Many tragedies have been written throughout history. The purpose of these tragedies were to illustrate some type of moral lesson. The tragic situation involves man’s miscalculation of reality and the fatal results of those miscalculations. Our tragic hero must endure a great deal of suffering. It ends in his ruin or destruction. We must also understand that tragedy not only destroys the guilty, but also the innocent. The tragic hero represents what could happen to humankind. He is responsible for his society. He is a representation of our own fate. The fate of humanity will be discussed in King Lear, by William Shakespeare.
In this moving play, our tragic hero was King Lear. Our tragic hero must also have a tragic flaw. Lear’s tragic flaw was his vanity. Lear is so full of himself that he doesn’t realize the truth. First of all, Lear wants to divide his kingdom up into three parts for his three daughters. Each daughter’s portion depended on how much they would proclaim their love for him. Lear says, "Give me the map there. Know that we have divided in three our kingdom, and ’tis our fast intent to shake all cares and business from our age, conferring them on younger strengths while we unburdened crawl to death."(Act I, i, l. 38-41) Lear should not have relinquished his powers in the first place. He expects to be treated like a king when he no longer will have the power of a king. Secondly, he says, " Great rivals in our youngest daughter’s love, long in our court have made their amorous sojourn, and here are to be answered. Tell me, my daughters ( Since now we will divest us both of rule, Interest of territory, cares of state), which of you should we say doth love us most? That we our largest bounty may extend where nature doth with merit challenge."(Act I, i, l. 47-53) Within these few lines, we see Lear’s first sign of vanity. For one daughter to receive more land than another, one must proclaim their love to be more than the other. He is measuring their love with land. Naturally, his first two daughters, Goneril and Regan, will lie to him, but his vanity blinds him from the truth.
Lear’s first miscalculation was dividing his land between the daughters. The second is allowing his vanity to get the best of him. Injured pride gives rise to anger. Cordelia proclaims that her love will belong half to her husband and half to her father. She also says she loves Lear by her duty, no more, no less. Cordelia was Lear’s favorite daughter until this point. When she addressed her love in this manner, he was outraged saying, " 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 from whom we do exist, and cease to be; Here I disclaim all my paternal care, propinquity and property of blood, and as a stranger to my heart and me hold thee, from this, for ever. The barbarous Scythian, or he that makes his generation messes to gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom be as well neighbour’d, piti’d, and reliev’d, as though my sometime daughter."( Act I, i, l. 110-22) In this previous passage, he was more than outraged. He went to the point that he disowned his daughter, the only true one. Kent tries to dissuade Lear from his unjust actions, but Lear strikes out at him saying, " the bow is bent and drawn; make from the shaft."( Act I, i, l. 145) Lear’s vanity leads to anger. The next phase is his unbridled anger leading to his unbearable suffering.
Lear now banishes Kent and Cordelia. He is now left with his two ungrateful daughters, Goneril and Regan. He soon realizes that neither daughter cares for him and this leads to more vanity and anger, proclaiming he would rather " kneel before France like some petty squire"(Act II, iv, l. 207-9) before he returns to Goneril. He said he would rather " wage against the enmity o’ th’ air"(Act II, iv, l. 204) or " be slave and sumpter to this detested groom,"(Act II, iv, l. 211-12) referring to Oswald. Lear tells Goneril that he never wants to see her again, but in lines 217-221, he realizes that even though she is heartless, she is still his own flesh and blood. By Goneril being described as a disease in his flesh, Lear could be recognizing that her evil stems from his very own. Lear is realizing that his vanity is now extending to his daughter and through his very own daughter he will be destroyed.
Lear again tries to measure love, just as in the first Act. He wants to stay with Regan, but she’ll only house twenty-five of his knights. He then says that her love is half of Goneril’s because she will house fifty. He measures their love by his hundred knights. These misjudgments by Lear show how humans are constantly making miscalculations concerning reality, but never seem to learn from it. It seems that it is in man’s nature to make mistakes, but not truly learn from it.
In addition to the suffering he has felt already from his daughters, they now continue to show how they have no gratitude. Lear replies, " I gave you all."(Act II, iv, l. 245) Regan responds with, " And in good time you gave it."(Act II, iv, l. 246) Regan asks her father why he even needs one knight. Lear replies, " O, reason not the need; our basest beggars are in the poorest thing superfluous: Allow not nature more than nature needs, Man’s life’s as cheap as beast’s."(Act II, iv, l. 259-62) What this means is that if you strip a man of everything he has but the bare necessities, he’s no different from an animal. Lear is a king and the hundred knights are a representation of what makes him different from other men. What Lear is also trying to say is that it is more a matter of principle than need. He makes reference to that when he asks his daughter whether she needs her decorated dress or not. Goneril and Regan’s reduction of the king’s knights also represent how they are slowly stripping their father of all power he has remaining. It seems as though Lear is starting to realize that he is not much in this universe. You can rule the world, but it will only last for a season. In the end, we are no different from any other man in any society.
Lear’s suffering is not over yet. He is turned out into the storm by his daughters. In Act III, scene ii, lines 14-24, he describes the storm as being more of a tempest. While being exposed to the elements, he realizes more that his daughters were ungrateful because he says to the tempest that it owes him nothing for he did not give it a kingdom or called it children. One must also understand that there is a great relationship between Lear and the elements. The storm during Lear’s encounter with his daughters represent the unnatural violence and unrest between them. The storm is unusually violent just as the violence between family is unusual. This storm also represents the torment that Lear encounters within for the decisions he made concerning Cordelia. The storm is a representation of his madness and insanity. This is very typical of our tragic hero. After a great deal of suffering, he becomes numb to reality.
As in all tragedies and in our own reality, the tragic hero has an opportunity to redeem himself from his sins. Just as we commit sins and then seek forgiveness, Lear also does the same. After the civil war breaks out between France and the two sisters, Lear is reunited with Cordelia. This is where Lear is redeemed for his sins. Lear’s sense of reality seems to return and he seems so sorry for what he has done. Cordelia forgives him and says she does not hate him.
Unfortunately, with our tragic hero, once he returns to reality and momentarily reaches his redemption, he is finally hit with the final blow. After Lear and Cordelia reconcile, they are both captured and she is killed on Edmund’s orders. This is the final straw that leads to Lear’s ultimate ruin. He finally dies of a broken-heart when he holds the lifeless Cordelia in his arms. Before he dies, he says, " Howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stone. Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them so that heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gone forever! I know when one is dead, and when one lives. She’s dead as earth. Lend me a looking glass. If that her breath will mist or stain the stone, why, then she lives."(Act V, iii, l. 306-12) This phrase shows us how our tragic hero completely goes insane and must endure the hardest pain before his own ruin or death. Humanity encounters the same fate. The moment right before we hit rock bottom is where the most pain is felt. Due to our unjust actions, we not only ruin the guilty ones, but also the innocent ones.
There is one final characteristic of humanity’s fate. This deals with humankind’s ability to pull themselves out of a ditch and start all over again. Humans will always get the best out of the worst situations. This is exhibited at the end of King Lear. Albany says, " You, to your rights, With boot and such addition as your honours have more than merited. All friends shall taste the wages of their virtue, and all foes the cup of their deservings. O, see, see!"(Act V, iii, l. 301-5) After all that has went wrong, the righteous will prevail and the kingdom shall survive. The pestilence of the land are dead, Cornwall, Edmund, Goneril, and Regan, and hope now returns for the land, represented by Albany, Kent, and Edgar.
The tragedy of King Lear helps us understand our own fate better. We see that there will be certain individuals whose unjust actions will bring everyone down. This I not to say the individual is evil, but that they made a fatal misjudgment. Their actions will cause a great deal of suffering on their part and ours, but they will seek redemption and also realize that no matter what their position is in life, we are all the same. Just as in King Lear, we will also feel that we have hit rock bottom, but there is one thing we must remember about humanity’s fate. Humans thrive on hardships and will always live to see a brighter day. All is not dark for us. There will always be light at the end of the tunnel. The hardest part is getting there.