Manual Shmoop Literature Guide: King Lear

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  • King Lear Summary and Analysis of Act I.
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After the Holocaust and two World Wars, the vision of human life presented in King Lear didn't seem overly cynical—it seemed pretty realistic. The play's graphic violence suddenly seemed appropriate. So did Lear 's suggestion that gods either don't exist or, if they do, they like to torture humans.

Productions of Lear notably, Peter Brook's stage production multiplied, and it's been riding a high tide of popularity ever since. And, while you might not be able to Netflix a star-studded version of King Lear why not, Hollywood?

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Why not?! It may have had a rocky past hey, so did Moby-Dick but, given the breadth of its influence—not to mention its brilliance— King Lear is here to stay. And if that doesn't impress you, try this one on for size: it's a tragedy by Shakespeare. It's not one of his fusty histories or cheesy comedies not that those are anything to sneeze at, but the tragedies are in a class of their own.

Teaching King Lear

That basically makes it—according to some very brainy lit critics—the most important play by the most important playwright that ever wrote in English. If that isn't doesn't activate the "must read now! We have no idea. So why is this such a brain-shatteringly important read? Isn't King Lear just a play about a senile old man who makes a series of bad political decisions until just about everyone winds up dead?

Nope: King Lear is about a whole lot more than Lear's political crisis. When it comes down to it, family relationships—not just politics—are at the heart of the play. Famous literary critic Stephen Greenblatt writes that "the focus of Shakespeare's tragedy" is "Lear's folly," which amounts to his decision to "rashly disinherit the only child who truly loves him" Introduction to King Lear, Norton Edition.

King Lear Act I Summary and Analysis | GradeSaver

In other words, when Big Papa Lear disowns his loving daughter, Cordelia, he pretty much sets in motion the tragic events that follow—Goneril and Regan betray their father they throw him out into the cold before proceeding to fight one another over a guy , Lear becomes homeless and wanders around the kingdom, war erupts, Goneril poisons her sister, Regan, and then kills herself, Cordelia is unjustly put to death by order of her sister's lover, Lear dies of a broken heart, and so on. So, is Shakespeare telling us to be nice to our families? You bet. He's also telling us that family drama is universal and timeless.

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So, after you read Lear, you'll definitely want to give your annoying little sister a hug instead of trying to steal her evil boyfriend—you'll also want to rethink your plan to poison your sibling and throw your aging father out onto the streets after he gives you your own kingdom. Or, you know, put on a happy face at the next predictably insane family Thanksgiving.

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All rights reserved. King Lear Introduction. Yo, how about this one: it's by Shakespeare. In other words, Lear's whole family ends up dead. Cite This Page.