Discuss King Lear as a play of spiritual regeneration.

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It is King Lear himself who undergoes the greatest change during the play. In the beginning he shows himself, in spite of his age, to be selfish, self-centered, self-willed, and out of touch with reality. He gives his kingdom away to two daughters whose declarations of love for him are...

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It is King Lear himself who undergoes the greatest change during the play. In the beginning he shows himself, in spite of his age, to be selfish, self-centered, self-willed, and out of touch with reality. He gives his kingdom away to two daughters whose declarations of love for him are obviously only motivated by greed, while at the same time he disowns the daughter who fails to flatter him sufficiently. At the end of Act 1, Scene 1, Goneril and Regan express their true opinions of their father to each other. Regan says, "...yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself." Goneril says, "The best and soundest of his time hath been but rash..."

When Lear goes to live with Goneril, he and his one hundred knights create chaos with their unhibited behavior. Lear just wants to enjoy himself in his retirement, but he doesn't realize or care that he is making a bad impression. In Act 1, Scene 3, Goneril says of her father, "Old fools are babes again, and must be used / With checks as flatteries, when they are seen abused."

When Lear finds himself out in the cold, he begins to realize that he has been a fool all his life. First he has to accept his own insignificance and his mortality. Then he starts to think about other people--his own subjects--many of whom have been suffering all their lives as he is suffering now.

In the end Lear has learned humility and the value of true love. He has learned to despise pride and ostentation. He tells his daughter Cordelia, "We will laugh at gilded butterflies," meaning at overdressed courtiers with their ridiculous speech and mannerisms. The viewer cannot help feeling that Lear has become a much better person than he was at the beginning and that all his sufferings have done him good.

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There is a very real sense in which the terrifying tragedy that we as an audience witness on the stage during this play is something that could be said to cleanse both us and ancient Britain of various violent and tragic emotions. This is of course one of the definitions of a tragedy if we go back to Aristotle and his idea of catharsis. He argued that we must undergo a kind of purging whilst watching tragedies so that we are able to leave the theatre having had a chance to express various emotions such as sadness and anger and rage by watching them played for us on the stage. Spiritual regeneration in terms of catharsis is definitely something that can be identified.

In the same way, the ending of the play points towards the future, and there is definitely a sense that the new rulers of Lear's kingdom will definitely incorporate what they have learned from the play into their lives and that of the ancient kingdom. Consider how Albany ends the play:

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.

The "young" characters that he refers to have definitely seen plenty of things that will make them wiser rulers. They, as the next generation who will rule ancient Britain will be able to learn the lessons from those that came before them and usher in a time of spiritual regeneration that will enable them to do a better job than Lear and his daughters.

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