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Is 'King Lear' a Tragedy: Argumentative Essay

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The Values of Tragedy

At the climax of every storyline, a hero emerges to settle the conflict and bring issues to light. This hero will oftentimes endure pain and suffering for the greater good. In the case of characters within “King Lear” the term “Tragic Hero” is portrayed through the king himself. Through analyzing the uprise of a character, certain conflicts that may arise, and the choices one makes through selfish remarks, it is evident that one's downfall is a direct result of one's personal flaws. Aristotle believed that every good tragedy must make the audience hold feelings of pity and fear, as he saw these two emotions to be impactful to the theme of catharsis. In Aristotle's words, “catharsis is the purgation or purification of emotions displayed in their fullness with no filter”. He uses this as a metaphor to demonstrate how tragedy can affect us and how it brings out a character's true colors when faced with different scenarios.

In William Shakespeare’s novel The Tragedy of King Lear, the emotions of pain, loss, and suffering are intense but quite merciless. Through this, Shakespeare importance of how blind one can become when faced with a dilemma, how these scenarios impact oneself, and how one portrays themselves when put into certain scenarios. When tragic heroes are to face a downfall, Aristotle says 'pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves.'. At the beginning of the novel, King Lear decided to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia (1.1.40-55). It was decided that the daughter that loves him the most will obtain the majority of the kingdom. During the division of shares, Goneril and Regan profess their love for their father but Cordelia refuses to as she says “You have begot me, bred me, loved me. I return those duties back… To love my father all”(1.1.98-106), this results in Cordelia to become disowned and unworthy of her family's name. That Cordelia is not entitled to any of the shares and is banished from his life, meaning the kingdom is divided between Goneril and Regan. The two sisters, Goneril and Regan, are desperate and will say anything to obtain his land and power, unfortunately, Lear does not see that. However, King Lear creates an ultimatum, “That troop with majesty. Ourself, by monthly course, / with reservations by a hundred knights… The name, and all the addition to a king.” (1.1.134-139).

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After the division of the kingdom has been given to Goneril and Regan, King Lear begins his retirement by moving into Goneril's castle for the month accompanied by his one hundred knights partying and drinking. Goneril complains to her steward, Oswald, that Lear’s knights “are growing riotous” and that her father is an obnoxious guest (1.3.7). Instead of confronting her father about his behavior, she orders her servants to “put on what weary negligence they please” (1.3.13) and behave rudely toward Lear and his knights. When Lear experiences Oswald’s rudeness he becomes very offended that his own daughter is allowing this. He fails to see what his daughters are really up to thus allowing his love for them, to cloud his judgment. Lear chooses to turn a blind eye when it comes to his daughter's obsession with materialism. With Goneril's wishes for Lear to move in with his daughter Regan, he soon after realizes he made an irrational decision by giving away his land, believing that he would still remain the powerful authoritative figure that he was once. Lear did not thoroughly think this through and suffered the consequences of giving away more than he once thought. Lear exhibits feelings of fear as he is no longer the powerful, almighty king he once was, allowing the feeling of regret to sink in. Fear gets the best of us which may sometimes result in a lack of reasonable judgment as well as worsen the pre-existing situation due to the intense feelings it creates within. Lear’s tragedy begins to take place when Goneril informs her sister, Regan, about the behavior of her father and his knights. This news results in Lear being conflicted with an ultimatum.

Lear and his daughters argue about the circumstances Lear created. Regan demands that her father must limit his number of knights “to bring five but twenty. To no more. Will I give place but notice” in order to live with herself or Goneril(2.4.246-247). Lear regrets giving his power to Goneril and without hesitation calls on nature to make her childless wife. Even in a state of betrayal, Lear retaliates against his daughters, which does not benefit him in the slightest. When Lear runs out and into the storm, Lear finally realizes that banishing Cordelia and Kent was a big mistake, as they did well by his side. As Lear’s fool jokingly criticizes Lear and his previously made mistakes, it is as if the Fool acts as his conscience and gets into Lear’s head. Lear spends most of his life letting his emotions get the best of him, even when he comes back to his senses, he continues to suffer and finds it insurmountable to recover from his daughters belittling him. This causes Lear slowly starts to “lose his wits” and feels as if. Social hierarchies are often based on an individual’s sovereignty and wealth. These individuals are always trying to tweak their appearance based on the opinions of others and how they perceive themselves. King Lear having endured his highs and lows, it seems as if whatever he does places him in conflicting situations. However, these situations do give him a better insight as although Lear was once totally obsessed with power, wealth, and his social position, he now obsesses over social equality, moral righteousness, and a selfless attitude. Even though being deceived by his own blood and has his manpower taken away from him, the stubborn Lear finally comes to the realization that power and wealth aren't everything. For some, criticism is hard to handle and King Lear is no exception. Lear is often seen throughout act three trying to fix his mistakes with loved ones like Cordelia and Kent.

The main problem with Lear is that he cared too much about his social standing in society, and at the end of the novel, he knows that his family is more important than anything. In (4.6.) when Lear is portrayed as a madman, he also acknowledges that reality doesn't always live up to what it seems to be. He continues to relive the idea that he is in a conscientious state to avoid criticism from others, failing to uphold any form of power he once had. While Lear is in his delusional state, he explains in (4.6.184-185)“When we are born we cry that we are come / To this great stage of fools” his views on the human. He believes that whatever an individual has dealt with, that is their fate. Aforementioned Aristotle says that catharsis is the “purgation or purification of emotions displayed in their fullness with no filter”. Shakespeare portrays catharsis to those who experience tragedy with the consequences of said emotions. Catharsis allows someone to feel relief after feeling such strong and powerful emotions they have been holding onto. Catharsis is beneficial only to King Lear, as the play does not relieve everyone's stress except for his. Aristotle’s metaphor in “King Lear” written by William Shakespeare is easy to catch, as, by the end of the novel, feelings of pity and fear are explained in Aristotle's metaphor. “Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest, lend less than thou owest”(1.4.121-123) explains the importance of how blind one can become when faced with a dilemma, as King Lear was too blind to see how his daughters wanted wealth and power, how these scenarios impact oneself which results in King Lear to gradually lose his mind, and how one behaves when put into certain scenarios.

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Is ‘King Lear’ a Tragedy: Argumentative Essay. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 24, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/is-king-lear-a-tragedy-argumentative-essay/
“Is ‘King Lear’ a Tragedy: Argumentative Essay.” Edubirdie, 21 Apr. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/is-king-lear-a-tragedy-argumentative-essay/
Is ‘King Lear’ a Tragedy: Argumentative Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/is-king-lear-a-tragedy-argumentative-essay/> [Accessed 24 Feb. 2024].
Is ‘King Lear’ a Tragedy: Argumentative Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Apr 21 [cited 2024 Feb 24]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/is-king-lear-a-tragedy-argumentative-essay/
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