Suffering Breeds in Wisdom: King Lear Essay

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  8
Wordcount:  1983 Words
Date:  2022-09-21

People in society put a high value on wisdom as a trait based on the fact that it assists individuals to make sound decisions, especially in stressful situations. Wisdom is a trait that individuals acquire from the experience and assists in making better choices in the future, where it is seen to be obtained through suffering as portrayed through the characters Lear and Gloucester. In the play King Lear, by Shakespeare, the theme of wisdom is well represented through various characters in the play. The main characters that the author uses to portray wisdom are King Lear and Gloucester. Intelligence generally refers to the gaining of knowledge over the years through experience thus enabling a person to make a better judgment in general situations. Suffering is a source of wisdom in that individual who faces various trials and tribulations learn from their experiences making better decisions in the future.

Trust banner

Is your time best spent reading someone else’s essay? Get a 100% original essay FROM A CERTIFIED WRITER!

The author presents that wisdom comes through suffering and the atrocities that king Lear faces in the hands of his two daughters due to his arrogance. The king questions all his daughters about who has more love for their father. He does not like the answer that Cordelia provides leading to him disowning her. The king's decision is shown to be irrational in that he not only disowns Cordelia but also banishes her "And as a stranger to my heart and me...pitied, and relieved," (Shakespeare 27). The author uses his behavior in the scene to show lack of wisdom that human beings have in decision making. In such cases, lack of insight caused by the absence of challenging experiences that help build character. In the scene, King Lear becomes angry and irrational because he expected Cordelia to state that she loves him unconditionally without any reservations (Shakespeare 27). Other individuals such as Kent, who can see the situation from a rational point of view, try to make him know the truth, but he does not listen to points out his lack of insight and intelligence. Moreover, his actions show a lack of wisdom supporting the theory that wisdom can only develop from suffering and harsh experiences that build resolve and allow the characters to see beyond the illusion presented through lies.

Shakespeare's story on King Lear presents wisdom through character development and the experiences that they go through presenting their trials and tribulations as the source of wisdom. King Lear's wisdom is displayed in act four when he reunites with his daughter Cordelia. In this encounter, the king is seen to change his opinion regarding family and love (Saccio). In the past, he believed that love is unilateral and he deserved the undivided loyalty from his daughters which led to him disowning his favorite daughter Cordelia. However, his experience over the years changes his mind as he reaccepts his daughter in the opening of scene four after her soldiers recapture him (Shakespeare 26). In this scene, he realizes the folly on his ways and understands that family is about unconditional love from all individuals involved. As the daughter reunites with her father, the author presents a moving reunion that shows the possibility of a happy ending as king learn apologizes to his daughter for treating her poorly. In the scene, Shakespeare presents a sharp picture as the king is kneeling before his daughter asking for forgiveness "no sir you should not kneel" (Saccio).

The king kneeling and asking for forgiveness shows wisdom in that the king understands the error in his earlier judgment when he disowned Cordelia. The fact that the king is kneeling before his daughter presents the change in his actions as well as acknowledgment of his wrongdoings where a father kneels to his daughter. King Lear responds to Cordelia by saying, " not mock me. I am a foolish old man...I am doubtful as I am mainly ignorant" (Shakespeare 173). The statement shows that King Lear is aware his previous decisions were wrong thus portraying that he has gained wisdom with age. The king acknowledging that he was ignorant is used to depict the insight he has learned from his experiences and the ability to make better decisions if faced with the same scenario again. The king falling into madness is a strategy used by Shakespeare to bring wisdom into the play and insight into a world filled with chaos. King Lear's madness forces him to experience the tribulations he has put his subjects through, making him aware of the suffering he has brought into the kingdom (Shakespeare 173). The experience also ensures that he can identify the faults in his judgment thus the character portrays great wisdom and knowledge after his descent to madness.

Gaining wisdom through suffering is also presented in the first scene where King Lear banishes his daughter because she speaks out against him "Unhappy that I am... I love your Majesty According to my bond, no more nor less (Shakespeare 26) showing her knowledge and wisdom. These words refer to the lecherous ways of his other daughters Goneril and Regan who only praise their father because they want him to reward them with power and titles. In this area, Shakespeare depicts Cordelia as having a strong moral compass in that she can distinguish between right and wrong and is not afraid to speak her mind out which leads to her father disowning her. The scene also presents the folly of individuals who believe that they are right at all time and scorn the opinion of others. The author uses the scene to show lack of wisdom in King Lear's judgment towards his daughter in that his decision is rush and not well thought out. The author uses foresight through the character Kent to present lack of wisdom in the decision making the readers aware that Cordelia is the only daughter who loves him unconditionally (Shakespeare 26).

The theory that wisdom comes from suffering and tribulations that individuals experience is well illustrated in the play. The author presents the hypothesis that individuals gain wisdom through pain and suffering. The author put these two characters through a lot of torture and atrocities, and they have to come up with strategies of coping with such events thus developing wisdom in the process. In the play, Shakespeare presents a scene where Edmund informs Gloucester that his son is plotting against him which is an unpalatable thought. The character is unable to cope with such an idea and responds with disbelief and anger saying, "oh, villain, villain... seek him apprehend him abominable villain" (Kinney). His response is born of range as he cannot believe that his beloved son can be a monster leading to his order for Edgar's capture. However, his mind is unable to accept this fact and creates a series of reactions that begin with disbelief putting him on a course of seeking for answers. Gloucester needs to find a reasonable explanation as to why his son would betray him and thus he can gain wisdom in the quest to look for answers supporting the accusation against Edgar (Kinney). The fact that Gloucester chooses to end his life after learning about the error in his judgment provides a counter to the thesis on tribulation leading to individuals acquiring wisdom. The fact that his experience does not make them wiser disproves the theory that experience builds intelligence.

Shakespeare portrays King Lear as a tragic hero based on the fact that his presentation is that of a flawed character with arrogance pride and self-importance. "o converse with him that is wise, and says little; to fear judgment" (Shakespeare 46). Arrogance and self-importance are seen clearly at the point where he disowns his daughter because she does not hero worship him as he expected. Shakespeare depicts the hero archetype King Lear's downfall where his pride leads to him disown Cordelia. The error in judgment leads to his downfall leading to a reverse fortune where his other daughters mistreat him leading to his descent into madness. However, in the scene where Cordelia's soldiers recapture him, he comes to the realizes of the error of his ways and seeks forgiveness bring in the theme of purification in the tragic hero archetype (Shakespeare 27). The suffering that King Lear faces was a result of his mistakes and arrogance however when he kneels before his daughter and asks for forgiveness bringing about his redemption.

Shakespeare uses the most powerful human emotions to portray wisdom in the play. The play mainly focuses on love, betrayal and forgiveness and their interaction with the primary characters representing wisdom in the characters. Shakespeare also portrays Gloucester in a similar light to King Lear where he goes through betrayal from one of his children and ends up punishing the son who is loyal to him. Edmund, the illegitimate son of Gloucester, betrays his father in his quest for revenge and recognition as he feels that he should be the heir to his father's throne (Shakespeare 44). Edmund concocts lies claiming that Edgar, who is the legitimate son, is plotting against his father. Gloucester believes the lies and pus a price on Edgar's head with no knowledge that he is the only son that love and cares about him. Shakespeare uses this plot to show a lack of wisdom in this character despite his age. Although wisdom is accrued to old age as experiences add knowledge to an individual enabling them to make better decisions the case is different in the play.

Moreover, the analogy that old age does not necessarily result to wisdom is backed up by the statement from the fool where he says "though shouldst does not have old till thou hadst been wise" (Shakespeare 62). The sentence points out that intelligence is not related to old age, as some of the characters although old and with numerous experiences, do not display any wisdom in their actions. The author uses this statement to show a lack of insight into the characters as they are highly gullible. Gloucester does not even bother to investigate and find out if his son is plotting against him. Instead, he chooses to believe the words of his illegitimate son and acts on them putting his other son in danger. Gloucester takes a stun action that shows lack of wisdom and insight in overcoming challenges thus illustrating folly in human nature. Shakespeare pits the brothers against each other mainly to bring out betrayal and lies that are part of human nature but also brings out the lack of intelligence in these characters (Shakespeare 62).

The theme of wisdom in King Lear is also brought out through dramatized subplots. Although subplots have mostly been used in the play to show suspense and dramatic irony, the author manages to use them to present wisdom in his main characters. Act four introduces a subplot portraying Gloucester's anguish after he realizes he has wronged his son Edgar as he is the victim in the story. Although his suffering is not long-lived compared to that of King Lear, Gloucester goes through a period of anguish and despair due to his decisions based on information provided by Edmund against Edgar. Gloucester's regret is present through the statement "poorly led? World, world, O world! But that thy strange mutations make us hate thee" (Shakespeare 141). Wisdom is brought out through the fact that he recognizes the error of his judgment and regrets the actions that he has taken against his son. The regret he feels pushes him to attempt suicide which shows continuous folly and lack of wisdom of his part despite the trials and tribulations that he has been through in the story. Rather than seeking forgiveness from his sons for the transgression committed against him he chooses the cowardly way and attempts suicide showing poor judgment on his part.


However, King Lear realizes his decisions made were right thereby depicting that he has become wiser with age and thus thriving as a better character. Shakespeare uses character transformation to revea...

Cite this page

Suffering Breeds in Wisdom: King Lear Essay. (2022, Sep 21). Retrieved from

Free essays can be submitted by anyone,

so we do not vouch for their quality

Want a quality guarantee?
Order from one of our vetted writers instead

If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the ProEssays website, please click below to request its removal:

didn't find image

Liked this essay sample but need an original one?

Hire a professional with VAST experience and 25% off!

24/7 online support

NO plagiarism