King Lear Character

  • Created by: Pip Dan
  • Created on: 20-09-17 16:18

King Lear is the eponymous main character in Shakespeare's tragedy. The play focuses on his actions and their repercussions as the audience watch Lear suffer from old age, betrayal and madness. However, Lear is not just a victim as he can be blamed for most of the events in the play and his selfish, prideful (hubris) and angry disposition can be heavily criticised.

Dividing the Kingdom

Politically, Lear's biggest mistake is an the first scene when he chooses to divide his kingdom. This would be preposterous to a Jacobean audience, where unity was the only thought and indeed James I was attempting to unify his kingdom into Great Britain, albeit unsuccessfully. Lear makes this decision on his own selfish desire to retire from the responsibilities of Kingship, whilst maintaining the power, prestige and name of King. This twisted thinking clearly is illogical, if not impossible. Furthermore, he confuses his roles of King and Father to determine how to spilt up the Kingdom by basing it on a love-test. By also banishing Cordelia and Kent Lear is shown to be a very angry and foolish man from the very beginning of the play.


'King Lear' is, in a way, an exploration of identity loss. Most of the characters in the play go through a confusion of their identity and Lear is no different. Lear himself loses the most: his kingship, his relationship to his daughters, and eventually, his mind. His whole identity was based on his role as King and without that he struggles to function.

When Lear looks at the shivering, half-naked body of Poor Tom the beggar and concludes that this is true humanity, without the perfumes and fancy clothes that society uses to hide what people are really like. 'Thou art the thing itself,' Lear tells Poor Tom, 'Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art'.

Lear suggests that people are, at the core, no different—and certainly no better—than animals. As Lear mourns over Cordelia's body, he asks bitterly, 'Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life, and thou no breath at all?' What's tragic about this line is that Lear has already provided an answer to his question. If people are really just 'poor, bare, forked animals,' there's nothing to separate Cordelia from a dog or a horse or a rat. She has no special claim on life. There's no reason that Cordelia should have breath while a dog, a horse or a rat doesn't. This is an unbearable thought, and, perhaps, this is why Lear dies of a broken heart. 


Lear suffers from mental instability throughout the play. Like Gloucester's blindness, it causes great suffering to Lear and allows the auidence to see how far he has fallen down the social hierarchy. It is a comment on the fragility on life and the extent of human suffering, but it also shows human endurance. Whilst Lear's mental stability is only referred to as madness in the play critics have…


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