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Effective Foreshadowing In King Lear Essay

1227 words - 5 pages

Effective Foreshadowing in King Lear

The first scene of a play usually sets up the basic themes and situations that the remainder will work with. In Shakespeare’s play King Lear, the very first scene presents many of the play's basic themes and images. The recurrent imagery of human senses and of "nothing," the distortion of familial and social ties, the gradual dissolution of Lear's kingship, all make their first appearances in the first lines of Shakespeare's play.

            Much of the imagery in King Lear's first scene presages what is to come in the play. Often characters refer to senses, particularly sight, whether as a comment on the necessity of sensing consequences ...view middle of the document...

Lear is progressively brought to nothing, stripped of everything -- kingdom, knights, dignity, sanity, clothes, his last loving daughter, and finally life itself.

            One of the main signals of the growing chaos of Lear's world is the distortion of familial and social ties. King Lear exiles his favorite daughter, Cordelia, for a trifling offense, and those daughters he does favor soon turn against him. Gloucester listens to Edmund, his scheming bastard son, and disinherits Edgar, his legitimate heir. Edmund then betrays his father to rise yet further in power, even allowing his father's eyes to be put out. Lear's daughter Goneril turns against her husband, the Duke of Albany, plotting with Edmund to have him killed, and then poisons her sister Regan to cut off her relationship with Edmund. Parents, children, siblings, spouses, all ignore their duties -- willful nature and self-interest seem to rule the world of the play.

            We see many of these troubled relationships and strained ties even in the first scene of King Lear. Gloucester's cavalier treatment of Edmund before Kent seems a heartless way to treat a son, even an illegitimate one. Despite his protests that Edgar "yet is no dearer in my account" (I.i.20) than Edmund, the joking comments the Earl makes about his son's mother, his admission that "the whoreson must be acknowledg'd" (I.i.24), and his promise to send Edmund abroad for yet another nine years seem a cruel betrayal of his duty as a father. Kent seems to be one of Lear's trusted advisors, yet in a fit of pique the old monarch ignores his advice and banishes him from the kingdom. The Duke of Burgundy fails as a suitor by caring for Cordelia's property more than for the girl herself, refusing her when he finds "her price is fallen" (I.i.197). As Cordelia points out, Goneril and Regan slight their duty to their husbands by professing all their love is for their father: "Why have my sisters husbands, if they say / they love you all?" (I.i.99-100). Lear's response to Cordelia's inability to flatter him as her sisters have done is to "disclaim all my paternal care, / Propinquity and property of blood, / And as a stranger to my heart and me / Hold thee from this for ever." (I.i.113-116). The angry king uses in his renunciation the image of "he that makes his generation messes to gorge his appetite" (I.i.117-8) -- the reverse, ironically, of what happens to Lear later in the play:...

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