King Lear Every situation in life has an appearance, and a reality. The appearance of a situation is usually what we want to see. The reality, what is really going on, is not always as obvious to the observer. People who cannot penetrate through the superficial appearance of a situation will see only what they want to believe is true; often, the reality of a situation is unappealing to the perceiver. These are the circumstances surrounding the conflict that occurs in William Shakespeare’s King Lear.
As an audience, you find that there is a major character flaw in the characters King Lear and the Earl of Gloucester. In the story, neither of these two men are able to establish the difference, in their minds, between what people are saying and doing, and what these people’s true motives are behind their actions. This enables Lear and Gloucester to be betrayed by their own blood, and become isolated from those who have their interests at heart. It is the inability to differentiate between appearance and reality that causes Lear and Gloucester to fall. It seems, that in King Lear, appearance, or reputation defines character. Edgar says as much in soliliquy, when he disguises himself as Poor Tom.
As soon as he changes out of his expensive clothing, and into his beggar drab he decides Edgar I nothing am.(II.iii.21). Although he is still Edgar beneath his disguise, when he is encountered by his own father Gloucester and his godfather Lear, neither of the two recognise him. It becomes apparent that as soon as Edgar’s costume changed, all perceptions of his character did as well. This same situation is paralleled when Kent, also banished, returns in disguise as Lear’s servant Caius. When Lear first sees his long time confident he asks How Now? What art thou?(I.iv.9). One wonders how, after forty years of service, Lear would not recognize his good servant Kent, even in disguise.
With this in mind, we can conclude that Lear and Gloucester are both very quick to accept people at face value, without any attempt to gain a deeper understanding of them. Similarly, we learn in King Lear, that how we perceive ourselves, may not be how we are perceived by others. Lear, for example, believes himself to be a great and respected King, who is wealthy and powerful. Nevertheless, he is constantly reminded by the actions of Goneril, and Regan, that he is an old man who has lost his kingdom, his only faithful daughter, and his wits. O, sir, you are very old! Nature in you stands on the very verge of her confine. You should be ruled, and led by some discretion that discerns your state (II.iv.146-148.) this is reason and way that Regan feels her father should be removed from power.
Lear, ever blinded, doesn’t see that his two daughters are trying to steal his kingdom. Consequently, when Goneril and Regan are cutting down his train, he still believes that their love can be measured in words and numbers Thy fifty yet doth double five and twenty, and thou art twice her love (II.iv.261-262). Lear believes that because Goneril will allow him twice as many servants in her home, she must love him twice as much as Regan does. This constant want of praise and lauding makes Lear very susceptible to persuasion by his evil daughters, and ultimately leads to his losses. Gloucester, also perceives himself differently than the people around him. He sees himself as a loyal, respected man holding some power and status.
On the contrary, Regan, and her co-conspirators decide in act three that Gloucester is such a traitor (III.vii.36) because he has warned Lear and his party to escape to Dover. Gloucester, however, believes himself to be loyal, because he is loyal to the King. But, at the same time, Edmund and his party believe allegiance to the King is a betrayal to their cause. Hence, when Gloucester admits to having warned Lear of the enemy’s plans, his eyes are gauged out by Cornwall and Regan as punishment for his betrayal. It is interesting, however, that although Lear and Gloucester were both blinded by their own self-image, it was only in real blinding that Gloucester was able to see Edmund in his true role as the bad seed.
Lear, unfortunately took much longer to make this realisation and suffered greatly for it. So much of the turmoil in King Lear, comes from nothing, that is, nothing being said or done. In particular, we can look at how Lear, in his desire to hear how well he is loved, makes the mistake of trusting the substance of spoken words. Lear, vainly asked each of his daughters to tell him how much they love him, planning to divide his kingdom accordingly. King Lear basks in the praise from Goneril and Regan which flatters him, and professes to love him more than anything else in the world.
Cordelia’s honest non-answer means nothing to him after being so wordily praised by Goneril and Regan. Lear warns his daughter that nothing will come of nothing(I.i.92.). Subsequently, because Lear is more concerned with his ego than he is concerned with the truth, he mistakes Cordelia’s response for an insult. What Lear doesn’t know, however, is that the reason Cordelia won’t speak the words that Lear wants to hear is because they don’t hold, and cannot express the way she feels about her father. She says this herself while Goneril and Regan are so busily praising Lear What shall Cordelia speak? Love, and be silent(I.i.63-64).
It is Lear’s inability to see past Regan and Goneril’s deceit and into Cordelia’s honesty that pushes his only faithful daughter so far away from him and isolates him from one who loves him so much. In the case of the Earl of Gloucester, it is ironic that if he had only trusted in words (the way that Lear did in act one), his ruin never would have occurred. This irony is evident when Edmund says the forged letter he holds is nothing (truthfully). Gloucester will not trust the truth of the words, The quality of nothing hath not such need to hide itself. Let’s see.
Come, if it be nothing, I shall not need spectacles (I.ii.33-35). Gloucester has to see the letter himself to determine that it truly is nothing. Since Gloucester only trusts in what he can see, and Lear will only believe in what he hears, both of these men will be deceived over and over again until they are able to get past these surface concepts and develop some understanding of reality. From what has been said, it can be seen that the fall of King Lear, paired with the subplot of Gloucester’s betrayal by Edmund provides many parallels which reinforce one another. We watch, in King Lear, these two aging men fall from positions of respect and power to being the simple and abused nothings of society. Furthermore, we see these same two men believe themselves to be one way, though they are perceived by others quite differently. Lastly, we learn in watching the play that valuing things by how much they appear to be, not how much they truly are worth gives a false representation of the truth.
On the whole, Shakespeare’s King Lear is making a statement about appearances and realities; specifically, you can’t accept things at face value, you must search for deeper truths and avoid deceit. English Essays.