INTERPRETATION of King Lear #
King Lear is a play of ambiguity, containing multiple interpretations ranging from each individual’s view, in which ultimately leads to repeated productions. Interpretation of the issues and ideas in King Lear are subjective, different for individuals, whose responses may be influenced by their own unique personal experiences.
In my personal opinion, I see Shakespeare’s play of King Lear, as an absurdist and grotesque outlook on human life. One where individuals have control over their own fate and destiny, and where personal actions, rather than fate or the gods, is the cause of inevitable tragedy.
Based on the Greek Philosopher, Plato, who sees the world as governed by mere chance and fate, my views are centered on the skeptical and existentialist outlook of a meaningless life.
In reference to the play, it is shown clearly by Lear’s suffering and eventually death, that he was not rewarded with a single thing.
The suffering of King Lear degraded and dehumanized the once powerful and regal man. He was suddenly stripped of his manhood and power and reduced to a shriveled weak old man. The fate of Lear was clearly caused by his own selfish and irresponsible behavior in how he raised his daughters and ran his domestic and political households.
We see at the beginning of the play, the King’s character is all about his personal power and ultimate control. His extreme arrogant pride provides him the strength and confidence to defend and rule a huge kingdom. In Act 1 Scene 1, Lear divides his kingdom up to his three daughters. The question to what extend of land should he give to each daughter? Lear quotes,
“Which of you say doth love us most? That we our largest bounty may extend”,
This is this ridiculous, irrational and unrealistic exercise of power that ultimately leads to his tragic downfall and eventual death. He was a foolish old man, who thought the idea of dividing his kingdom up among his three daughters according to who said loved him most would flatter his ego and increase his arrogance. It is due to this very action that caused downfall.
On the other hand, we also see the degrading life of Glouscester to the extent that he even experiences the inhumane pain of having his eyes gouged out. It is the pure chance that the presence of an illegitimate son, Edmund, would cause such a scene. Edmund is constantly put down by Glouscester’s favoritism for his legitimate son, Edgar, than Edmund.
“ I grow, I prosper; Now gods, stand up for the bastards!” quotes Edmond.
This creates his ever – increasing rage and urge to take over his stepbrother’s fortune even if it means taking over his father. This is what finally leads to Gloucester’s final tragedy, which is enforced by his suicidal thoughts after losing his sight. Again, it is emphasized that Glouscester’s actions caused gradually disintegration of life.
Many critics have also considered King Lear such a grotesque and savage play, that in 1681, well known actor manager, Nahum Tate, in 1642 rewrote the tragic ending into a fairy tale one which lasted for 200 years.
Critics such as Michael Ignatieff, who wrote in his review, “Blindness to Sight”, “I see it as a play simply about the tragic parts of human life, a play how human beings can will their own destruction,” also consider that people cause their own fate.
The critic Jan Kott, is also in opposition to a conventional illusionist and traditional Aristotelian view, who believe in the gods and the stars to determine a person’s future. In his clearly negative review shown by his title “King Lear, or Endgame”, he quotes,
“If the gods, and their moral order in the world, do not exist, Glouscester’s suicide does not solve or alter anything.”
He reinforces here that an individual’s destiny cannot be altered and determined by the gods, but on your personal actions.
In my conclusions, this play sees the destruction of not one but two of the characters for no good reason.
In my Opinion, “The Tragedy of King Lear,” is Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, yet it has always proved to be a difficult play to perform and the great variety of performances reflects the great variety of interpretations it has created. While the text is more static, performances can impose interpretations influenced by sub-text, such as casting, props, staging, costumes and sound and light. These factors help to give body, colour and meaning to the play.