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Published: 26-10-2019

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Paradox and Irony: The Means of Presentation in King Lear

Throughout King Lear, the play’s themes and messages are communicated to the audience employing a devastating mixture of irony reversal of circumstance and fortune and paradox, underlining the harrowing truth of the futility of human existence presented in the play. This strategy is especially successful because it highlights the fickle nature of the course of events. How a single interprets this depends upon regardless of whether one believes there are gods of some sort in the play: if supernatural beings do exist in the world of the play, and are controlling events, then Gloucester’s lines, “Like flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, / They kill us for their sport” could be true, and if so this reduces the bleakness of the final picture since at least the gods have gained some pleasure from their “sport” and there is some semblance of which means to the events. However there is a lot proof to recommend that these gods do not exist: the belief in such beings is heavily satirized throughout and seen as a weakness and an excuse by those characters who do not believe in the larger powers ­ Edmund says of Gloucester’s belief:

“This is the outstanding foppery of the globe, that when we are sick in fortune ­ frequently the surfeit of our own behaviour ­ we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon and the stars as if we had been villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion?An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star!” (I.ii.109-18)

If a single believes this view, and it is extremely convincing, then mankind’s sentence is a heavy one. If there are not any gods to direct events then the evil of the play is directly and completely the result of human actions and Lear’s tirade against sex in act IV scene vi rings accurate. Lear says that it is not adultery that is the issue, as “Gloucester’s bastard son / Was kinder to his father than my daughters / Got ?tween the lawful sheets” (lines 113-15), but the really act of sex, just simply because it outcomes in the continuation of the human race, and due to the fact the really nature of humans is evil that is a poor factor: “But to the girdle do the gods inherit, / Beneath is all the fiend’s” (lines 124-25). Procreation is bad due to the fact it perpetuates the circle of futility that is human life.

A third view could be that there are gods, but they do not have any influence over the globe. This is supported by Edgar’s line, “The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices / Make instruments to plague us” (V.iii.170-1). A single reading of this line could be to interpret “just” as not interfering, particularly as there is no sense of justice in the play, and as a result the meaning of the line to be that “our pleasant vices”, i.e. human sins, are solely accountable for our suffering. This view has a lot of of the identical implications as the second one: belief in a divine presence which has ultimate handle more than events is a way of excusing the actions of a fundamentally evil species. Indeed it is this willingness to accept several of the events in the play as pre-ordained or fated which permits many of the atrocities to happen. When the servant stands up to Cornwall in act III scene vii saying, “Hold your hand, my Lord” (line 71), it is the very first time any person has stood up and mentioned, “stop”. Up to this point there has been a worrying lack of human intervention in the terrible events, and along with the actions of Albany and Edgar later in the play this provides some hope for the state of human existence, though the overwhelming image is one particular of bleakness and suffering.

The query of no matter whether or not there are gods in the play who intervene in the events is basic to the power of the play and deeply affects any reading of the which means. I believe that there are not any gods in the globe of the play and that this increases the energy of the instances of irony reversal of predicament and fortune and paradox in the play, since these are for that reason entirely consequences of human actions. This increases the tragedy since the ironic incidents are usually partly the fault of the victim of the irony, the paradoxes reflect straight on the nature of human existence and any reversals result from human actions and therefore can be interpreted meaningfully rather than dismissed as the whim of the gods. Therefore upon the numerous occasions in the play when characters get in touch with upon the gods to assist them in some way, there is an underlying irony since in reality their prayers will not be answered. The most effective example of this is in the final scene of the play, when Albany says of Cordelia, “The gods defend her!” and the stage path which follows quickly following reads: “Re-enter Lear, with Cordelia dead in his arms”. So significantly for the gods defending her! This is arguably the most devastatingly bleak moment in the play, and in all of literature, not least due to the fact of this irony.

Possibly the greatest irony of the play is the parallel rehabilitation of Lear and Gloucester from “foolish fond old [guys]” to males of insight. The irony is that by the time they have gained this insight, each of them are unable to make use of it in any meaningful way, and can not modify the course of events: in the wider context of the eventual outcome of the play, they may well as properly not have happened at all. Implicit within this irony is a fantastic paradox: in order to make use of energy one particular must have clear and uncorrupted insight but the extremely act of having power clouds and corrupts insight in such a way that one particular is unable to make use of that power in a virtuous way. This is illustrated by the fact that Lear only gains his insight after he has offered up all the trappings of power and seasoned becoming “unaccommodated man” (III.iv.101), but obtaining been decreased to this level he can't use his insight for great. In the exact same way, Gloucester only “sees” soon after he has had his eyes pulled out ­ he “stumbled when [he] saw” (IV.i.20) ­ and being blind can not do anything valuable with his clarity of vision.

This ironical incongruity between insight and energy is once more demonstrated in the fool and Kent, who are each hugely shrewd but can't make use of this astuteness since of their positions: they have no power. The fool’s job is to inform Lear when he is incorrect ­ he is the only particular person whom Lear makes it possible for to do so ­ and to interpret events in a witty and amusing way. The tragedy is that Lear in no way listens to the fool’s guidance precisely because he is a jester. There is a excellent bond of affection amongst the king and his fool, but ultimately the fool is impotent, and it is a harsh irony that Lear by no means requires his fool seriously.

Kent is again a righteous, honourable and brave character, who shows unfailing adore for his king when he defies his banishment in order to aid him, but like the fool Lear by no means actually listens to him, originally because his judgement is marred by anger and wounded pride, and subsequently simply because he is a servant. Kent in no way tends to make Lear “see”, even when he gets himself place in the stocks to highlight Lear’s daughters’ treachery, and ultimately is in no way fully reconciled with the King simply because Lear dies prior to he can realise that it was Kent in the guise of Caius who was so devoted and such a “good fellow”. Lear thinks that Caius is “dead and rotten” (V.iii.285), which adds to the tragedy of Kent but also to that of Lear, as it is yet another element of the king’s unresolved confusion at the moment of his death. The fool passes without getting produced any impression upon the events of the play, and Kent’s only action is to liase with Cordelia, which in the end results in her death since she would not otherwise have been in the kingdom ­ even though her return momentarily tends to make Lear content and supplies an element of hope, this quickly disappears and serves only to accentuate the already enormous tragedy of the final scenes. Thus both of their roles are basically futile and unfulfilled. Both Kent and the fool basically disappear when their service is no longer necessary: when Lear starts his journey of self-realisation he no longer needs the fool to give him a commentary on events because he is starting to see for himself, and right after Lear’s death Kent has nothing left to reside for, in the exact same way that right after Cordelia’s death Lear does not, and Kent goes off to answer his “master” ­ death.

Lear’s final look is one of overwhelming confusion and anguish, and tragically he dies without having having resolved this. He asks what all the waste, the suffering, has been for, and dies just before he can uncover an answer if certainly there is an answer to be identified. This is the final irony of the play ­ it has all been for practically nothing suffering for the sake of suffering. This is made all the worse by the series of reversals in fortune in this final scene. It appears that there is some hope when Edgar slays his brother, as Edmund appears to have recanted and Cordelia and Lear might be saved. Nonetheless, when Lear enters with Cordelia “dead in his arms”, this quickly obliterates the hope and again emphasises the horrific injustice of the play. It shows that Edmund has not genuinely recanted at all but that he remained true to the final to his destructive nature and was playing for time in order that his command to kill Cordelia and Lear must be carried out, saying, “But speak you on / you appear as you had one thing a lot more to say”. The irony here is that Edgar and Albany are convinced by this act, and most of Edgar’s two lengthy speeches are overly complicated and unnecessarily prolong a story that we already know, getting had it played out to us on the stage. This does Edmund’s operate for him, and it is certainly ironic that Edgar and Albany are seemingly so prepared to delay they neglect about Lear and Cordelia totally until Kent reminds them and Albany’s reaction is the woefully stupid, “Great issue of us forgot!” This is a manifestation of Edmund Burke’s assertion that, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for very good males to do nothing”, and given the universal nature of the events of the play it suggests that mankind is all as well prepared to “do nothing”.

There is a second reversal when Albany’s ?phantom normal ending’ (V.iii.295-304), which suggests that the state of the kingdom will return to regular and that “All buddies shall taste / The wages of their virtue, and all foes / The cup of their deservings” (302-four), is fully destroyed by Lear’s tormented reminder that there hasn’t been justice at all, due to the fact “[his] poor fool is hanged!” These reversals in the final scene amplify the tragedy, since hope is suggested and then cruelly snatched away. Although Lear bemoans the fickle nature of fate, asking of Cordelia’s death, “Why ought to a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, / And thou no breath at all?” the lack of gods and any larger power of fortune necessarily lays the blame for Cordelia’s death on human actions in the play. Lear himself is culpable to a specific extent for Cordelia’s death since he split the kingdom and banished her in the 1st spot, but the suffering that he endures as a outcome of his actions, downfall and her subsequent death is entirely disproportionate to his share of blame. This of course tends to make him a extremely tragic figure.

Throughout the play, lines of universal truth are spoken by hugely unlikely people, in an ironic manifestation of the line from Macbeth, “The instruments of darkness inform us truths” (I.iii.123), and a line of Regan’s in V.iii of Lear, “Jesters do oft prove profits” (line 72). An instance is Regan’s assertion that, “?to wilful males / The injuries that they themselves procure / Should be their schoolmasters.” She says properly that for such an obstinate man as Lear, the only way in which he is going to attain self-information is from within himself. Even though this is undoubtedly correct and is vilified by subsequent events, to hear it coming from Regan’s mouth right after she has, as she thinks, sentenced Lear to death on the harsh heath by refusing him shelter, is uncomfortable and surely an ironic reversal of the way that conventional moral messages are delivered. This is not the only instance of this effect in the play: Goneril points out Lear’s sagely shortcomings in I.iv with, “As you are old and reverend, you should be sensible.” Of course, Lear is far from sensible at this point, and though the goal of the line is contrary to the wishes of the audience as Goneril ejects Lear from her castle, it is true that a lot of of the older characters in the play, such as Gloucester, are not wise as they ought to be but in reality politically inept. It is an echo of Goneril’s earlier line “Old fools are babes again” (I.iii.19).

Paradoxically, as an alternative of life becoming a “reward” for the survivors at the finish of the play, having endured untold suffering and come through it, it seems that, offered the bleak judgement passed upon humanity throughout the play, as Macbeth stated, “better be with the dead”(III.ii.21). Once more this is a reversal of the conventional ending and in this way Lear, though, tragically, he dies with no ever discovering an answer to his confusion, has suffered a much less punishing finish than the characters alive at the finish: If, as Lear argues in IV.vi.106-129, it is a crime to perpetuate human existence through procreation then it is a crime to perpetuate it via living, and in a sense the punishment is life itself. This actually underlines the futile nature of human life as presented in the play.
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