William Shakespeare’s 1606 The Tragedy of King Lear explores the character of a man and his change from a selfish and impatient King to a kind and forgiving Father. In the beginning of the play, King Lear has decided he would like to divide up his kingdom between his daughters so he could rest and enjoy the rest of his life. To test his daughters’ devotion, he demands them to tell him how much each of them loves him. His two daughters, Regan And Goneril, shower him with words and flattery, but his youngest daughter, Cordelia, refuses to flatter him as her greedy sisters had. Hearing this, the rash King disowned Cordelia, saying “Let it be so! Thy truth then be thy dower! … Here I disclaim all my paternal care … And as a stranger to my heart and me hold thee from this for ever. ”
King Lear, Act Ii 120-123. His faithful servant, the Earl of Kent, tries to persuade him that Cordelia was the truest of his daughters, and the only sincere one. However, Lear’s quick temper and unreasonableness led him to also betray Kent. “And on the sixth day to turn thy hated back Upon our kingdom. … Away! By Jupiter, This shall not be revoked. ” King Lear, Act Ii 189-193. He banishes Kent from the kingdom, and places all of his power into the hands of Goneril and Regan.
After his daughters have all of England at their disposal, they begin to strip away what little power Lear has left. First, Goneril denies him the privilege of one hundred knights, only allowing him fifty. Outraged by this, Lear goes to Regan, but she will not house all of his knights, either. Together, Goneril and Regan deny him any knights, and when he will not ask for their forgiveness, cast him out into a harsh storm. In the midst of the storm, Lear realizes his mistake of giving power to his treacherous daughters, and also begins to care about other people.
He also stumbles upon the realization that he is not all powerful and wonderful because he is a king. His first thought for another’s suffering was out in the storm, just before entering shelter. He tells his Fool “Poor fool and knave, I have one part in my heart That’s sorry yet for thee. ” King Lear, Act III iv 75-76. He goes on to think of the rest of the people in the storm. He says “Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are, That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, How shall you houseless heads and unfed sides, Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en Too little care of this! ” King Lear, Act III iv 35-40.
Here he shows regret that he has done nothing to help his people, whereas he would never admit a fault of his before. He also shows compassion for other people, another trait he was lacking in the beginning of the play. Once inside the shelter, Lear meets Edgar, disguised as a mad beggar. Even though they seem to be of much different social status, the King relates with him and comes to the realization that all people are the same underneath their clothing.
That no matter how royally or poorly he is dressed, he is still a man. “Thou art the thing itself; unaccommodated man is no more than such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art. ” King Lear, Act III iv 111-113. After this, he gives his royal clothes to Edgar, because they have no meaning to him anymore. They are no longer a symbol of his authority, because he no longer has any authority. And with the loss of authority, there comes humility. Upon the arrival of Cordelia’s army from France, he feels shame for his actions, which prevents him from reuniting with her.
When questioned as to where the King was, Kent answers “A sovereign shame so elbows him; his own unkindness, That stripped her from his benediction, turned her To foreign casualties, gave her dear rights To his dog-hearted daughters-these things sting His mind so venomously that burning shame Detains him from Cordelia. ” Kent, Act IV iv 49-55. Lear’s shame and guilt show that he has not only realized, but accepted that he was wrong and made an angry and hasty decision. Upon his reunion with Cordelia, he says “They told me I was everything, ‘Tis a lie-I am not ague-proof. ”
King Lear, Act IV vi 119-120. He admits to Cordelia that he was wrong to have listened to their flattery and to cast his true daughter away. After their reconciliation, he asks her for her forgiveness, “Pray you now, forget and forgive. I am old and foolish. ” King Lear, Act IV vii 97. For the first time he has humbled himself and asked another for forgiveness. This completes his transformation from the rash, cruel and uncaring King he was in the beginning of the play into the wise, caring and humble Father he is in the final act. His transformation is a remarkable and inspiring one, with important values that every person should possess.