King Lear: Comedy or Tragedy?


There has been many different views on the plays of William
Shakespeare and definitions of what kind of play they were. The
two most popular would be the comedy and the tragedy. King Lear
to some people may be a comedy because they believe that the play
has been over exaggerated. Others would say King Lear was a
tragedy because there is so much suffering and chaos.

What makes a Shakespearean play a comedy or a tragedy? King Lear
would be a tragedy because it meets all the requirements of a
tragedy as defined by Andrew Cecil Bradley. Bradley states that a
Shakespearean tragedy must have to be the story of the hero and
that there is exceptional suffering and calamity slowly being worn
in as well as it being contrasted to happier times. The play also
depicts the troubled parts in his life and eventually his death
that is instantaneous caused by the suffering and calamity. There
is the feeling of fear in the play as well, that makes men see how
blind they are not knowing when fortune or something else would be
on them. The hero must be of a high status on the chain and the
hero also possesses a tragic flaw that initiates the tragedy. The
fall of the hero is not felt by him alone but creates a chain
reaction which affects everything below him. There must also be
the element of chance or accident that influences some point in
the play.

King Lear meets all of these requirements that has been laid out
by Bradley which is the most logical for a definition of a tragedy
as compared to the definition of a comedy by G. Wilson Knight.
The main character of the play would be King Lear who in terms of
Bradley would be the hero and hold the highest position is the
social chain. Lear out of Pride and anger has banished Cordelia
and split the kingdom in half to the two older sisters, Goneril
and Regan. This is Lear\'s tragic flaw which prevents him to see
the true faces of people because his pride and anger overrides his
judgement. As we see in the first act, Lear does not listen to
Kent\'s plea to see closer to the true faces of his daughters.
Kent has hurt Lear\'s pride by disobeying his order to stay out of
his and Cordelia\'s way when Lear has already warned him, "The bow
is bent and drawn, make from the shaft." Kent still disobeys Lear
and is banished. Because of this flaw, Lear has initiated the
tragedy by disturbing the order in the chain of being by dividing
the kingdom, banishing his best servant and daughter, and giving
up his thrown.

Due to this flaw, Lear has given way to the two older daughters to
conspire against him. Lear is finally thrown out of his daughters
home and left with a fool, a servant and a beggar. This is when
Lear realizes the mistake that he has made and suffers the
banishment of his two eldest daughters. Lear is caught in a storm
and begins to lose his sanity because he can not bear the
treatment of his two daughters as well as the error he has made
with Cordelia and Kent. Lear also suffers from rest when he is
moving all over the place and the thing that breaks him is the
death of his youngest daughter Cordelia. This suffering can be
contrasted with other happier times like when Lear was still king
and when he was not banished by his two daughters.

The feeling of fear is when Lear is in the storm raging against
the gods, "I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness. I never
gave you kingdom, called you children, you owe me no
subscription.", telling them to rage harder since he has not done
anything for them and that he didn\'t deserve what he has received
from his two daughters. The fear is how Lear in a short period of
time went from king to just a regular peasant and from strong and
prideful to weak and unconfident. This shows that men do not hold
their own destiny and that even though things may be great now you
can be struck down just as fast as was to Lear.

The fall of Lear is not just the suffering of one man but the
suffering of everyone down the chain. Gloucester loses his status
and eyes, Cordelia and Kent banished, and Albany realizing his
wife\'s true heart. Everything that happened to these characters
are affected by Lear in one way or another and that if