Number of Pages: 320
Release Date: 1604
“One of Shakespeare’s finest tragedies, the work displays a pessimism and nihilism that make it a 20th-century favorite. The aging King Lear decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, allotting each a portion in proportion to the eloquence of her declaration of love. The hypocritical Goneril and Regan make grand pronouncements and are rewarded; Cordelia, the youngest daughter, who truly loves Lear, refuses to make an insincere speech to prove her love and is disinherited….”
I started reading this book with my AP English class back in May, but we got so busy with other assignments that my teacher decided to table it. In an effort to broaden my Shakespeare horizons I picked it up once more to finally finish it. Imagine a slow, painfully ironic descent into madness littered with chaos and cacophony, and you’ve basically got Shakespeare’s King Lear.
One of the aspects of Shakespeare’s work that I’ve grown to love is the overwhelming abundance of irony in his plays. For example, King Lear chooses his two worse daughters to inherit his kingdom, even though Cordelia would have been a much better choice. There’s also the fact that Lear’s Fool (who is my absolute favorite character in this play) is more wise than the king. Although it at first seems like he’s only babbling ridiculously, his words are actually little pieces of advice. Fools are always a topsy-turvy source of comedy, and I love hearing the ridiculousness they continue to spew even in the most dire circumstances.
When I read Romeo and Juliet and Othello in my previous English classes, I couldn’t get past the characters’ overly dramatic personalities. Romeo and Juliet knew each other for only a handful of days- that’s not even enough time to get to know the other person, never mind commit to marriage! Even though King Lear is quite dramatic as well, it contains a reasonable amount of drama. It’s Shakespeare, after all! Lear himself is old and growing senile, so it makes sense that he would make irrational choices at times. He is so obsessed with appearances that he values his daughters’ public professions of love for him instead of the actual love in their hearts. This vanity is a common flaw in people today, and therefore the entire situation doesn’t seem so far-fetched. It’s a play that almost has a strange logic to it, which I greatly appreciate.
My main complaint with this play is that I never got really invested in the characters while reading it. Lear was crazy, Regan and Goneril were nasty and unscrupulous, and I didn’t see enough of Cordelia to connect with her. They were all entertaining in their own ways- mostly in their insanity, caprice, and spite- and maybe that’s all they are meant to be. Perhaps I would have become more attached to the characters if I had seen it performed live, but on paper the Fool was the only real start of the show for me.
Overall, King Lear is a tragedy well worth reading for its irony, drama, and climactic ending. I enjoyed it much more than Shakespeare’s works that I’ve previously read, but I don’t think this is a play that will stick with me on an emotional level. It’s very entertaining, yet it also provides plenty of discussion points regarding themes of blindness, old age, and family dynamics. Thanks to King Lear, I am now a much more ardent fan of Shakespeare!
My Rating: :0) :0) :0) 3 out of 5 smileys
Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! I didn’t really like Shakespeare much before reading this play, but now I’m excited to continue on with his works!
Have you read this play before? What did you think of it? What other works by Shakespeare would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!