An Analysis of the Role of Comedy in Shakespeare’s Great Tragedy King Lear

The tragedy of King Lear lies in the pathos of King Lear’s descent into madness as the as quickly as omnipotent ruler of Britain loses everything. As he reaches the tip of his journey upon which Lear learns to accept responsibility for his errors as a monarch and a father, he’s reunited with Cordelia, the one daughter who has been faithful to him all through. It seems that Lear’s life will begin to get better: Lear has an opportunity of forgiveness and reconciliation.

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Shakespeare adds one last merciless twist to the tragedy: Cordelia’s demise. This rips Lear’s world apart to the extent that he dies from the center wrenching occasions. This ends the tragedy of King Lear.

Comedy is obvious everywhere, even in a great tragedy corresponding to King Lear. Comedy and tragedy are carefully related emotions as one individual could find a situation tragic feel pathos, whereas one other person might discover the identical state of affairs humorous. This is expressed by G.

Wilson-Knight in The Wheel of Fire as a sort of laughter that “treads the brink of tears”. Despite the close relationship between these two emotions they are also utterly incongruous and are poles aside: one offers reduction while the other causes struggling.

A robust thread of comedy is evident throughout the play which ultimately helps to extend the tragedy of the occasions that happen. They do that by giving the audience brief moments of relief from the horrific happenings in the play. Comic moments give the audience an opportunity to relax and in addition give them a glimmer of hope before the next tragic scene, which hits them with extra influence and that means as a outcome of we are caught off guard.

Continuous tragedy isn’t efficient as a end result of it will ultimately de-sensitise the audience; it will all become the identical and the heart-rending events wouldn’t have an effect anymore as a outcome of emotions such as shock, horror and pathos are very troublesome to sustain with out the viewers changing into indifferent.

From the start of the play, the situations going through King Lear are portrayed with features of comedy. This is because of Lear’s selection of puerile and pathetic ‘task’ which he units his daughters, to have the ability to resolve how he will divide his kingdom between them. Lear asks his daughters:

“Which of you let’s assume doth love us most?”

Which ever daughter expresses the greatest love for her father, through phrases, receives essentially the most quantity of land from King Lear. Goneril and Regan both express their overwhelming love for their father making exaggerated and clearly insincere proclamations similar to:

“Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;”

Lear believes what his two eldest daughters have mentioned, although in this instance, Goneril is saying that “words can’t describe how a lot I love you,” and but she continues to precise her love for him via words! Lear is flattered into believing the emotions are real and due to this fact divides up the land so the two elder daughters get the biggest share of his land. Cordelia, however, tells the reality about her love for her father:

“I am positive my love’s

More ponderous than my tongue.”

She is being clear in what she says. However this doesn’t satisfy Lear’s enormous ego, although, in deeds, Cordelia is clearly his most loving daughter, so he disowns her and banishes her from the land. This puerile behaviour King Lear is displaying is incongruous to his status as King of Britain. Comedy could presumably be seen in this scene as a outcome of Lear is so blinded by his ego that he cannot see what he is doing to himself, his daughters and to the land over which he rules. However this scene should also be perceived as pathetic and potentially tragic as a result of the viewers can see that Cordelia is the only truthful daughter and, as he has banished her, it might be predicted that some tragic penalties are inevitable.

Despite his outrageous behaviour, it is evident that Lear’s love for his daughters in real, robust and really real. It is the reality that he does probably not know his daughters in any respect, that’s the supply of the problem. Thus, his love is predicated on false understanding. If his love was primarily based on a real understanding Lear would not have banished Cordelia and misguidedly believed and rewarded Goneril or Regan. Lear’s instincts are heroic and noble: good qualities for a King to have. Yet, his judgements are completely incongruous to his instincts as Lear is blinded to his mistakes and to anybody else round him. Also, incongruously, Lear desires to abdicate and shed the duties of a King, but still retain the facility – “all the addition of a king”. The greatest fault with King Lear is his mind as he can’t see what he is doing is mistaken. This makes the following punishment of really dropping his sanity very appropriate. It is only through this process that Lear is ready to find some purpose in insanity and, being reunited with Cordelia at the finish of the play restores his thoughts and some sanity as soon as once more.

Clearly, incongruity permeates this play. The incongruity in itself is actually comedian as a outcome of it is odd and unexpected. The natural human response to one thing misplaced or incongruous is to snort however it could also lend us to cry, which corresponds with G. Wilson-Knight’s identification of a type of laughter that “treads the brink of tears”.

Another example of King Lear’s incongruity and lack of self consciousness is in a moment of concern at his two eldest daughters, after they both reject him and his entourage from their households. Lear speaks of the revenge he could have on them both:

“I could have such revenges on you both

That all the world shall – I will do such issues,

What they are, yet I know not; but they shall be

The terrors of the earth.”

This speech happens initially of Lear’s descent into madness, his whole speech is type of a puerile tantrum which is inconsistent along with his former status he enjoyed as a King. He is performing in a pompous way, regardless of that proven truth that he has nothing and not has any influence over how the country is run.

Later, Lear struggles to regulate his tears and cries to the gods:

“You think I’ll weep;

No, I’ll not weep:-“

At the time that Shakespeare wrote this play, one was thought of weak to cry, significantly a man, but even more so for a King. Kings had been seen as the muse energy of the country and, if they showed weak spot, it will show the whole nation to be unstable. This complete speech and scene invites ridicule of King Lear as a end result of he is so blinded to his mistakes and the incongruity of his present behaviour.

As funny as this scene could additionally be in theory, if one seems deeper into the significance of Lear’s loss of management, not all of it might seem humorous. Audience members might really feel sympathy for Lear as he is going mad; he has no self consciousness with which to understand what is happening to him and recognise his duty for all of it. In addition, his daughters have been merciless to Lear by not accepting him into their households, knowing that a denial of his entourage is the last word snub for a monarch as proud as their father. All of these items amount to psychological torture for the previous ruler of the country. Recognising the bathos of the King’s place, the viewers would probably really feel unhappiness for Lear rather than revel is his torment.

Another character inside the play that might be explored for comedian potential is The Fool: a significant character in King Lear although it may not at first appear to be it. Within his many merciless jokes about Lear’s situation, The Fool does speak plenty of fact, and presents King Lear advice about what he should do. However, the phrases that he speaks are not all humorous: they are poignant as they point out issues that nobody else can see about Lear’s situation.

Despite his apparent jest, The Fool’s humour really will increase the pain that the viewers feels for King Lear as a result of a lot of his strains are cruel. Thus The Fool virtually rubs the reality that the state of affairs is Lear’s fault into his face, which evokes pity throughout the audience. If The Fool stood in entrance of Lear and advised him truthfully and honestly what he says in his jokes, he would be punished or possibly even killed because he has no ‘right’ to inform the ‘king’ anything – The Fool loved the bottom status within the hierarchy of the occasions. It could possibly be perceived as ironic that solely The Fool, the bottom of the low, is left faithful to King Lear as he has banished all the opposite individuals in his life that have been trustworthy to him. It may be seen as paradoxically humorous, but equally pathetic, that the lowest of the low is the one particular person with the perception to grasp what is occurring to Lear, however his lowly standing signifies that nobody listens to him.

There are many examples of The Fool’s merciless humour all through the play, all of which level out the irony and absurdity of Lear’s situation and, though they may be perceived as being witty, their impact on the viewers just isn’t comedic:

“The Hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long,

That it’s had it head bit off by it young.”


This point made by The Fool is explaining how King Lear’s own kids have turned towards him after he has taken care of them for therefore many years because he ‘fed’ them the energy and power with which to hold out this betrayal! He is mocking King Lear about this and for the bad selections he has made. As true as that is, Lear takes no discover of it as a outcome of he doesn’t listen to The Fool (for causes already explained.) Also, Lear remains to be blind to the truthfulness of what The Fool has said and subsequently doesn’t even react to it in any means.

The Fool sees the potential for comedy in all of Lear’s actions all through the play and is the one person left by his side when he’s going mad in the wilderness. The Fool may be seen as someone who’s there to ‘lighten the mood’ of the scenes by injecting elements of comedy in one of the tragic elements of the play. However, the impression of The Fool is more likely to reinforce the tragedy in Lear’s scenario.

In addition, further tragedy could be found within the phrases of wisdom that The Fool speaks (which may be thought-about as sinister humour) as a outcome of they’re intended to help King Lear, and to avoid wasting him. If Lear can take a step again and take a glance at his scenario, he’ll have the ability to see what is happening to the people round him. He might additionally doubtlessly see what would possibly occur as a consequence of his actions.

At this level in the play the viewers can recognise that The Fool’s attempts to help save Lear from what’s going to happen are futile and due to this fact really feel sorry for The Fool as well as Lear himself. The viewers can be feeling enhanced sympathy for Lear too as he’s so blinded by the things that his daughters have done to him that he cannot see that attainable salvation is instantly to hand. It would be possible to additionally snicker at Lear as a result of he is so blinded that he can not see the apparent fact but, given the portrayal of his obvious grief and torment, that is unlikely.

Comedy corresponding to The Fool’s that is woven in all through the play finally helps to boost the tragedy by giving the audience moments of relief from the tension within the rest of the play, stopping them from changing into desensitised and in addition by cruelly mocking him so relentlessly by holding a mirror to the blind monarch’s behaviour when he is clearly unable to see it and find recognition.

With Lear not being in a position to see what is occurring around him, he therefore has a long method to go in his learning earlier than his struggling can be ended. Lear nonetheless believes that what his daughters have done is their fault; he can’t see what he has additionally carried out mistaken to deserve such therapy. This leads him into the wilderness to rage at the weather and the Gods.

During the scene when Lear is within the wilderness and a storm is blowing, his mind returns to what has happened as still not understanding why his daughters did such a thing to him, he tries to make sense of it. In rage and self pity, Lear cries: “as this mouth should tear this hand for lifting food to’t.” This could also be interpreted as comic for its dramatic irony; however, it may be interpreted as tragic as a end result of he was such a powerful character and to see him lowered to such a stage, no matter his folly, is deeply saddening.

For a person used to a life of privilege in court docket, life in the wilderness is clearly taking a toll on King Lear’s psychological state and he continues to act incongruously to his status. For instance, Lear takes his garments off. This could possibly be presented on stage as being like a two-year-old as they often take their garments and have no disgrace in doing it, or possibly a drunk as drunk folks haven’t any self-awareness and subsequently might degrade themselves on this way. Both of these interpretations would create a twisted type of comedy. Another cause this could be seen as comedian is as a end result of in his “reason not the need” speech earlier within the play, Lear refers to a primary want for clothes to tell apart man from beast, so taking them off is contradicting what he has already said.

Another vital and symbolic thing that takes place on this scene of the play is the pathetic fallacy of the storm. Lear’s mind is type of a storm in the best way that he’s indignant about what has occurred and unable to cope with certain truths he should face to keep away from madness: he is battling with himself as he slowly begins to find out about his errors, but still doesn’t need to settle for that any of it is his fault.

Lear additionally meets Poor Tom within the wilderness, (who is, actually, Edgar – Gloucester’s legitimate son – disguised as a beggar). After a couple of ‘enlightening’ phrases of jibberish from Poor Tom, Lear calls him a “noble philosopher”, which is ironic and truly pathetic: Lear’s companions now comprise The Fool and a mad beggar. The as soon as mighty ruler’s peripeteia is at once comical and deeply tragic.

Undoubtedly the audience feels nice sympathy and pity for King Lear presently: he is so mad and confused that it will be almost inconceivable to think that he was once a ruler of Britain. There is extreme pathos in Lear being decreased to nothing.

To reinforce the seriousness of what King Lear has accomplished and offering a visible and extra overly bodily reflection of Lear’s madness, Shakespeare features a sub-plot. The sub-plot in King Lear mirrors the journey of Lear, is the story of the Earl of Gloucester. This shows the widespread impact that Lear’s actions have on the nation he used to rule: what he does in Act One, scene one, affects not only him and his daughters, but in addition the land and folks he as soon as dominated over. It additionally offers Lear’s story extra depth as it permits the audience to see his internal turmoil played out in the bodily torment of Gloucester’s struggling as punishment for his sins.

The first time Gloucester is launched to the viewers in the opening traces of the play the place he talks to Kent about his illegitimate son, Edmund. He makes jokes at Edmund’s expense about how he was conceived exterior wedlock, Gloucester being quite crude about Edmund and things he had no management over.

“there was

Good sport at his making”

This offers individuals the impression that Gloucester lacks self-control and self-discipline.

Like Lear, Gloucester does not accept personal duty for his baby, and when he subsequently suffers for his misplaced loyalties, he blames the gods for taking half in with people and influencing what they do, claiming that they’re towards humanity.

“As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods.

They kill us for his or her sport.”

Puerile boys find it funny to observe a fly battle in the occasion that they pull off certainly one of its legs or wings, however they do not think about how the fly feels. This is how Gloucester feels the gods consider people. This would have shocked Shakespeare’s modern audience because they believed heavily in God(s) and to say that they have been conspiring against humanity, would have been thought blasphemous). Gloucester’s pondering is analogous to the King’s because he didn’t accept duty initially of his learning journey either.

Gloucester’s physical torture is a truly horrific scene within the play; additionally it is unnecessarily crude and disgusting. Shakespeare exhibits this in the extraordinarily graphic element of this scene. Cornwall says:

“Out, vile Jelly!”


“Upon these eyes of thine I’ll set my foot.”

This captures a vivid image of the violence of Gloucester’s eyes being gouged out. This scene is intentionally graphic which helps to reinforce the cruelty that adds as a lot as Lear’s hidden torture in his insanity. In this sense, the scene is far from comedian. Learn about position of the Fool in King Lear

However, by some callous folks, this scene may be seen as macabre leisure. Throughout history, the sight of physical torment has provided a welcome diversion for a lot of. Citizens at the time of the performs first performance enjoyed many examples of violent leisure, together with bear baiting and cock preventing, as properly as watching disabled fellow human beings being beaten. Even at present, we’re fascinated by the violent leisure most commonly seen in video games and the horror genre of films and books. It could be blinkered to not acknowledge these things. However, the macabre thrill that the viewers could get from this scene in the play definitely is overshadowed by the cruel and unnecessary ache Gloucester endures. The viewers would also be aware of the sub plot’s purpose and recognise that this scene is a car by which to convey Lear’s excessive mental torture in addition to for instance the impact of Lear’s original choice on his whole kingdom.

A additional glimpse of black humour in this scene lies within the joke made by Regan at Gloucester’s expense:

“Let him scent his approach to Dover”

The macabre humour shown by Regan is sickening but in addition acceptable to disclose what is going on in Lear’s world by displaying the viewers the sick and twisted thoughts of his daughter. The viewers has been subjected to the grim and horrific kind of humour on this scene to painting not only the corrupt nature of Lear’s daughter, Regan, but in addition how the protagonist and his world are managed by a larger energy than himself, the gods.

After the gouging out of his eyes, Gloucester wants to commit suicide as a outcome of he does not wish to reside with out his sense of sight. He plans on going to Dover to hurl himself off a cliff and fall to his dying; nevertheless, it doesn’t work out the greatest way he had deliberate. Edgar, nonetheless disguised as Poor Tom, takes Gloucester to Dover and tells him that they’re on the sting of a cliff, describing to him the rocks and peril that lie below. Gloucester (because he’s blind) believes him and prepares to take the final step off the cliff; in actuality Gloucester is on a small step and received’t fall far at all. He speaks of how he’s going to hurl himself off the cliff edge and die heroically. Gloucester takes the ultimate step off the ‘cliff’ and ‘falls to his death’. This shows the bathos of tragedy, how wretchedly absurd someone’s behaviour can be within the midst of extreme suffering.

Many folks discover the sight of someone falling flat on his face hilarious, because it is the very stuff of slapstick comedy. These individuals might certainly find this scene comedian whilst different will really feel sorry for Gloucester and his impotence even in suicide. He actually does cut a truly pathetic figure.

This really heart-rending and dejected scene in the play is a crucial one because it prepares the viewers for what’s to return next: Lear at his lowest ebb. This is certainly not comedian. Seeing Gloucester at breaking point, directly previous to this, prepares the viewers by giving them an insight into how a personality would possibly act and react in a scenario of such struggling.

At this level within the play Lear has reached his lowest ebb. He has plunged into the depths of madness and misplaced himself in a world of fantasy:

“Look, Look, a mouse! Peace, peace;

this piece of toasted cheese will do’t”

A man who was the majestic ruler of the land deteriorating to such a degree the place he talks to a mouse, is quite stunning to watch: Lear has been lowered to nothing. Having travelled this journey with Lear there is not a way this scene could probably be interpreted as comic; it is each pathetic and tragic to see such insanity in a once almighty man. However, Lear’s peripetia is necessary. He has to succeed in rock-bottom and totally recognize what he has accomplished incorrect, before he may be reunited with Cordelia at the end of the play, thus balancing the scales of justice. At this point, the viewers would recognise Lear has suffered enough. A satisfying resolution would be Cordelia’s forgiveness and a few reconciliation for Lear’s final days in peace. However, this could be a tragedy so a peaceful decision cannot be.

The recurring incongruity throughout the play is final observed in Cordelia’s pointless dying within the play’s final scene. The ultimate, tragic ‘joke’ is that Cordelia’s father, Lear, has to witness this primary hand and feel the heart-wrenching pain and anger arising from the death of one so valuable. Cordelia’s is the worst demise in the play as a end result of it’s fully gratuitous, whereas even her sisters, Goneril and Regan, die whilst pursuing an evil need. After Edmund’s confession in his last moments alive the dying sentence for Cordelia is lifted but it’s too late: Cordelia is hanged in a prison cell by a standard soldier, which is not heroic but degrading. She is hanged after her enemies’ deaths and with her associates trying on. Poignancy is intensified as King Lear, after enduring all the physical and psychological torment of filial betrayal and then being re-united with his loving and truthful daughter, Cordelia, has to look at her heart-wrenching death. This last scene of complete incongruity and ache is captured in Lear’s final query to the gods:

“Why should a canine, a horse, a rat have life,

And thou no breath at all?”

Lear cannot accept the reality that Cordelia has died. He cannot take the pressure her demise has placed on his coronary heart and cries out:

“I am bound

Upon a wheel of fire, that mine personal tears

Do scald like molten lead.”

and thus, finally, dies a broken man.

The robust thread of comedy evident all through the play may seem incongruous in a play that is often referred to as Shakespeare’s biggest tragedy. Yet, finally, the tragedy is enhanced by these comedian parts. Thus, using comedy in King Lear does not diminish the tragedy; it really redoubles it.

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