College Papers

Shakespeare’s the sake of achieving what they long

Shakespeare’s plays always present a different side to human nature. In tragedies, humanity is often portrayed to be evil. Everyone already knows that there are two sides to humanity, good and evil. However, Shakespeare exposes the evil side of humanity in a way that proves how easily it can triumph over good. Within his plays, Shakespeare demonstrates how desire can overtake a person’s moral compass, conscience, and actions. William Shakespeare’s play King Lear presents how cruel and inhumane the lengths humanity will go to for the sake of achieving what they long for. Merriam-Webster defines desire as something to “long, hope, or wish for”. The characters in King Lear represent those who go overboard trying to pursue and achieve their desires. In Act 1, Lear is simply a person who wants to hear his favourite daughter proclaim how much she loves him. Lear also wants power despite already giving it away, so when Kent contradicts his actions he becomes a cruel person who refuses to listen to his advice. Another character who will do anything to get what he wants is Edmund. Since he is an illegitimate son– a bastard, all he wants is to feel accepted and the power that comes with being actually legitimate. The last character who seems to be the least cruel out of everyone in the pay is Cordelia. However, it can be argued that because she desires honesty to always prevail she may do certain things that can be considered cruel and inhumane. She may be more cruel than she seems. These characters represent the capabilities of humanity when something is desired. King Lear’s characteristics define him to be a person who does not think before they act. One of Lear’s biggest flaws in the play is treating those who are loyal to him and those who love him most as if they are expendable and nonessential to him. Banishment is an act that shows how cruel Lear can become in order to get what he wants. For instance, in Act 1 he ultimately just wants his favourite daughter to express in words how much she loves him. When Cordelia does not do as she is told, he becomes angry and irrational. Due to irrational thinking Lear says to Cordelia that “he disclaims all his paternal careā€¦ As thou his sometime daughter.” (1.1.120-127). Lear throws all away his love for Cordelia in an instant simply because her answer was not what he expected. Not only does Lear banish his favourite daughter, he banishes his most loyal servant too. Kent sees through Lear’s desires and knows that he will not achieve it, so being the good friend and servant that he is– Kent tells Lear the truth. “Out of my sight.” is all that Lear says after Kent confronts him because he cannot handle the truth (1.1.168). He believes that he still has power. Throughout the play, Lear banishes those who are being truthful towards him due to not being able to handle the fact that his desire for power and being loved is no longer achievable. Another of the most cruel things that Lear has done in this play is speaking. Lear’s words are often cruel, hurtful, and ruthless. For instance, Lear curses his own daughter simply because he does not get what he wants. Lear wishes misfortunes against Goneril because she does not provide exactly what he wishes– the knights, the housing, and the power. Lear is the most cruel to her when he says “Into her womb convey sterility/ Dry up in her the organs of increase.” (1.4.280-281). To wish something so negative and malicious upon someone must require no conscience or moral input whatsoever. Lear’s cruelty and inhumanity is seen through the intent in his words and his actions, specifically his banishments. Sometimes the cruelty and inhumanity of a person is overlooked because of how good they seem to be. This instance is seen in Cordelia’s character. Cordelia’s only desire is the exposure of the truth, she values honesty and truthfulness above all things. If she wanted to please her father’s desires, Cordelia could have easily lied or exaggerated the truth as her sisters did. In spite of hurting her father’s feelings, Cordelia says that she does not regret telling her truth– which in the play is saying nothing. Cordelia knows that her lack of a flattering tongue will cost her Lear’s love. Yet she chooses truth over her father’s love, “such a tongue/ As I am glad I have not” (1.1.225-226). To the naked eye, how Cordelia chooses to answer the question “Which of you shall we say doth love us the most?” may seem brave and bold (1.1.52). It shows that Cordelia is a good person who sticks to her core values. However, looking deeper– it can be argued that this situation (Cordelia’s resistance to speak) indirectly causes Lear’s descent to madness and insanity. It can be said that Cordelia brings out the worst in Lear– his banishments were the result of her choice to not participate in his game. It is also famously said that bystanders may be worse than those committing the crime. Cordelia is a bystander among those who act upon their desires, like Goneril and Regan. In Act 1, Cordelia confronts her sisters. She tells them that “Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides,/ Who covers faults, at last with shame derides. ” (1.1.309-310). Cordelia knew her sisters’ true intentions yet never stopped to tell them that what they may be doing is wrong. She also never considers telling her father about them, she lets Lear blindly believe that Goneril and Regan love him as much as they say they do. Although Cordelia may be a person with good intentions, she could have done so much more to prevent both Goneril and Regan from the way they inhumanely treated their father. Even just Cordelia’s act of hindering Lear from knowing the truth about Goneril and Regan is cruel enough. Thus, Cordelia unintentionally chooses to be cruel and inhumane for the sake of honesty and truthfulness. Edmund, the bastard son, is arguably one of the most cruel characters in the play. He is an archetype of a specific role a character may have– he is the machiavellian in this tragedy. He has quite a personality but his most dominant quality is his machiavellianism. Since he is devoted to his own interests, he will do anything for them to come true. He disregards the fact that his means of achieving them are evil, twisted, and ruthless. Edmund’s perception is flawed as he sees everything as an opportunity for self-advancement. No matter how wrong the opportunity is, he will always take it. For instance, Edmund jumps at the opportunity of killing Albany without hesitation, all for an unguaranteed position of power as Goneril’s new husband. When Goneril suggests that he kill Albany, Edmund cynically responds with “Yours in the rank of death!” as if killing her husband, so that they can be together, is some form of chivalry (4.2.28). Another example to prove Edmund’s cruelty and inhumanity for the sole purpose of self-progression is how he treats his family– Edgar and Gloucester. He deceives his father and brother, turning them against each other. In the first act of the play, Edmund says to Edgar “I do serve you in this business” acting as if he serves only Edgar and no one else (1.3.171). In reality, he serves anyone who can help him achieve his goals like when he betrays his own father without an ounce of guilt or remorse. Edmund abandons his father and instead chooses Cornwall simply because he had more to offer him. He also knew that he would get rewarded for being disloyal to Gloucester. Thus further proving that Edmund will do anything, no matter how cruel and inhumane it is, to further his own agenda and achieve his desires. Shakespeare’s King Lear possess characters who will do and say anything to achieve their desires. Lear is man who banishes those who love him most and curses his own daughters simply because he does not receive what he wants from them. Cordelia is another character who will stick by the truth no matter who it is hurting and how much it is hurting them. Lastly, Edmund is a character who is cruel through actions and words– he is a cunningly deceitful liar who will do anything for power and acceptance. King Lear showcases how evil can conquer over one’s conscience and morality simply because what they desire is more important to them than being a good person.