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
Good but weak
Albany is the husband of Goneril and one of the virtuous characters in the play, although initially weak. He is also a poor judge of character, being acquiescent (or blind) to his wife's wickedness until too late. For example, when he asks about Goneril’s deteriorating relationship with her father she brusquely tells them: ‘Never afflict yourself to know more of it.’ (Act 1 Scene 4).
His eyes opened too late
Albany does not appear in Acts 2 and 3 of King Lear. When he returns in Act 4 Scene 2 he has learned about the blinding of Gloucester and this ironically opens Albany's eyes to his wife's capacity for evil: ‘You are not worth the dust which the rude wind / Blows in your face’.
Despite this he still supports his wife's alliance with Edmund against a French army led by Cordelia, even if privately he states his intention of avenging the deep wrongs perpetrated against Gloucester. Eventually, he is informed by Edgar that Edmund and Goneril intend to kill him, finally prompting Albany’s exposure of them in Act 5 Scene 3.
Although Albany now does what he can to put right the crimes of his wife and her allies, the fact that he supported fighting against the French leads indirectly to Edmund capturing Lear and Cordelia. However, he is able to help the banished Lear, restoring the King to power just before his death.
The world of the play may have grown corrupt, but Albany at least represents an example of moral growth, even though he lacks the energy to be fully effective and makes mistakes which, like Lear’s, cannot be undone. In this respect he provides a contrast to Kent, who immediately perceives injustice and fights vigorously for the side of truth.
His role at the end
When the play ends Albany becomes ruler of Britain, offering to share power with Edgar and Kent. He states that he is determined to repair the damage inflicted on the realm that Lear’s abdication has precipitated.
It is left to Albany to reflect on the moral lessons taught by the crisis: ‘The weight of this sad time we must obey’ (Act 5 Scene 3). Human beings – even kings – are capable of making catastrophic mistakes and need to be aware of their frailty if they are to guard against similar disasters. Lear did not learn this lesson but Albany hopes that others can.
Albany is well intentioned and turns out to be one of the embodiments of goodness in the play. However, huge strength and energy are required for virtue to prevail in a world of such evil. He therefore emphasises two of the play's main themes: that of human weakness and the need to be constantly vigilant in the presence of evil.
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