Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear is a detailed description of the consequences of one man’s decisions. This fictitious man is Lear, King of England, whose decisions greatly alter his life and the lives of those around him. As Lear bears the status of King, he is a man of great power, but blindly he surrenders all of this power to his daughters as a reward for their demonstration of love towards him. This untimely surrender of his throne sets off a chain reaction of events that sends him through a hellish journey. King Lear is a metaphorical description of one man’s journey through hell in order to appease his mistake.
As the play opens, one can almost immediately see that Lear begins to make mistakes that will eventually result in his downfall. The very first words that he speaks in the play are:Give me the map there.Know that we have dividedIn three our kingdom; and ’tis our fast intentTo shake all cares and business from our age,Conferring them on younger strengths while weUnburdened crawl toward death.(Act I, Sc i, Ln 37-41)This gives the reader the first indication of Lear’s intent to relinquish his throne. He is growing old and wants to “shake all cares and business” from his age. In a since he wants to retire from a job that you cannot retire from.
He has no son to hand his throne down to, so he must give it to his daughters. He offers his daughters pieces of his kingdom a form of reward to his test of love. 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 shall we say doth love us most?That we our largest bounty may extendWhere nature doth with merit challenge.
“(Act I, Sc i, Ln 46-53)This is the first and most significant of the many mistakes that he commits in this play. By relinquishing his throne to fuel his ego, he disrupts the great chain of being, which states that the King must not challenge the position that the gods have given him. This undermining the gods’ authority results in chaos that tears apart Lear’s world, leaving him, in the end, with nothing. Following this, Lear begins to banish those around him that genuinely care for him; he cannot seem to realize who loves him and wants to help and those who are there to use him. As King he has always been given what he wants and people have always done what he wants. It seems that Lear’s own family does not have that father-daughter bond that regular families have. He sees everybody around him as loyal servants.
When they disagree with him or don’t say exactly what he wants; his pride is hurt and he reacts defensively. As we see in the first act, Lear does not listen to Kent’s plea to see closer to the true faces of his daughters. Kent has hurt Lear’s pride by disobeying his order to stay out of his and Cordelia’s way when Lear has already warned him, “The bow is bent and drawn, make from the shaft.” Kent still disobeys Lear and is banished; Lear also proceeds to banish his youngest and previously most loved daughter, Cordelia. This results in Lear surrounding himself with people who only wish to use him, leaving him very vulnerable to attack and betrayal. This is precisely what happens, and it is through this that he discovers his wrongs and amends them. After distributing his throne, Lear becomes abandoned and estranged from his kingdom, which causes him to lose his sanity. While lost in his grief and self-pity the Fool is introduced to guide Lear back to the sane world, help him realize the mistakes that he has made and get him to act to reverse them.
Throughout the play the Fool tells the King little riddles and sayings that makes the King realize his mistakes. Lear was once lost behind a hundred Knights, but now is exposed to the real world and is like a child. He has been used