Tragedy Through Misreading in William Shakespeare's King Lear

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Tragedy Through Misreading in William Shakespeare's King Lear

Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear, portrays many important misconceptions which result in a long sequence of tragic events. The foundation of the story revolves around two characters, King Lear and Gloucester, and concentrates on their common flaw, the inability to read truth in other characters. For example, the king condemns his own daughter after he clearly misreads the truth behind her “dower,”(1.1.107) or honesty. Later, Gloucester passes judgment on his son Edgar based on a letter in which he “shall not need spectacles”(1.2.35) to read. While these two characters continue to misread people’s words, advisors around them repeatedly give hints to their
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Gloucester’s tragic flaw is his inability to perceive honesty and truth with his eyes.

Though Lear possesses this same negative characteristic, he consciously makes the decision to condemn Cordelia because she will not provide him with the immediate gratification he anticipates. Lear misreads the only daughter who truly honors him because he is on a power trip. Lear wants to hear Cordelia speak about his greatness and her limitless love for him. When Cordelia responds “shall I never marry like my sisters,/To love my father all”(1.1.102-103) the king willfully interprets this statement as an insult and becomes outraged.

After Lear condemns Cordelia, he banishes Kent, his most trustworthy supporter, because of his boldness to defend Cordelia. Basically the king is eliminating anyone who is not acknowledging his authority and power. At this point in the play, Lear portrays the classic Shakespearian theme that some power corrupts but absolute power corrupts ultimately. Like Gloucester, Lear’s tragic flaw is his inability to read truth but his actions are spawned from different emotions.

Shakespeare creates the notion that these tragic characters will listen to someone else and correct their reading errors. Of course, the tragic characters remain tragic because they lack insight to their companions’ words as they dwell on their dilemmas. The fool represents a strong irony in King Lear
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