Comparative | King Lear | Cultural Context, Literary Genre, General Vision and Viewpoint

CULTURAL CONTEXT
Shakespearean works often resonate with existing stories. The Bard adapts a general story line to expose human character and to address the issues of his time.

King Lear is based on The True Chronicle Historie of King Leir and his Three Daughters. There is no consensus on the author of this play.

Religion and the Heavens
Shakespeare’s version is different: his play is pagan rather than Christian and ends tragically.

The stars directed life, or so it was thought during Shakespeare's times.

...Things that love night love not such nights as these; the wrathful skies 
Gallow the very wanderers of the dark

...which means...


Even creatures of the night aren’t out tonight because of this storm. The angry skies scare even the animals that are usually out in the dark...

Let it be so. Thy truth then be thy dower. 
For by the sacred radiance of the sun, 
The mysteries of Hecate and the night, 
By all the operation of the orbs

...which means...

That's fine then. Your honesty will be all the inheritance you'll get. I swear by the sacred sun, by the mysterious moon, and by all the planets that rule our lives, that I disown you now as my daughter.


Social status
England was a society that values age and hierarchy. Abuse of this order is shown by Edmund's attack on Gloucester and Goneril and Regan's actions towards Lear.
Illegitimacy is an interesting concept to discuss if you are comparing King Lear to a text set in modern times.

Kingship and unity
The play colourfully portrays the consequences of dividing a kingdom. So wouldn't it be a great act of wisdom to unite a kingdom?
England and Scotland were made into one kingdom by King James (James VI of Scotland, or equivalently, James I of England). 
The play was presented to the King, who became the patron of Shakespeare’s acting company. 
(Conflict of interest, anyone?)

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LITERARY GENRE

A Shakespearean tragedy is a genre of its own. A flawed character dies, but the playwright leaves us with the hope of a brighter future and a powerful cautionary message. It addresses the destructive spiral of consequences arising from a rash decision of dividing a kingdom. This decision is a reflection on King Lear's character. He is a tragic hero: a flawed individual. He is arrogant, proud and vain, lacking insight into his own feeling and feelings of others.

Yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.

...which means...

He barely ever understood his own feelings.

The best and soundest of his time hath been but rash.

...which means...

Even when he was younger and completely with it, he was always impulsive.

Full translation into modern day English (searchable)

Crescendo moments that require attention in a question on Literary Genre include the opening scene in Lear's palace when he banishes Cordelia, the introduction of Edmund, the blinding of Gloucester, the banishing of Lear, the storm and Cordelia's death. 

GENERAL VISION AND VIEWPOINT

Insanity
King Lear goes insane as a reaction to his daughter's ingratitude.

No, I will weep no more. In such a night 
To shut me out? Pour on; I will endure. 
In such a night as this? O Regan, Goneril! 
Your old kind father, whose frank heart gave all— 
O, that way madness lies; let me shun that; 
No more of that.

...which means...

No, I won’t cry anymore. I still can't believe they threw me out on a night like this! But let it rain; I’ll survive. On a night like this? Oh, Regan, Goneril, your kind old father gave you everything. If I think about it any more I’ll go mad. I don't want for that to happen. No more of these thoughts.

Nature
Multiple reference to nature emphasise its importance
Gloucester calls Edmund a loyal and natural boy and Edgar an unnatural, detested, brutish villain.
The storm is used for pathetic fallacy (attributing human emotions and traits to nature) showing the state of Lear's mind and the disorderly kingdom.

Power
It is power, status and money that Edmund and Lear's eldest daughters seek. It is what motivates their actions. You could also argue that it is an act of revenge because they were the less values children of their respective fathers.

Betrayal
Edmund betrays Gloucester, Edgar, Regan and Goneril.
Regan and Goneril betray their father and each other.
Duke of Burgundy forsakes Cordelia.

Loyalty
Edgar is loyal to Gloucester.
Gloucester, Kent, the Fool and Cordelia are loyal to Lear/

Appearance versus reality
Edmund's and Lear's eldest daughter's selfish lies trick their elderly parents. Gloucester's blindness is symbolic of both Lear's and Gloucester's inability to judge character.

Bittersweet reconciliation
Gloucester and Edgar reconcile before his heart burst smilingly [which means he died happily]. Similarly, Lear and Cordelia make peace before she dies.

Hope
The finale vindicates Edgar and leaves him in charge of the kingdom. There is no character in teh play who could do a better job of it. This leaves us with hope. 

Tragedy
The death toll is significant, so the hope that is offered comes at a great cost. Much as Shakespeare offers hope, the play is ultimately tragic.


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