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Shakespeare’s King Lear: A Bad Judgment Turns Tragic Essay

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Updated: Aug 28th, 2021

Dubbed as one of William Shakespeare’s greatest play, King Lear is a tragic tale of an aging king whose greatness has been marred by his wrong judgments and decisions. Set in the Elizabethan period in England, the play exhibited a society that is strongly hierarchical in nature. In this kind of society, there should be an absolute deference to power and respect must be paid not only to those who possess money and position but also to parents and the elderly. The lesson we can realize in this play is that no matter how great a king can be — he can still be vulnerable to take wrong judgments as the cause of his imminent downfall.

Essentially, the plot of King Lear gives credence to the famous adage that one should not judge a book by its cover. As the elderly monarch of Britain, King Lear came into an important decision of dividing his kingdom among his daughters Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. In this effort, King Lear wanted his daughters to be on a test to prove on how much they loved him. Of course, Goneril and Regan produced the sweetest words to express their love and affection for their father.

However, when it was Cordelia’s turn she refused to oblige in this request by her father. For Cordelia, she really has not enough words to describe how much she loved and admired her father. However, King Lear could not understand why Cordelia would not give in to his request. Of course, being the youngest and the favorite daughter, King Lear did not expect this unexpected reaction from Cordelia. Disappointed by her favorite daughter’s refusal to express her affection to the great king, King Lear was furious and decided to banish Cordelia from his kingdom and disinherit her all the properties and treasures she might get from him. For King Lear, Cordelia has extremely disobeyed his request and this exemplifies a crisis not only in his authority among his daughters, but in his kingdom as well.

Unfortunately, it did not take long for King Lear to realize that Goneril and Regan feigned their love and affection expressed to him. After King Lear turned over his power and authority to them, Goneril and Regan began to undermine his influence over them. As a result of this betrayal, King Lear debilitated into madness. After going insane, King Lear banished away from the houses of his daughters and later finding himself in a heath accompanied by a court jester and Kent.

Another nobleman Gloucester becomes aware of King Lear’s tragic fate and decided to assist him despite all the troubles he might face in doing this. When Regan and her husband became aware of Gloucester’s plan, they falsely accuse him of treason and punished him into blindness. Later, Cordelia led a French army to rescue his father from the cruelty of her sisters. Unfortunately, Cordelia’s troops were defeated as she and King Lear were captured. More tragedy ensued as Goneril poisoned Regan out of jealousy and commits suicide after. Cordelia is also executed and after learning all the tragic outcome of his wrong decision, King Lear himself died in the end out of sheer depression and grief.

Shakespeare here utilized an extreme form of tragic ending, where all the major characters ended in their sorry demise in the end. After just one wrong decision and judgment, everything came downwards spiral. To be sure, we are all aware that we can all commit terrible errors in life with terrifying consequences. However, in this play, we can be witnesses to a fact that all of the pain that King Lear had undergone can be cathartic.

As great and powerful men age like King Lear and Gloucester, they still in some sense become “better men” at the end of their lives than they were at the beginning of the action. It shows that even kings and fathers can be vulnerable to wrong decisions and they are not infallible. Shakespeare seemed to emphasize the degree to which the protagonists have been able to learn and grow through the endurance of tragic suffering. As a result, the audience is likely to emerge overwhelmed that they do not have to undergo the same problems King Lear had faced, as they will be overcome with pity and fear.

In the play’s ten acts, it focused much on how King Lear slowly fell down on his knees with just one wrong judgment. A subplot about Gloucester’s own downfall with his own family came to parallel as to what King Lear has experienced with his daughters. King Lear eventually came to accept the fact that he has been “a foolish fond old man.” In a parallel recognition, the blinded Gloucester acknowledges that he too faced his own downfall as he stumbled in his own decision.

Both fathers experienced the brunt of their earlier misdeeds. Having dethroned and his kingdom divided, Lear soon discovers that he is powerless to prevent his evil daughters from joining with Gloucester’s bastard son in an all-out effort to destroy him until they destroyed each other in the end. For King Lear, as he enters cradling his beloved daughter in his arms, this is the ultimate punishment for the arrogance and folly that had led him, at the beginning, to spurn and disinherit her.

Overall, Shakespeare’s story is one-of-a-kind because it is unbelievably tragic to happen in real life, where daughters became traitors to their own father. However, we must know that power corrupts everyone and in this story we can learn about how it destroyed everyone in the end.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. King Lear.

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IvyPanda. "Shakespeare’s King Lear: A Bad Judgment Turns Tragic." August 28, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/shakespeares-king-lear-a-bad-judgment-turns-tragic/.


IvyPanda. 2021. "Shakespeare’s King Lear: A Bad Judgment Turns Tragic." August 28, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/shakespeares-king-lear-a-bad-judgment-turns-tragic/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Shakespeare’s King Lear: A Bad Judgment Turns Tragic'. 28 August.

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