Shakespeare's King Lear and George Orwell's novel 1984 are politically motivated works of literature. They represent the old-times political environment of a country remotely described as Britain. The common thing about the play and the novel is that their setting is that of the pre-civilization period. King Lear particularly brings out this setting very clearly. The government in this play is a monarch. The king in his discretion decides to share the realm to his three daughters on a rather senseless basis. The offenders of the law are punished by execution or trial by combat. Some features in 1984 are however modern. There are telescreens installed at various locations to detect and incriminate the thought criminals. The book mentions printed newspapers that are used as a tool of propaganda by the tyrannical Inner Party rulers. Generally, the themes that are similar in both books include nationalism, oligarchy, power struggle, betrayal, power play and fanaticism. When comparing these two masterpieces, it's important to compare how the themes are brought about in both cases. But in summary, King Lear uses people as agents of power play while in 1984 by George Orwell, both people and media are used for this purpose.
Greed for Power
Greed for power is a common finding in many ancient political organizations (Grossman 36). Even in the 21st century, some states in the world have leaders who want to hold onto power for themselves and their close accomplices (Friedrich 15). People hold on to power for various reasons. Firstly, the political, social and economic privileges that come along with power are very palatable for one to lose. Secondly, long time incumbents are paranoid of their fate once they lose power to a second person (Cohen 105). These and many other factors make politicians use every possible means to retain power at all cost. In King Lear, Shakespeare writes that Lear wished to divide the kingdom among his three daughters, with a desire that they would safeguard his interests in the kingdom. Although Lear says that he is conferring them (powers) on younger strengths, his primary motive is to have his three daughters lead the kingdom after him (Shakespeare 6). In addition, he retains fifty knights for his guard. In another incident, Edmund conspires against his half-brother Edgar to have him disinherited by their father. He does this with a motive to be the heir to the house of Gloucester (Shakespeare 23). In the book 1984, an aristocratic oligarchy is ruling using propaganda and popular policy. In Winston's office wall hung a portrait captioned BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU (Orwell 3). The writings symbolized a formidable operative that kept the public under subjection by use of fear and intimidation. The purpose of instilling fear in the masses was to prevent any possible resistance against the dictatorial rule of the Inner Party. This propaganda ensured that the dictators maintain power for their selfish gains.
Power play is a common feature in governments whose reign is based on lies and conspiracy. Power play involves making plans that are aimed at acquiring political leverage for a particular group (Cohen 102). For example, an official in the position of power may collaborate with the enemies of an incumbent regime to dispose of a sitting government. In return, they get favors in the next government due to their participation in acquisition of leadership for the enemies. Many fictional art on politics incorporate this theme. In the series Game of Thrones, Lord Peter Bayles is a typical power player. He carries out undercover missions that end up favoring him and disadvantage the victims of his evil stunts (Martin). According to the King Lear plot, there are various power players that are seeking to advance their interest in the politics of the kingdom. King Lear's daughters Goneril and Reagan scheme to gain power through flattery and lies. They deceitfully praise their father who in turn divides his power among them. Goneril later reveals her dislike for her father. She terms her father as an Old fool.and must be used (Shakespeare 43). Regan is characteristically similar to her older sister and flatters her father to get a share of the Kingdom. Edmund is perhaps the protagonist power player in the whole play. Being a bastard probably angers him and uses wit to console himself. He plans to marry both Goneril and Regan through murder of their husbands. His plans are however discovered, making his end a disastrous one. Several of 1984 characters were power players. However, the power players in this case are motivated by the desire to have freedom of knowledge in the society. Julia and Winston Smith, who were the main characters in 1984, plan to use each other to start a movement that would lead the nation towards freedom. It's important to note that these characters were a part of the dictatorial regime. If a revolution would be successful, they would probably gain a lot of recognition in the new democratic government. However, their plans are intercepted by Big brother, thus halting their mission.
Betrayal is a vice that leads to downfall of elaborate plans towards a certain course (Cohen 102). The two books write about betrayal in many of their pages. Again, betrayal as depicted in George Orwell’s 1984 is different from the one in King Lear in its end. Betrayal theme of King Lear is for political gain while in 1984, it is for political emancipation. King Lear is betrayed by his two daughters to whom he passionately divides his kingdom. Edgar is betrayed by his half-brother who he cares about very much. When Edgar meets Edmund in their father's chambers, Edgar enquires of his brother: How now, brother Edmund! What serious contemplation are you in? (Shakespeare 56). Nonetheless, Edmund betrays him by telling lies about him to their father. In 1984, Julia and Winston had similar political ideology. They meet in a remote hotel to contemplate their plans. Apparently, the hotel is not fitted with Big Brother Telescreens. Still, they are discovered by Thought Police. It turns out that Mr. Charrington, the hotel owner betrays them and hands them to the police.
In non-democratic government systems, every politically conscious individual wishes to clinch power for themselves using uncouth means. Popular means documented in literature include military coups, revolution and assassination. Power playing, betrayal and self-interest underscore all these vicious power acquisition means. In the books 1984 and Shakespeare’s King Lear, two non-democratic governments are written of. In the books, various individuals apply some of the above methods to advance their political interests. The final outcomes in both cases include death and utter enmity. George Orwell and William Shakespeare used literature to criticize non-democratic governments by showing the evils that operate in such kinds of government systems.
Cohen, Eliot A. "Playing Powell Politics: The General's Zest for Power." Foreign Affairs (1995): 102-110.
Friedrich, Carl Joachim. The Pathology of Politics: violence, betrayal, corruption, secrecy, and propaganda. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.
Grossman, Mark. "Political corruption in America: an encyclopedia of scandals, power, and greed." (2003).
Martin, George RR. A Game of Thrones 4-Book Bundle: A Song of Ice and Fire Series: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows. Bantam, 2011.Orwell, George. 1984. Editions Underbahn Ltd., 2006.
Shakespeare, William, and Jay L. Halio. The Tragedy of King Lear. Vol. 20. Cambridge University Press, 2005.
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