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King Lear


Themes Of King Lear (cont d) D) Gods Or A Godless Universe (Order vs Chaos) King Lear is a bleak play and seems to question, at times, ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: King Lear

King Lear
  • Critical Study Of Text

What Is This Unit About?
  • This unit asks us to look at a text (King Lear)
    and how that text has been read and interpreted
    in different contexts.

New Criticism (or Formalist Criticism)
  • In the past it was believed that a composer
    created a text and put all of the meaning into it
  • All the reader had to do was to figure out what
    the writer meant
  • This meant that the meaning of a text was always
    fixed and never changed

Themes Of King Lear
  • Some ideas that Shakespeare may have wanted to
    explore are
  • A) Vision Blindness
  • References to eyes seeing are a recurring motif
    in the play. Some examples are
  • Dearer than eyesight

Themes Of King Lear (contd)
  • See better Lear
  • Old fond eyesIll pluck you out
  • Gloucester having his eyes plucked out
  • Get thee glass eyesto see the things thou dost
  • I have no want of eyes, I stumbled when I saw
  • Your Task- Find some more quotes related to
    blindness, vision, the eyes etc

Themes Of King Lear (contd)
  • B) Truth, Deception Disguise
  • No-one in the play is what they seem to be
  • Goneril Regan seem loving but are not
  • Cordelia seems unloving but is not
  • Edmund seems loyal but is not
  • Edgar seems treacherous but is not
  • Kent returns in disguise
  • Edgar returns in disguise

Themes Of King Lear (contd)
  • There are constant references to truth in the
    play, such as
  • So young my Lord and true
  • I can keep honest counsel
  • That such a slave should wear a sword who wears
    no honesty
  • He must speak truth
  • On whose foolish honesty my practices ride
  • Your Task- Find some more quotes that relate to
    truth, honesty or deception

Themes Of King Lear (contd)
  • C) Madness Reason
  • There is a constant interplay between reason
    insanity in the play. Notice how The Fool often
    speaks most wisely. Some quotes that relate to
    this theme are
  • -Be Kent unmannerly when Lear is mad
  • -I would not be mad
  • Thou should not have been old before thou east
  • Reason in madness
  • Your Task-Find some more quotes and examples
    related to madness reason.

Themes Of King Lear (contd)
  • D) Gods Or A Godless Universe (Order vs Chaos)
  • King Lear is a bleak play and seems to question,
    at times, whether we live in a chaotic, Godless
  • -Thy swearest thy gods in vain
  • -As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.
    They kill us for their sport
  • The stars above us govern our condition
  • Upon such sacrifices the gods themselves throw
  • Your Task- Find some more quotes related to the

Shakespeares Techniques Devices
  • We now understand some of the ideas that
    Shakespeare explored in his text-but we must also
    understand how he communicated those ideas. Some
    dramatic techniques used by Shakespeare included
  • -Dramatic Irony-e.g. we know that Goneril, Regan
    Edmund are sinister, but their fathers do not
  • -Natural Sympathy-as chaos reigns in the human
    world it is reflected in the natural world
    through the eclipse, the storm etc

Shakespeares Techniques Devices (contd)
  • -Motifs-recurring ideas such as eyes
  • -Symbolism-those motifs symbolise aspects of the
    human condition (e.g. the eye motif symbolises
    Lears blindness)
  • -Imagery-e.g. Goneril Regan are often described
    using animal imagery-How sharper than a
    serpents tooth it is to have a thankless child,
    Shell flay thy wolfish visage, Sharp toothed
    unkindness, like a vulture, Tigers not daughter
  • -Soliloquy-used to reveal a characters inner
  • -Juxtaposition-e.g. of the Lear Gloucester
  • Your Task- List each of the Dramatic Devices
    above and find one new example of each from the

Reader Response Criticism
  • In recent times, though, it has been accepted
    that the responder also makes meaning in a text
  • Each responder will read a text differently and
    meaning will change.
  • These ideas came (in part) from the work of
    Roland Barthes who declared that The Death Of
    The Author because, he said, meaning came from
    the connections of language and culture made by
    the Responder.

Critical Perspectives-What Factors Affect The Way
A Person Reads A Text?
  • Different people will read a text differently
  • They live in different times (Context)
  • They live in different places (Culture)
  • They have different attitudes, values and beliefs
  • They are male or female (Gender, Patriarchy,
  • They come from different classes in society

Critical Perspectives-Flauberts Parrot (Julian
  • The past is a receding coastline and we are on a
    boat. Along the side of the boat is a line of
    telescopes. Each telescope seems to show the
    whole, the unchanging truth. But this is an
    illusion, each telescope shows only a part of the

Some Readings Of King Lear
  • King Lear can be read in different ways
  • A) Formalist Criticism-All the meaning of the
    text is found within the text. The text is only
    about the ideas that Shakespeare was interested
  • B) Biographical Criticism-It is a text which
    reflects Shakespeares own life fears (e.g.
    about old age, dying etc)
  • C) Historical Criticism-It is a text which
    reflects the values attitudes of the culture in
    which it was composed (e.g. The Feudal System,
    The Divine Right Of Kings etc)

Some Readings Of King Lear
  • D) Gender Criticism-It is a text about Patriarchy
    and what happens when men surrender power to
  • E)Mythological Criticism-It is a text which
    appropriates iconic, mythical stories (e.g.
    Cinderella, the myth of Paris, the myth of Psyche
  • F)Christian Criticism-It is a text about sin and

Some Readings Of King Lear
  • G) Feminist Criticism-It is a text about a strong
    female hero (Cordelia) who challenges the
    patriarchal inequality of her society
  • H) Freudean Criticism-It is a text that explores
    psychological issues related to incest parental
  • I) Marxist Criticism-It is a text that explores
    what happens when the wealthy and powerful lose
    their status

Some Readings Of King Lear
  • J) Existentialist Reading-Existentialism is the
    idea that, although there is no controlling force
    in the universe (i.e. no God), individuals have
    the power to make their own destiny.
  • K) Reader Response Criticism-It is a text in
    which we have to find our own meaning based on
    our own context experiences.

Some Interpretations Of King Lear
  • Over time different people have read Lear in
    different ways
  • -A retelling of a contemporary Court Case in
    which Brian Annesley was unjustly treated by two
    of his daughters but defended by his third,
  • -A retelling of the Phillip Sydneys The Tale Of
    The Blind King Of Paphlagonia

Some Interpretations Of King Lear
  • -In 1681 Nahum Tate rewrote the ending of Lear.
    In this version Cordelias army was victorious
    and Lear returned to the throne. Edgar Cordelia
    married. This version was popular until the 18th
    century as it reinforced the prevailing (neo
    classicist) belief in a just ordered universe..
  • -The Romantic Movement of the 19th Century
    returned to the original text applauded the
    emotion imagination of the play. Coleridge
    others saw it as a play about a test of love.

Some Interpretations Of The Play
  • -The end of the 19th Century and the early 20th
    Century saw the collapse of the existing world
    order (WW1 etc) and a new pessimism in world
    affairs. This period saw the first nihilistic
    reading of Lear, initiated by Algernon Swinburne.
    This reading suggested that the play questions
    the existence of order, justice and, ultimately,

Some Interpretations Of The Play
  • -In the 20th Century AC Bradley thought the play
    was purgative-a story of sin redemption. This
    was the first Christian interpretation of the
    play. RW Chambers took this further arguing that
    the conclusion of the play reflects the victory
    of divine will on earth.
  • -John Holloway was also interested in the
    Christian dimension of the text and saw it as a
    mythical retelling of the Book of Job. He saw
    importance in the refusal (by several characters)
    to hide from the pain suffering of life.

Some Interpretations Of The Play
  • -In the 1960s Jan Kott wrote an essay claiming
    that Lear was an absurdist Drama. This essay
    heavily influenced Peter Brooks film version in
    the 1970s.

Some Interpretations Of The Play
  • -Freud saw the play as exploring the connection
    between love death in a mythological context.
    In Freuds reading Cordelia is the Goddess Of
    Death and the three sisters represent the Three
    Fates of Greek Mythology (responsible for life
    death). The play then, becomes a story about a
    man rejecting and then accepting death. At the
    end of the play then, although Lear carries
    Cordelia, Cordelia bears him away into death.

Key Scenes-Act 1 Scene 1
  • In Act 1 Scene 1 Lear abdicates the throne. He
    intends to divide the kingdom among his 3
    daughters but, when Cordelia refuses to speak of
    her love for him, he gives his kingdom to Goneril

Key Scenes-Act 1 Scene 1
  • Act 1 Scene 1-A Patriarchal Reading.
  • Although Goneril Regan seem to be strong
    characters they are still dependent upon the King
    for their power, status wealth. From a
    Patriarchal perspective the play explores how
    women are dependent upon or marginalised and
    excluded by men. When Lear gives power to women,
    the natural order is disturbed and the world
    descends into chaos (symbolised by the storm, the
    eclipse etc)

Key Scenes-Act 1 Scene 1
  • Act 1 Scene 1-A Feminist Reading
  • Feminism explores the role of women in texts. By
    refusing to publicly express her love for Lear
    Cordelia may be seen as a hero who challenges the
    gender inequalities of her time

Key Scenes-Act 1 Scene 1
  • Act 1 Scene 1-A Marxist Reading.
  • Marxism explores the social roles of people in
    texts. By surrendering the throne Lear is thrown
    into a life of poverty. This also happens to
    Cordelia, Kent Edgar. A Marxist Reading, then,
    might argue that the text is an exploration of
    the different lives led by the rich and the poor.

Key Scenes-Act 1 Scene 1
  • Act 1 Scene 1-A Freudean Reading.
  • A Freudean Reading seeks to understand the
    psychology of the characters. The play has
    undertones of incest. A Freudean Reading, then,
    might argue that Lear descends into madness
    because he is unable to cope with Cordelias
    rejection of him.

Key Scenes-Act 1 Scene 1
  • Act 1 Scene 1-An Intertextual Appropriation. The
    story of a Father who favours 2 daughters over a
    third is a recurring one in literature. Thus, it
    could be argued that King Lear is an
    appropriation of stories such as Cinderella,
    Paris, Psyche etc.

Filmic Versions Of King Lear
  • Remember that, when disussing Films, we need to
    discuss Film Techniques such as
  • -Mis en scene
  • -Cinematography
  • -Editing
  • -Narrative

Different Versions Of Act 1 Scene 1-Peter Brook
  • General Introduction
  • Note Brooks use of
  • -Black White
  • -Unusual Camera Angles
  • -Shadow Darkness
  • -Cold Winter landscapes
  • These effects create a bleak, barren, Godless?
    world where man is at the mercy of nature.

Act 1 Scene 1-Peter Brook 1971
  • -The only production to show Lears
    subjects-contrast of wealth poverty, power
    powerlessness. Emphasises a Marxist
  • -Silence of peasants in opening credits-may
    suggest that the poor are voiceless
  • -Note close up of Lear (cinematography)-emphasises
    his seeming paralysis
  • -Use of whispers grunts again emphasises Lears
    mental degeneration

Act 1 Scene 1-Peter Brook 1971
  • -Image of the throne as a coffin
  • -Use of shadow, darkness (Mis en scene)-symbolic
    of death, evil
  • -Goneril Regan shown in mid shot, Cordelia in
    long shot-emphasises her separation
  • -Cordelia in different costuming-again
    accentuates her separation
  • -Lears costume-bestial-picks up on Shakespeares
    animal imagery

Act 1 Scene 1-RAN
  • -RAN means Chaos-relates to Shakespeares theme
    of order vs chaos
  • -Note change of context culture-RAN is set in
    Medieval Japan
  • -Three daughters changed to three sons to reflect
    patriarchal nature of Japanese society
  • -Note bright colours and beautiful
    landscapes-unlike the Brook version this is land
    worth dying for
  • -Beauty of landscape emphasised through panning
    of camera long shots (cinematography)

Act 1 Scene 1-RAN
  • -Note inclusion of Japanese culture. The use of
    traditional costumes, tea ceremonies, flute music
    (Mis en scene) etc reinforces Japanese culture.
  • -Lear becomes Hidetora, Cordelia becomes Saburo,
    Taro Jiro represent Goneril Regan
  • -Note shots of dark clouds-symbolic of natural
  • -Symbolism of three arrows being broken

Act 1 Scene 1 Richard Eyre 1997
  • -Begins with eclipse-symbolising disorder of
    natural world
  • -Uses colours as motif-red orange symbolising
    the passion emotion of the play, black grey
    symbolising death, madness etc
  • -A modern pastiche-incorporates elements of
    modern spy dramas (shadows, people spying on
    others etc) to capture the plotting intrigue of
    the play

Act 1 Scene 1-Ricard Eyre
  • -Recurring motif of eyes also emphasises the idea
    of spying, plotting, eavesdropping and
    accentuates Shakespeares theme of
  • -Use of soliloquy (e.g. by Edmund) also
    emphasises the Machiavellian plotting (an
    intertextual allusion?) of characters
  • -Again, note use of costumes (mostly black) to
    highlight Cordelias separation

The Storm Scene
  • At the end of Act 2 King Lear is rejected by
    Goneril Regan and, in a rage, runs out into a
  • He finds a hovel in which to take shelter
  • How are we to interpret this?

The Storm Scene-Literary Symbolism
  • Shakespeare may have used the storm to symbolise
    Lears inner anger and confusion.
  • The disorder in the natural world would then
    represent the disorder in the human world.

The Storm Scene-Divine Right Of Kings
  • In Shakespeares time there was a belief in The
    Divine Right Of Kings-that monarchs were chosen
    by God
  • Thus, when Lear gives up the throne to his
    daughters he upsets the natural order (symbolized
    by the eclipse, the storm etc)

The Storm Scene-A Patriarchal Interpretation
  • In Shakespeares time women were excluded from
  • Patriarchy (rule by men) was predominant.
  • Thus, by surrendering power to women Lear upsets
    what was seen as the natural order throwing the
    world into chaos and confusion

The Storm Scene-A Marxist Reading
  • When Lear gives the throne to Goneril Regan he
    falls from a position of status power to one of
  • Some claim the play is an exploration of what
    happens when people (Lear, Cordelia, Kent, Edgar
    etc) lose their power status
  • This comes to a climax in the Storm scene when
    Lear takes shelter in a hovel

The Final Scene-What Ideas Did Shakespeare Want
To Communicate?
  • 1) The Importance of returning the world to its
    natural order
  • Read notes on The Chain of Being, The Divine
    Right of Kings, The Wheel of fortune
  • Note the following quotes
  • The wheel is come full circle
  • I am the natural fool of fortune
  • A poor man made tame to fortunes blows
  • I am bound upon the wheel of fire

The Final Scene-What Ideas Did Shakespeare Want
To Communicate?
  • 2)The Restoration of Patriarchal Power
  • Lear says of Cordelia Her voice was ever soft,
    gentle and low-an excellent thing in woman

The Final Scene-What Ideas Did Shakespeare Want
To Communicate?
  • 3) Christian Redemption Resurrection
  • Note that the storm ends when Lear goes to pray
  • Both Gloucester Lear are resurrected, they
    both believe that they have died and are then
  • Both Gloucester Lear are reconciled with their

The Final Scene-What Ideas Did Shakespeare Want
To Communicate?
  • 3) Christian Redemption Resurrection
  • Gloucester Lear both recognise their sin and
    seek forgiveness
  • Even Edmond finds his inner goodness Some good
    I mean to do
  • Note the change in the attitude to God. In the
    first 3 scenes God is often cursed and condemned.
    In the last 2 scenes the characters embrace God
    e.g. The gods are just

The Final Scene-Oliviers Version
  • Note
  • -The setting of Stonehenge. This is circular and
    could represent the return to order, the wheel of
    fortune etc
  • -The white costumes of Cordelia Lear-perhaps
    representing innocence, purity etc. They have
    rediscovered their Christian innocence
  • -Edgar is presented as a hero figure. Notice the
    symbolism of light (again religious?)