King Lear: Essay Two [18 out of 25, 2001/2002]


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ELL4 Practice Question

“By a detailed examination of the language in this extract, show how Shakespeare conveys Lear’s character and state of mind”

{CONTENTS: Introduction: Lear’s madness; Use of depressing imperative mood; Use of despairing interrogative mood; Sense of illness; Non-sequitur sentences; Delusional self-perception; Succession of turbulent plosives; Dramatic intellectual breakthrough; Conclusion.}

Lear is shown to be in a manic-depressive mood in this extract, as he considers the reasons for the position in which he finds himself, and begins to make intellectual breakthroughs.[^]

When invited by Kent to take shelter from the storm, Lear responds with a depressing imperative, “Let me alone.” The use of the imperative shows that Lear is still coming to terms with not being the king – kings use the command form, and Lear continues out of habit.[^]

As Kent repeats his suggestion to take shelter, Lear is conveyed as a broken man through the use of the immediately despairing interrogative mood, “Wilt break my heart?” This doesn’t follow the expected conversation pattern.[^]

Lear continues to say that he’s not worried by the elements, as the mental difficulties he’s experiencing take priority, “Thou think’st ’tis… The lesser is scarce felt.” The use of the noun ‘malady’ conveys the sense of illness that Lear’s experiencing, ‘maladie’ in French meaning exactly that. Only when the mind is “free” and untroubled can physical needs be attended to.[^]

Regan and Goneril are certainly to blame, according to Lear. They haven’t treated him justly – “Filial ingratitude!” – and have bitten the hand that fed them, “Is it not…/For lifting food to ‘t?” The extremely short, butterfly-ing (non-sequitur) sentences that Lear uses reflect a man in the midst of mania, “But I will punish home: No, I will weep no more. In such a night/ To shut me out! Pour on; I will endure…”[^]

Lear’s perception of himself as, “Your old kind father, whose frank heart gave all…”, suggests that he is delusional, as he rejects responsibility for ending up how he has. He pledges to “shun” madness, which makes an ironic parallel with the way Goneril and Regan have shunned him.[^]

By beginning to think of others, Lear moves into uncharted mental territory: “Prithee, go in thyself; seek thine own ease:… [To the Fool] In boy; go first.” He pities the Poor naked wretches,… That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,…” By using a succession of plosives, Shakespeare conveys the turbulent, tumultuous state of Lear’s mind, reflecting back to the war-like imagery earlier on (“invade…”).[^]

Finally Lear makes a major intellectual leap when he realises that, as a Ruler, he should have considered the problems of the poor, “O! I have taken too little care of this.”[^]

In conclusion, Shakespeare uses carefully-selected language and the pathetic fallacy of the storm to convey the inner turmoil of King Lear. Just as the storm usually occurs between two sets of settled weather, so Lear’s mental anguish could be the prelude to a more rational and understanding kind of behaviour.[^]

Copyright 2016-present day Permission to use quotations from this English essay is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to Chris Larham and as authorial and website sources, respectively.

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Forty-year-old father of three wonderful children [William, Seth, and Alyssa]. Works as an Assistant Technical Officer in the Sterile Services Department of Treliske Hospital, Cornwall. Enjoys jogging, web design, learning programming languages, and supporting Arsenal FC. Obtained a BA degree in English from the University of Bolton in 2008, and has continued to gain qualifications in a diverse range of subjects thereafter.

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Posted in A Level English [A2]

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