Monday, March 2, 2015

Book Review: King Lear by William Shakespeare

     The February book for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge was King Lear: A Book Your Mom Loves. I hadn’t read this book before because it simply looked really depressing. And it was. But it was also, as usual with Shakespeare, an excellent play.

     King Lear begins the play as a rather dictatorial and somewhat harsh king, softened only by his love for his children, particularly the youngest, Cordelia. But even that love is tainted by his desire to be important, and when Cordelia cannot match her sisters’ over-the-top flattery, Lear banishes her, and the Earl of Kent, who tries to defend her. The King of France, by contrast, admires Cordelia’s honesty and marries her.

     Cordelia’s absence leaves plenty of room for the two sisters to play King Lear like a fiddle. With the power of the kingdom in their hands, they begin abusing the king, whittling down his support base to nothing but his Fool, who mocks the king’s own foolishness while still remaining loyal. However, alone they cannot withstand the sisters’ cruelty, and the king slowly goes mad at the realization that his daughters actually hate him.

     In the secondary plot, the Earl of Gloucester has to deal with a similar problem in the form of his flattering illegitimate son Edmund and his legitimate heir Edgar, who spends much of the play in disguise, as his brother has convinced the Earl that Edgar is planning to usurp his power.

     The most obvious point of the play is a very old piece of advice: honesty is better than flattery, no matter how sweet that flattery sounds. Both King Lear and the Earl of Gloucester believe they deserve flattering, blindly obedient children. Taken in by flattery, they throw off their honest children and find themselves abused by the ones that once flattered them. Goneril is not immune to this attitude, as she comes to prefer the deceptive Edmund to her honest husband.

     In King Lear’s case, the two people most loyal to him are also the bluntest. Cordelia honestly tells her father she can’t come up with words to express her love, while the Fool outright mocks him constantly. In the end, they are the two people that are loyal to him from beginning to end.

     So yes, the play was very sad, but it also ended in a hard lesson learned.

     Let's lighten the mood, now, shall we?


*Actually this explains a lot about Gambon's Dumbledore. A whole lot.

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