William Shakespeare’s King Lear – short review

William Shakespeare is arguably the greatest playwright the world has ever known. Throughout his career Shakespeare has written classic plays such as Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and The Tempest. In total he has completed thirty seven plays as well as some nondramatic poems. For this book report I have chosen to read the tragedy of King Lear.

William Shakespeare was born in late April 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon to John Shakespeare and Mary Arden. His father made a living from tanning, trading in wool and glove making. He was the third child and eldest son in the family. He attended the King’s New School, the Stratford grammar school known for its classical curriculum. At the age of eighteen William married Anne Hathaway and had three children. His daughter Susana was born in May 26, 1583 and later he had twins, Judith and Hamnet on February 2, 1585.

In the 1590’s William Shakespeare established himself in London as a playwright and actor. Surprisingly the majority of his money did not come from his writing or performances but from his position as a sharer in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which earned him 1/10 of the company’s profit. These profits were enough to allow Shakespeare to become a successful real estate investor. In 1616 William Shakespeare died, he was outlived by his wife and his two surviving daughters Susana and Judith. As a playwright his name was rarely printed on his work until seven years after his death in 1623 with the publication of his First Folio.

King Lear was first published in 1608 when Shakespeare was forty six years old. By this time Shakespeare has written several comedies and tragedies. King Lear is a classic example of a Shakespearean tragedy. The play is filled with drama and sorrow. The plot of the play is about an old King that plans to retire. He has three daughters in which he intends to give equal portions of his kingdom. In a furious rage he disowns his favorite daughter and left control of his Kingdom to his two daughters. As time passes his two governing daughters treat their father less like a King but as an old man.

Lies and conspiracies come next, the play ends with King Lear reuniting with his disowned daughter Cordelia. Soon after the old, weak Lear dies, desperate for only his beloved daughter Cordelia to be alive.

There are many significant parts of the play, for instance in play we can watch a once noble and powerful King make disastrous decisions. The King spirals down into madness, the man who controlled everything was left with nothing. His role switched from a strong King to a vulnerable old man. Ironically in the play when the Kings sanity was failing him it was the fool who attempted to give him advise.

Being a student of British history I could see many similarities in the monarchy in the play to the one in Britain. In the play there were Dukes, Earls and trusted advisors to the King, and even a fool. In the play one of the daughters to the King of Britain finds comfort in her gentleman suitor the King of France. Many times in British history has the King attempted and was sometimes successful to marry his children to foreign royalty to gain alliances.

It is interesting to see a powerful man such as King Lear react to what the problems of succession caused. During this same era the royalty of Britain had to deal with the same problems of succession. Contending families were constantly fighting for control of the crown. Another situation in the play that would resemble British history in the 1600’s is the radical change in the monarchy. One King can be peaceful and wise and then the next can be tyrannical.

The play depicts a cold and harsh world. One that is full of treachery. It is hard to trust even your own family when you are royalty. The delusion of power corrupted two of the Kings daughters into turning away from their father. This left only the one daughter who truly loved her father the most, a lesson that the King learned shortly before his death. Family quarrels and suspicious murders are not uncommon in British history.

In conclusion the tragic play of King Lear is an excellent piece of work. It marvels the Greek tragedies. The story of King Lear is one of my favorite plays; it is a compelling drama that is hard to put down.