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An Analysis of Shakespeare's King Lear

by sorrynotsorry

Through my elementary and middle school education, Shakespeare has always been a topic that’s been talked around. In my various language arts and English classes, whenever his plays have been brought up, they were always followed by, “But you’ll read that in high school”. Because of this, Shakespeare had always seemed intimidating to me, like a forbidden grown-up thing that was too sophisticated for a child like me to understand. Now that I am a high schooler who just read King Lear with my own eyes for the first time, I still stand by my original impression of Shakespeare. Much of the writing was incomprehensible to me, and I barely grasped the storyline, even with the help of all two-hundred-and-two footnotes. On the other hand, once I wrapped my brain around the story, it was definitely different than what I expected. William Shakespeare’s King Lear is a clever yet gruesome play that exhibits important themes through its contrasting storylines.

Even through my limited understanding of the language and the unfortunate circumstance in which I binge-read the play, I gleaned a vague understanding of the plot and theme. The play follows two mirrored storylines - one of King Lear himself and his three daughters (Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia), and one of the Earl of Gloucester and his two sons (Edmund and Edgar). In the first act of the play, both families are facing issues; Lear is upset that Cordelia will not flatter him, and Gloucester is upset because he believes Edgar is trying to overthrow him. Lear ends up disinheriting Cordelia, and visits Goneril and Regan, desperate for their help.

This part of the play reminded me of the fable The Three Little Pigs, except the wolf can’t blow down the houses of the first two little pigs, because all three of their houses are made of bricks. The wolf just keeps running to each house and knocking on the door, begging to be let in. However, when they refuse to, he descends down the metaphorical chimney of madness that leaves him wandering alone in a storm, abandoned by everyone.

While Lear is busy visiting his daughters and going mad, Gloucester disinherits Edgar to the delight of Edmund, who seeks to take his place as the next Earl of Gloucester. Edgar later disguises himself as a beggar and meets Lear as he stumbles around in the storm. He talks with him and helps him realize his shortcomings as a king. Later, Edgar, still disguised, meets his father, who has been blinded by Regan and Cornwall when they realize he has been helping Lear. He tricks his father into surviving his suicide attempt, but never reveals himself.

The two storylines are very similar in many ways, but complete opposites in others. For example, both fathers end up disinheriting their children. However, Lear and Cordelia reconcile after the former realizes his mistakes, while Edgar never reconciles with his father. This sort of overlapping/diverging jumble allows for the illustration of two differing perspectives on each conflict that is introduced to the story - the above example implies that reconciliation is possible if one sees the error of their ways through Lear and Cordelia, while also saying that reconciliation is not possible if one disregards their past actions and does not make an effort to through Gloucester and Edgar.

Another prominent event in terms of the plot of the play is the rather violent denouement. Lear, Cordelia, Goneril, Regan, Gloucester, and Edmund all perish. The only character left standing is Edgar, who was originally painted as the “villain” of the play. Though it is reminiscent of the endings of the stories I used to make up as a child (“and they all died, the end”), I think that it drives home the message and grand scheme of the play. The characters’ deaths are harsh reminders of their previous misdeeds, or as some people might say, karma. Though Edmund, Cordelia, and Lear all attempted to make up for their mistakes, they ended up being killed anyway, which suggests that realizing and even trying to fix your misgivings is not enough.

In terms of the writing and prose itself, there is much to say. Shakespearean English is a style I am not yet accustomed to reading, so my many misunderstandings are probably more my fault and less Shakespeare’s. Nevertheless, there were countless little details I enjoyed. Particularly, the insults. Now, this could’ve just been the style, as I have no idea whether clever insults were just a normal part of seventeenth-century English, but I cannot describe how much reading those insults entertained me. One of my favorites is when Kent calls Oswald ‘you base football player’ (1.4.80), because apparently football was considered a “vulgar amusement” in Shakespeare’s day (Watts 135). Another fun threat that Kent tells Oswald is ‘I’ll make a sop o’th’moonshine of you,, you whoreson cullionly barber-monger’ (2.2.29-30), which, according to the footnotes, translates into “I’ll make you into a bit of sodden toast, so perforated that the moonlight will soak into you and shine through you, you bastard” (Watts 137).

Toast-related insults notwithstanding, there were also other comedic moments I enjoyed. A standout character that I was amused by as a whole was Lear’s Fool, who immediately makes every scene he’s in ten times better. Not only are his lines and roasts (especially toward Lear) hilarious, Shakespeare also delivers important advice in the form of the Fool’s seemingly nonsense songs. This use of the Fool is incredibly clever, providing comic relief while also adding to and guiding the plot through his songs.

All in all, for my first experience reading Shakespeare, King Lear was not a bad choice. Its mirrored storylines succeed in portraying different perspectives on the themes of forgiveness and family, among others, the poetic prose and sharp, quick-witted jokes make it enjoyable to read, once you look past the vague language. Shakespeare’s King Lear is a classic play that, despite its abundance of apostrophes, continues to be relevant today.

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18 Reviews

Points: 201
Reviews: 18

Sun Dec 06, 2020 8:42 pm
Purple67 wrote a review...

Hello there! I never seen a really good review like this before, so here's my thoughts...

This is a little more positive than most i done before, but i hope you enjoy it still.

- I really love your narrative voice. (even if it's not like, you're writing a fictional story, but i enjoy it.)
- It's a pretty interesting take on a review of Shakepeare's work.
- And i like the fact that you really did a good summary of King Lear.
Overall, it's pretty nice and i am willing to look at more of your reviews!

Sincerely, Purple67

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362 Reviews

Points: 14830
Reviews: 362

Sun Sep 20, 2020 8:54 am
Liminality wrote a review...

This is an interesting insight into your thoughts on King Lear. I like how you've blended your personal reaction with analysis, as that makes a more holistic review that's engaging, but also backed up by the text. The writing seems to carry a more formal register despite some humour here and there.

1. In terms of language, I like the phrase "forbidden grown-up thing". It really creates the sense of speaking from a childhood experience, which then develops into your high school self's thoughts, so the narrative of the article flows smoothly. The aside ("and they all died, the end") made me chuckle and helps keep the tone consistent through the piece.

The Three Little Pigs analogy, especially with "all three of their houses are made of bricks", is really cute and fitting. I could understand what you meant, even though I've yet to read King Lear myself. In the paragraph on Shakespearan insults, I think you've chosen perfect examples to convey your point. Both are absurd and funny, without being too difficult to understand out of context.

I think "relevant today" in your last sentence could be more specific. Since you've mostly been talking about your personal experience with the play throughout the article, the switch to a more societal perspective in the last paragraph comes across as a bit out of the blue.

Maybe it would flow smoother if you added one or two sentences to your paragraphs on theme explaining how Shakespeare's portrayal contributes (or is related) to society's understanding of family and forgiveness.

2. Analysing based on contrasts is a great idea and I like that you've chosen it. Here, I think it gives the article a deeper and more original perspective. You've made a good point explaining how Shakespeare shows "differing perspectives" to give a larger, more nuanced view of a theme.

"This use of the Fool is incredibly clever, providing comic relief while also adding to and guiding the plot through his songs." --> That's a terrific summary of why fools in Shakespeare's plays are so great. (If you want to try some more Shakespeare, Twelfth Night has a similarly interesting fool character!) As a suggestion, it would be of great help to the reader if you put topic sentences such as this quoted one first in the paragraph. That helps signpost the main idea of the paragraph and make it more cohesive as an article.

3. I've noticed a lot of long complex sentences in this piece. While that's conventional for academic work, I would still advise cutting out unnecessary words where you can - as well as varying sentence lengths and types, especially in the first paragraph.

When reading the first paragraph, the reader sees this chunk of long complex sentences, which can make it difficult to get the gist of the text. Here's one way you might vary sentence lengths for readability:

Throughout my early schooling, teachers always talked around Shakespeare. (medium-length complex, with some parts paraphrased and passive form changed to active)
They said we would only read him in high school. (Slightly shorter simple sentence)
Because of this, Shakespeare . . . understand. (Long complex)

I've left the last sentence the same, because the third sentence position is actually a really good place to have a long bombastic bit of description, so you've nailed it there.

As a somewhat hesitant Shakespeare reader myself, I really liked seeing your perspective on your first Shakespeare play. Though a bit wordy, this is still a nicely balanced review that gives a sense of depth without getting too mired in tiny details. Hopefully you find some of these comments helpful and keep sharing your thoughts on reading.


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5 Reviews

Points: 334
Reviews: 5

Fri Sep 18, 2020 3:12 am
s1l2 wrote a review...

Hello sorrynotsorry

that's my review .

In fact, I do not read the works of great writers, because they are difficult to understand, and I usually read summaries of them, so I read a summary of Hamlet and I think I read another about Macbeth, and thanks to your wonderful efforts I have known many about the play King Lear, I wish you more excellence.

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408 Reviews

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Reviews: 408

Mon Sep 14, 2020 9:37 pm
JustPerks wrote a review...

Hello there! I wanted to give a quick review on this essay of yours, especially because this is about Shakespeare.

Now, I say that, but I must admit I haven’t read the King Lear play before, but I do recognize the name. Hamlet is my favorite play from Shakespeare, mostly because I caught a really great adaptation and I thought the soliloquies were well-done. I can definitely relate to not understand some of the text in these plays, but I think it’s rewarding to “translate” what the original words mean to then in more regularly used terms.

For an analytical essay, I think most of this reads as an introduction, rather than an actual analysis, or it’s based on how deeply you want to analyze this play. The summary of the play doesn’t really count as analysis, although it’s important for the red set to understand what context some of these quotes/details are in, when they are explained upon further. In addition, I like having the section of comedic moments, but I think that needs to be applied in some way to how you’re analyzing this play.

I think this works well as an introductory sort, but if you want to be more analytical, then your thesis statement, or main argument/topic sentence, displayed here:

William Shakespeare’s King Lear is a clever yet gruesome play that exhibits important themes through its contrasting storylines.
needs to have more specifics — what “important themes” and how are they showed in the play? Also, a random note but plays should be underlined or italicized in a typed article!

I like reading your thoughts about this, for I think you make some interesting comparisons between this text and folk tales, not to mention I always like some humor!

Nicely done! Good luck with future writing!

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91 Reviews

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Reviews: 91

Mon Sep 14, 2020 7:19 pm
MoonIris wrote a review...

Hi sorrynotsorry,
I'm here with a review. I really enjoyed reading this. I personally already read Romeo and Juliet from Sheckspear. I never thought that it was something very complicated but we haven't talked a lot about him. This literary piece made me look forward to discovering him. In the first part, you explain why you "feared" him. Later on, you explain in a quite simple way the story which made me look forward to reading it. You also use a comparison to a well-known story, the three little pigs, which made it even easier to understand it. The story is explained in a way that doesn't give away to much information and let us discover on our own as well.
Now, I found a phew grammar mistakes that I would like to point out.
"Even through my limited understanding of the language"
Here after "even" it should though.
"Lear ends up disinheriting Cordelia, and"
I don't think you need the comma after Cordeila as you have and. You can remove it or add it after and.
" he descends down the metaphorical "
You don't need to add down after descends. You can't descend up so it's unnecessary.
"football player’ (1.4.80), because apparently"
You don't need to add a comma after (1.4.80).
"moonshine of you,, you whoreson "
You have two commas one after the other one. You should cut down one of them.

This is all for my review. I really enjoyed reviwing this. I hope my review helped you and didn't offend you in any way,

Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.
— William James