King Lear (Barnes & Noble Shakespeare)

King Lear - David Scott Kastan, Andrew Hadfield, William Shakespeare I’ve read some great interpretations of King Lear. It’s an allegory of Reason’s descent to immorality. It’s about accepting death. It’s a Freudian tale of seeking a maternal bond. However, as I read the play, I kept coming back to Sophocles. Shakespeare creates an English Oedipus.

It’s not a direct connection. Lear is not necessarily Oedipus nor is Cordelia another Antigone. The similarities are diffused throughout the play. Gloucester’s blinding and being led by Edgar is reminiscent of Antigone leading Oedipus in the opening scene of Oedipus at Colonus. The sin of Gloucester, though much more tame than Oedipus, leads to the curse that destroys his family. Meanwhile, the children of a banished king (Lear/Oedipus) fight over the kingdom but a dutiful Cordelia/Antigone remains true to filial duty.

The insignificance of all this turmoil is expressed in both plays. After Gloucester’s blinding he states:
“As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods: they kill us for their sport.” Act 4, Scene 1, 36-37.
Similarly, Oedipus remarks to Theseus:
“Most gentle son of Aegeus! The immortal Gods alone have neither age nor death! All other things almighty Time disquiets. Oedipus at Colonus, Scene 3.
However, there is a distinction in the end. Sophocles represented the Greek tragic tradition. One cannot defy fate. There are rules to follow, but if you are destined to break them, you will break them even if you don’t want to. And, in the end, you will be punished. That’s just the way it is.

In King Lear, there is no overpowering sense of Fate. Just failure and wickedness. Those good (Cordeila) and bad (Goneril and Regan) all suffer for the failings of the father. There is no obvious violation attached to the punishment. The punishment is dispensed and life continues.