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In connection with the whole play, discuss the themes and issues of the opening section...

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kuollutlintu | (Level 1) Honors

Posted June 24, 2012 at 10:14 PM via web

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In connection with the whole play, discuss the themes and issues of the opening section of Act 3 scene 2 (up to Kent's entrance) of King Lear.  

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morningvictoria | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted April 8, 2013 at 7:37 PM (Answer #1)

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This section deals with several important issues in the play, namely Lear's tragic flaw of pride, the symbolism of outdoors versus indoors, and the role of King as representative of divine order.

As a Classically tragic hero, Lear's downfall is brought about by a key flaw in his character.  Arguably, it is his prideful assumption that he is automatically entitled to power, that causes his problems in the play.  This scene is a critical moment for Lear as it marks a pivotal point at which his pride sends him on an accelerated decline into ill-health as he would rather weather a wild storm than try to negotiate with his daughters.  The audience hears Lear's arrogance in the incredibly imperious way in which he addresses the elements, commanding the "all-shaking thunder" to "Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!"  The sheer scope of the imagery here, referring to the whole globe, shows the size of Lear's pride, his sense of his enormous power.  The Fool humbly (in prose) tries to encourage Lear to ask for his daughter's help ("Good nuncle, in, and ask thy daughters' blessing!"), but Lear continues to shout at the winds, then finally slips into moody obstinacy as he mutters, "No, I will be the pattern of all patience; I will say nothing."

Another theme evident here is external settings versus internal settings.  This section marks the moment when Lear moves from the "indoor" world of politics, order and power into a wilder "external" world representing psychological confusion, powerlessness and disorder.  Elsewhere in the play, Shakespeare also shows the chaos of the state by showing several other "good" characters in exile.  Kent, Edgar and Gloucester all spend much of the play having to survive conditions outside.  A particularly poignant example of this is towards the end of Act 3 scene 4, when the grief-stricken Kent and Gloucester painfully try to encourage Lear, who has lost his wits and stripped his clothes off, to enter a hovel to shelter from the storm whilst Edgar, disguised as Poor Tom, chatters nonsense.  The Fool also explores the signficance of being indoors in his cryptic rhyme towards the end of the given section.  He suggests that it is wise and self-protecting for a person to make sure they are well-housed in his phrase, "He that has a house to put 's head in has a good headpiece".

Another issue relevant to this section is the concept of kingship.  In Shakespeare's day, the King was seen to be God's representative on earth, so it followed that when a King was wronged, the physical world, being an extension of the King, would express this disorder in the form of bad occurrences and ominous weather.  Shakespeare uses the storm to show the unholiness of the insults to the King.  Dramatically, this would have a powerful impact, as the auditorium would be filled with noise and visual disturbance, emphasising the evilness inherent in Goneril and Regan's treatment of their father, God's servant.  As is typical in a Shakespearean tragedy, physical order is finally restored at the end of the play as the amoral characters are dead and noble characters step up to take power.  The confident rhyming couplets (spoken by Edgar in the Folio edition) in the closing lines emphasise the return to authenticity and holy order:

The weight of this sad time we must obey;

Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

The oldest hath borne most; we that are young

Shall never see so much, nor live so long. 

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