Wisdom in King Lear Essay Example

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  8
Wordcount:  2006 Words
Date:  2022-09-21

Wisdom is a trait that is highly valued in a society 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 decisions in the future, where it is seen to be acquired through suffering as portrayed through the characters Lear and Gloucester. In the play King Lear, by Shakespeare, the theme of wisdom is well portrayed through various characters. The main characters that the author uses to portray wisdom are King Lear and Gloucester. Wisdom generally refers to the gaining of knowledge over the years through experience thus enabling a person to make a better judgment in general situations. The paper focuses on the theme of wisdom and the instances where the author portrays it in the play. The essay also provides an analysis of the characters King Lear and Gloucester portraying their wisdom or lack of it according to their actions in the play.

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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. Lack of wisdom in such cases is 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 see 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 be developed 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 presented 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. 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 (lecture1 0:47- 1:10). 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 presents 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" (lecture1 2:37).

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, "....do 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 portray the wisdom he has gained 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.

The theory that wisdom comes from suffering and tribulations that individuals experience is well illustrated in the play. The author presents the theory that individuals gain wisdom through suffering. The characters are therefore put through a lot of suffering 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 Gloucester is informed 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" (lecture 2 1:46-1:49). His response is born of range as he cannot believe that his beloved son can be a monster leading to his order for Edgar to be captured. 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 (lecture 2 1:46-1:49). 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 uses the most influential human emotions to portray wisdom in the play. The play mainly focuses on love, betrayal and forgiveness and their interaction with the primary characters portraying wisdom in the characters. Gloucester has also been portrayed 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 (lecture 1 1:46-1:49). 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 statement 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.

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 presents 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 wright thereby depicting that he has become wiser with age and thus thriving as a better character. Shakespeare uses character transformation to reveal growth in Gloucester and also point his ability to recognize the error of his ways and the effort that he puts in to try to make amends. Although the path that he chooses may not be light his intentions are pure, and he tries to make amends as his way of apologizing to Edgar. Gloucester's transformation from a gullible character to one who can detect twists and lies plotted by his evil, illegitimate son brings out the theme of wisdom (Shakespeare 141). The transformation portrays that he is wiser and able to recognize the pitfalls of trusting others blindly thus pointing out that he has better judgment and understanding of the situation.

King Lear's death is also used to present a similar twist in the plot showing his transformation from the tyrant king to an understanding man and loving parent. Kind Lear is presented throughout the play as a character with the harsh decision and is controlled by his temper and delusional sense of right and wrong. However, in his final days, the character is presented as wiser and able to make more rational decisions in that he recognizes his misguided principles and accepts Cordelia as his daughter. Although Lear had disowned her believing that she betrayed his trust the king later realizes the error of his ways and makes amends by asking for forgiveness. In his last days, King Lear clearly says that he was wrong showing that the experiences he went through made him wiser. The change in character is presented in act five scene five where he tells Kent "I have seen the day with my good biting falchion I would have made them skip. I am old now, and these same crosses spoil me...I'll tell you straight" (Shakespeare 183). In the line above Shakespeare displays a changed man who is not riddled with pride and self-worth but rather an individual who recognizes his errant ways and is repentant. Shakespeare shows that wisdom is acquired with age and just like in Gloucester's case king Lear dies as a better and wiser man.


The play focuses on the presentation of lies and truths and the path that King Lear and Gloucester have to follow...

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Wisdom in King Lear Essay Example. (2022, Sep 21). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/wisdom-in-king-lear-essay-example

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