Shakespeare's King Lear is a perfect example of Aristotle's definition of a tragic hero. According to Aristotle's theory of tragedy, the protagonist should be of high birth—in this way, his or her downfall will be more effective, evoking pity and fear on the part of the audience. The audience...
Shakespeare's King Lear is a perfect example of Aristotle's definition of a tragic hero. According to Aristotle's theory of tragedy, the protagonist should be of high birth—in this way, his or her downfall will be more effective, evoking pity and fear on the part of the audience. The audience sympathizes with the main character because the protagonist has committed a fatal mistake, which occurs as a result of their own character flaw. Aristotle calls the tragic flaw hamartia, and this is what leads to the hero's downfall.
King Lear decides to abdicate. But before leaving his kingdom to his three daughters, he wants to obtain evidence of how much they love him in order to decide which of his three children deserves the biggest portion of his legacy. King Lear expects a public declaration of his daughters' love, obedience, and gratitude. The two oldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, do everything they can in order to prove to their father how much they love him, whereas Cordelia, the youngest, does not try to please her father. She does not believe in hypocrisy and flattery, but rather in sincerity:
Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty
According to my bond; no more nor less. (act 1, scene 1)
Feeling humiliated by Cordelia's response, Lear renounces her and divides his kingdom between the other two daughters and their husbands. King Lear does not realize the difference between the sincere love of his daughter Cordelia and the untrue, exaggerated love shown by Goneril and Regan. This is his biggest mistake, and it's what causes his demise. Once the two daughters get what they want, they show their true colors by disrespecting and mistreating their father.
In the end, King Lear suffers for his mistake. While holding Cordelia's corpse in his arms, he realizes his tragic flaw: had he not been so easily fooled by Goneril and Regan on the account of his pride, he might have still had his kingdom, and his daughter might have still been alive. The play ends with Lear's death, making it the perfect tragic ending.
Additionally, the play itself is a great example of what Aristotle describes as a tragedy. There are clear causes and effects that drive the action. The play is mimetic, meaning that it imitates life; because of this, the audience is able to relate to the story more easily and is able to accomplish the catharsis of emotions (yet another important part of Aristotle's views on tragedy). The chorus, according to Aristotle, should be integrated to create atmosphere, echo an idea, comment on the action, and contribute to the plot. In King Lear, the role of the chorus is partially taken on by the Fool. This character observes the action and comments on it, often giving ironic and thought-provoking remarks.