King Lear Versus Death of a Salesman: Comparative Essay

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To introduce all the elements, it is important to understand the hamartia of the main character. According to Aristotle, hamartia falls under three categories; to make a mistake, to offend morally, and error of judgment resulting from ignorance or arrogance. In King Lear, Shakespeare portrays a king, whose supreme arrogance, superiority, and great animosity bring King Lear’s tragic downfall. King Lear’s suffering and calamity cause chaos in Lear’s life, eventually leading to his demise which achieves catharsis in the literary work. From the first moment, Shakespeare introduces King Lear as an insecure individual who runs the entirety of his kingdom and reduces him to abject misery. King Lear distributes his kingdom based on his daughter’s flattery and he divides his kingdom between Goneril and Regan who say they love him the most. Unlike Cordelia, who expresses her genuine love for her father “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty, according to my bond; no more nor less” (1.1.4) Cordelia’s integrity prevents her from making false declarations to gain wealth. However, King Lear is not satisfied with Cordelia’s words, he banishes Cordelia. Thus, proving King Lear’s hamartia, and error of judgment due to ignorance. King Lear’s sense of superiority is his greatest hamartia which acts as the main internal force pushing him towards his inaccurate judgment, his rash decisions, and ultimate destruction lead King Lear to his tragic end. After King Lear is stripped of his possessions and identity, he unconsciously goes mad to salvage his pride, unable to recognize his stripped self. “Does any here know me? Why this is not Lear. Doth Lear walk thus? Speak thus? Where are his eyes? Either his notion weakens, or his discerning’s are lethargied. Ha, sleeping or waking? Sure, ‘tis not so. Who it is that can tell me who I am?” (1.4.10) After King Lear is treated unfairly by his daughter, Lear does not quite know how to define himself due to his loss of power and respect. Lear has turned insane as he lives under the illusion of the king. King Lear believes that madness is a desirable option rather than accepting defeat and suffering the loss of his kingdom, along with his arrogance shattering. Lear's hamartia arises from his inability to strike a balance between his temperament and arrogant manner. As Aristotle explains, the audience is filled with oleos, as uncontrollably everything in King Lear’s life is taken away. A tragic hero is an ordinary person whose downfall is not deserved and someone whose decisions impact a nation. Just as King Lear’s destiny was altered from a wealthy and powerful king to an ordinary man.

To compare, Arthur Miller uses Willy Loman, a common man to portray the tragic hero. Comparable to King Lear, In Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman is full of pride and excessive arrogance as he continues to live his life as an unsuccessful salesman. Willy Loman’s tragic flaw is his belief in the American dream. Constantly underwhelmed and unsatisfied by the reality of his life as he chooses to follow his path of fantasy ideals. Willy Loman’s pride restrains him from seeing the true cause of his unsuccessful lifestyle, instead, Willy Loman conveys the blame somewhere else. “There’s more people! That’s what’s ruining this country! The competition is maddening! Smell the stink from that apartment house! And the one on the other side…How can they whip cheese?” (1.1.12) This quote captures Willy’s fantasy ideals. Willy Loman believes the reason for his unsuccessful business is because of a corrupt country and America's growing population which is decreasing his clientele. Willy also holds a strong belief in the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interests, is a man who gets ahead and becomes successful. This impels Willy Loman to become eager about his appearance at the expense of doing what is right to change his financial issues. “Be liked and you will never want. You take me, for instance. I never have to wait in line to see a buyer. “Willy Loman is here!” That’s all they must know, and I go right through” (1.1.13) Willy continues to base his success on the likeness and opinions of others. Willy’s self-sense of pride is so strong that he believes he is destined for success, regardless of what he accomplishes or does not accomplish. As Willy Loman lives in his fantasy world, his excessive pride and lack of understanding of his financial situation drive to his downfall. Willy Loman commits suicide so that his family can receive the insurance money. This brings catharsis, Willy Loman did not deserve such an ending because overall, he was just an average man who was trying to become successful in such a large business world.

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Anagnorisis is one of the most important elements of the tragic hero, according to Aristotle. It is when the character realizes his flaws and admits he was wrong. In King Lear, this critical discovery by a tragic hero is made by King Lear as previously mentioned, he divides his kingdom. When giving his Kingdom to his daughters King Lear has not realized that he was surrendering the authority he previously possessed as King. Shakespeare uses this confusion to subsequently produce an instant of clarity for Lear after becoming banished from his kingdom with solely his fool by his side. As King Lear realizes that his downfall from the kingdom is due to his arrogance. Lear quotes “Pray, do not mock me: I am a very foolish fond old man” (4.7. 190) Shakespeare displays Lear’s realization that he was foolish to entrust his kingdom based on love, between his daughters. This moment is critical for Lear and for the catharsis, which is slowly being developed, the audience feels empathy for Lear as he is now left with nothing, due to putting trust in his daughters. “Is it not as this mouth should tear his hand for lifting goof to’t? but I will punish home. No, I will weep no more. In such a night To shut me out! Pour on, I will endure.” (3.4.102) This reinforces the defeat King Lear has. Despite his insanity, Lear shows a sign of reason in his madness by becoming aware of his mistake. Like anagnorisis, peripeteia is also a reversal of the situation, however, it is a change of fortune for the tragic hero in the plot. King Lear’s banishment forms the very kingdom he previously gifted to his two daughters acts as a turning purpose within the play. Lear’s actions showed how greedy Lear was with his daughter’s love, an element of tragedy that appears I lay as peripeteia. King Lear goes from a powerful king to not being wanted by any of his daughter’s. King Lear’s great plan, unfortunately, fails as both Goneril and Regan begin to lot against Lear. “Then we must look to receive from his age, not alone the imperfection of long engrafted condition, but therewithal the unruly waywardness that infirm and choleric years bring with them.” (1.1.20) Goneril and Regan plot to gain power from the kingdom after Cordelia’s banishment. The daughter’s betrayal of their prideful father ultimately leads Lear to have less power than his daughters. This achieves catharsis, as the anagnorisis and peripeteia bring the character to their catastrophic downfall, the audience feels oleos.

Anagnorisis is also prevalent in Death of a Salesman, as Willy Loman realizes the mistakes he has made and how they have impacted his financial instability. Anagnorisis for Willy occurs towards the end of the plot, Willy never says his mistakes, however, Willy realizes he will never succeed in the business world as Willy kills himself, to allow Biff to collect the life insurance money. To compare to King Lear, Willy does not achieve the self-realization typical of the tragic hero. His suicide represents his discovery of truth. As Willy does understand that he cannot achieve much in the fundamental nature of his profession, he does not realize his failure and the betrayal of self. “He had the wrong dreams. All, all, wrong.” (2.14.111) After Willy’s death, Biff depicts that Willy’s mind was never in the correct place. “A change from ignorance to knowledge.” (Aristotle) His prideful and ignorant conscience stopped him from being able to provide for his family. As oleos develop, Willy Loman has died for his actions, he realizes that the only product that he has sold, is himself. The implication of Anagnorisis develops the plot of the tragic hero in this play, a realization of weakness. Willy’s poor job performance, a drastic reduction in sales and his outburst in his office was to get him fired. Peripeteia is exhibited as Willy’s neighbor Charley is concerned for his well being and financial situation. Through empathy, Charley offers Willy a position at his workplace to work for him. “I offered you a job. You can make fifty dollars a week. And I won’t send you on the road” (2.3.74) Willy constantly goes to Charley to ask for money but working for Charley cannot happen for Willy because of his hubris. Willy Loman’s existence represents a reversal of fortune, because of his tragic flaw. Willy Loman’s life goal was to become a successful businessman like Biff, however, his quest to achieve the American dream ended in a catastrophic failure. Willy’s family is now in debt and he is not noticed by his peers. The pitiful salesman suicides believing that he can bring a little good to the great harm he has done. A common man who has died for the American dream, a Phobos most people have. Hamartia and hubris bring Willy Loman down achieve a cathartic response in the audience.

The end to a traditional Aristotelean tragedy is formed from hamartia and hubris which brings catastrophic consequences towards the tragic hero. Thus, presenting a cathartic response from the audience. Hubris is when the hero displays immense pride in themselves. Shakespeare intentionally uses King Lear’s anger towards Kent, King Lear’s servant, to express his hubris. “Do kill thy physician, and the fee bestow Upon thy foul disease. Revoke thy gift, or whilst I can vent clamor from my throat, I’ll tell thy dost evil” (1.1.25) Kent warns Lear not to banish Cordelia, believing it will be the demise of the kingdom. Lear refuses his idea and chooses to banish Kent along with Cordelia. Shakespeare shows that King Lear’s hubris is so strong that he is unable to admit his wrongdoings, even if it is for the good of the kingdom. King Lear’s arrogance results in the destruction of both his family, kingdom and himself. King Lear’s catastrophic, impulsive actions lead to the death of his daughter Cordelia. King Lear’s inevitable death is the last characteristic of a tragic hero. As Lear reflects on his poor judgment, Lear and Cordelia are imprisoned by Edmund. Edmund calls for the execution of Cordelia. As Lear watches the death of his daughter, he is not able to cope with the overwhelming feeling of guilt and devastation. “And my poor fool is hanged. No, no, no life? Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, And thou no breath at all? Thou ‘It comes no more, Never, never, never, never, never.” (5.3.369) Shakespeare refuses to console us as to why Cordelia has died. It is difficult not to oleos Lear due to the extremity of his punishments in the play. He is banished from the kingdom he chose to gift his daughters; he banished the only daughter who truly loved him, and he suffered as Cordelia died in his arms. King Lear as a tragic hero shows insight into Shakespeare’s intentions to reach the goal of catharsis.

To emulate the hamartia and hubris in Death of a Salesman, in comparison to the Aristotelean tragic hero. In Death of a Salesman, the cathartic moment in the story is when Willy Loman realizes that he is a failure. It is Willy’s arrogance that leads him to believe he is an eminent businessman and father; however, his prideful self is the exact hamartia which leads to his downfall. “Yeah, heh? When this game is over, Charley, you’ll be laughing out of the other side of your face. They’ll be calling him another Reg Grange. Twenty-five thousand a year.” (2.4.70) Willy’s insecurities are shown as he speaks about what his son Biff will accomplish in life. Willy’s also believes that Charley offering a job to him is insulting, his pride does not let Willy see how generous Charley is. To develop a cathartic response, as the play had developed as mentioned, Willy has a moment of discovery. Willy realizes that he can not amount to much in life, and he will never be remembered as he thought he would have. However, at the end of the play, when he believes that Biff loves him is when Willy chooses to end his life. His entire life Willy was never the best father figure yet, he always wanted the best for his sons, especially Biff with his potential. “Can you imagine that magnificence with twenty thousand dollars in his pocket?” (2.19.108) Willy recognizes what he must do for his family. Willy runs into oncoming traffic, which kills him, so Biff can receive twenty thousand dollars to fulfill his life as Willy never did. “I can’t understand it. At this time especially. First time in thirty-five years we were just about free and clear. He only needed a little salary. He was even finished with the dentist.” (2.110) Oleos is felt as Linda weeps to find the reason behind her husband’s suicide.

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