Tuesday, January 24, 2012

To what extent does one of the core texts show that it is dangerous to live in a state of illusion

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‘King Lear’ aptly shows that it is dangerous to live in a state of illusion; all of the tragic events that occur throughout the story are the result of King Lear and Gloucester’s initial ignorance to the false illusion created by their children. Both men are unaware that their disloyal offspring are taking advantage of them, and that they have wrongfully accused their virtuous heirs. Unfortunately, when they discover their respective mistakes, it is too late to correct them, and a sinister turn of events ensues.


From the outset, Gloucester seems to be under the illusion that his bastard son, Edmund, is grateful for the upbringing that he has been given. When introducing Edmund to his friend Kent, Gloucester is obviously affectionate towards his son saying


‘..though this knave came something saucily to the world before he was sent for, yet was his mother fair, there was good sport at his making, and the whoreson must be acknowledged.’


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From this interaction, it can be assumed that Edmund had done nothing in the past to arouse suspicion of his ambitions, and instead had been waiting patiently to upset the familial balance. Edmund had been abroad for nine years, so with his character largely unknown to his father, is it reasonable to say that a father’s natural assumptions and Edmund’s artifices combined to create the illusion that he was a grateful and loyal son. However, Edmund’s soliloquy proved to the reader that this assumption was incorrect. While admitting that ‘Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund/As to th’ legitimate (Edgar)’, Edmund is obviously unsatisfied with his lack of inheritance and at being ‘some twelve or fourteen moonshines/Lag of a brother’.


He proceeds to pen a letter, supposedly from his virtuous brother, Edgar, outlining a wish for them to conspire together to commit parricide. The extent of the illusion that Gloucester was under is shown clearly to us because he accepted this letter without question, and thus Edmund was thrust into the position of the ‘loyal son’. This letter, and the subsequent lies that ensued meant that Gloucester was living in the false illusion that his son, Edmund, was to be trusted. The danger of living under this illusion was clearly illustrated later when Edmund cold-heartedly betrayed his father to the evil Goneril, whom after removing his eyes, sought to have him killed. When confiding in Edmund about his knowledge of a French army approach and of his intent of help Lear, Gloucester did not realise the danger that he was placing himself in, and pays a very high price losing his eyesight, title, and discovering that he had mistreated his beloved Edgar. By the time that Gloucester realised that he was living under an illusion, the damage had been done and could not be corrected. Gloucester did reunite with Edgar later in the story and was seemingly forgiven by him, yet Gloucester’s self-reproach at his mistake prevented him from having the will to live. The deceptive belief that Edgar had been disloyal to him and that Edmund was the loyal son was the causation of all the horrible, painful and life-endangering events that occurred in Gloucester’s life and ultimately his untimely death.


The relationships between King Lear and his daughters is another example of the dangers of living under a false illusion. In the beginning scene, Lear asked for his daughters to publicly proclaim their love for him, and the result of this, was that he incorrectly perceived all three daughters. Goneril and Regan, the antagonists of the story, consecutively declare


‘I love you more than word can wield the matter’


and


‘..she (Goneril) names my very deed of love; Only she comes too short,’


This is blatant hypocrisy when compared with their behaviour towards Lear later in the novel. They locked Lear outside of Gloucester’s castle during stormy weather, leaving him at the mercy of the Gods.


In realising the vanity of their father, these two women merely created the illusion that they loved him, in order to gain their inheritance early. Lear’s youngest daughter, Cordelia, however is truthful about her feelings for her father, stating


‘I love your Majesty


According to my bond, no more nor less.’


We, the reader, know that Cordelia was being sincere because of the aside that she spoke for the audience’s benefit, yet Lear, with his foolish pride, believed that she was being insolent and proceeded to strip her of his love and titles. Therefore, he was not only under the illusion that Goneril and Regan loved him, but also under the even more dangerous illusion that Cordelia did not love him. It was his pride that instigated this illusion and all but he could see that Cordelia was his most loyal and loving daughter. The results of Lear’s illusion in regards to his daughters had far-reaching effects. Cordelia was banished from England and Lear then left at the mercy of his two eldest, power-hungry daughters. They both defied the one condition that Lear had laid out at the beginning of the play, saying that he must not bring his one hundred knights with him to live in their castles. When he became upset at this news, Regan ordered for him to be locked outside of her castle. The callous intent of her actions was confirmed by Gloucester who tells Kent


‘His daughters seek his death’


Now that Lear had come to the realisation that neither of his eldest daughters loved him, nor planned to care for him in his dotage, he realised his mistake in misjudging Cordelia. Lear is in extreme, immediate danger, for he is an old, heart-broken man, who has been left to die in the storm, either from being struck by lightening or from the cold. He encountered even more danger as the play proceeded, with the English army seeking him as a traitor of the country. After their happy reunion, Lear and Cordelia were captured, and Cordelia hung. If he had not been under the initial illusion that Cordelia did not love him, Lear would have had the option of living with her rather than her sisters, and she would have gladly cared for him. It may also have prevented Goneril and Regan from unleashing their evil personas, because there would have been no opportunity for a power struggle. Many lives would have been saved, in particular, the ethereal heroine of the play, Cordelia.


In using the parallel plots involving the Duke of Gloucester and King Lear, ‘King Lear’ shows two extreme examples of how living in a state of illusion can be very dangerous. Both men ultimately died because of their illusions of their children, and in the case of King Lear, it also put his entire kingdom in danger. This play aptly shows that there is great danger in misjudging a person or situation.





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