To What Extent Has Your Personal Response of King Lear Been Shaped by the Enduring Power of Shakespeare’s Characterisation of the Play?

The 17th Century play ‘King Lear’ has ensured its relevance to contemporary society through dramatic unity and textual integrity, however, in my personal response above all else is Shakespeare’s prescient characterisation of Lear’s identity struggle that has ensured the play’s universal significance and value to humanity. While the family tragedy of King Lear is prevalent in both plot and sub plot, after an in depth study of the play I believe the most discerning tragedy is that of individual identity and the concern for human kind.

Lear’s struggle with his identity as King, father and man unites and propels the entire play as foreshadowed by Lear’s “Who is it who can tell me who I am?” in the very opening of the play, to which the faithful Fool replies “Lear’s shadow” effectively introducing the divided identity that burdens King Lear. Shakespeare uses the Wheel of fortune an Elizabethan form of torture, as an extended metaphor to insinuate the cyclical struggle of identity that Lear is burdened with. Initially Lear is strapped to a “wheel of fire” on a rapid descent kinship, material possessions, daughters, kingdom and security, and yet the all wise fool foreshadows the nature of Lear’s journey as the “great wheel turns” to reach moral ascendancy. Ultimately it is the cunning villain Edmund realises “the wheel has come full circle”, essentially encapsulating the integrity of the entire play, unearthing the dramatic unity that propels Lear’s ongoing identity struggle, as he inevitably comes to a tragic lack of perception and moral enlightenment.

Shakespeare’s complex characterisation of Lear is established through the transgression of language. According to the pagan Great Chain of Being a social hierarchy of the Elizabethan era, Lear is seen to be at the apex of society, closest to god. Initially, Lear is characterised as an irrational, reckless and self-aggrandising individual through his verbose use of language calling upon the gods to, “Thwart...