words around them.
This word is first used by Cordelia in the play’s first scene. The Fool picks it up in Act 1 Scene 4 after he refers to Kent’s criticism that he is speaking ‘nothing’:
Fool: .. you gave me nothing for’t. Can you make no use of nothing, Nuncle?
Lear: Why no, boy; nothing can be made out of nothing.Fool: (to Kent) Prithee, tell him, so much the rent of his land comes to:’
The Fool jokes bitterly about the tragic destruction of the kingdom. At least the Fool knows he has a role as a Fool, but Lear without his realm is ‘nothing.’ The King’s insanity is predicted when the Fool says the King has ‘par’d [his] wit o’both sides and left nothing i’th’middle’.
The King finally realises this for himself when he laments in Act 4 Scene 6, ‘they told me I was everything; ’tis a lie’. The once mighty monarch is merely a ‘ruin’d piece of Nature’ who will die.
King Lear argues that the intrinsic requirements of humanity are greater than those recognised by utilitarianism. The key scene addressing the concept is Act 2 Scene 4 where Lear’s elder daughters reduce his train:
Reg: what! fifty followers?
.. What should you need of more? ..
Gon: What need you five and twenty, ten, or five ..
Reg: What need one?
Lear: O! Reason not the need; ..
Allow not nature more than nature needs,Man’s life is cheap as beast’s.
This is one of the play’s most complex words, being both a contrast to and a reflection of humanity – and also as a force which makes human authority seem so weak and insignificant that it teaches a lesson in humility.
- Thou, Nature, art my goddess (Act 1 Scene 2)
- Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! (Act 3 Scene 2)
- Crack Nature's moulds, all germens spill at once, / That makes ingrateful man (Act 3 Scene 2)
- The tempest in my mind / Doth from my senses take all feeling else / Save what beats there (Act 3 Scene 4)
A central theme is that of ‘seeing’ – or rather the inability to ‘see’ the truth and distinguish it from falsehood and treachery. Both Lear and Gloucester learn to ‘see’ their mistakes when it is too late to prevent grievous suffering. Examples of the language associated with this idea include:
- All that follow their noses are led by their eyes but blind men (Act 2 Scene 4)
- I have no way, and therefore want no eyes; I stumbled when I saw (Act 4 Scene 1)
- What, art mad? A man may see how the world goes with no eyes. Look with thine ears (Act 4 Scene 6)
- (Get thee glass eyes / And, like a scurvy politician, seem / To see things thou dost not (Act 4 Scene 6).
An ethical system of thought championed by Jeremy Bentham which claims that the best policies are those that are most beneficial for as many people as possible
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