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In King Lear, why did Lear believe that it was better to stop governing the kingdom??

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user5398271 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 25, 2013 at 8:50 PM via web

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In King Lear, why did Lear believe that it was better to stop governing the kingdom??

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 7, 2013 at 12:22 AM (Answer #1)

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King Lear is not unlike most men when they grow old. They start thinking about death and yearning for a peaceful retirement, while is like a prelude to death. They would like to have a few years of relaxation and pleasure before they get too old to do anything but sit in a chair or lie in bed. The play is about old age and the transition of power from one generation to the next. (In Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale" he speaks of "hungry generations" treading down their predecessors.) Lear does not necessarily think that he is becoming unfit to govern his country. Rather, he thinks that he can safely turn the governing power over to those who will soon inherit it by his death anyway. His mistake is in believing that everybody loves him. He has been a king for many years and before that he was undoubtedly the heir apparent. Everybody fawned on him because of his status and power. He was always the center of attention, admired and imitated. People listened to his opinions and laughed at his jokes. He assumed his daughters all loved him and that he could trust them to make his life comfortable in his final years. He tells his audience in the opening scene of the play: "...and 't is our fast intent / To shake all cares and business from our age, / Conferring them on younger strengths, while we / Unburthen'd crawl toward death." But Lear learns a lot about human nature when he gives up his power. He finds that two of his daughters consider him an old nuisance. At first he is furious and resentful. But gradually he learns to accept the fact that most people are selfish and hypocritical. Cordelia is more like a fantasy creature than a real daughter. When he comes to his senses after being exposed to the elements, he thinks she is an angel. In one of Shakespeare's most beautiful metaphors he tells her: "You do me wrong to take me out o' the grave: / Thou are a soul in bliss, but I am bound / Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears / Do scald like molten lead." (Notice the alliteration of "L" sounds in "Do scald like molten lead.")

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