The English Patient Questions and Answers
by Michael Ondaatje

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How can I compare The English Patient and King Lear

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King Lear, of course, is a Shakespearean play, and The English Patient is a modern novel.

In a comparison essay, we usually discuss the similarities between two works. As we look back on the two works above, there are certainly many similarities to discuss. To begin with, both are tragedies. Second, betrayal is central to both stories. Third, none of the major characters in both works succeed in redeeming themselves for their poor decisions.

In King Lear, the king looks for loyalty from his daughters and receives betrayal instead. Both Goneril and Regan brazenly betray their father's trust. The one daughter who remains faithful is Cordelia, but King Lear doesn't recognize this until it's too late. Meanwhile, Gloucester, a noble in King Lear's court, experiences much of the same thing. He is betrayed by his illegitimate son, Edmund, who poisons his mind against Edgar, his legitimate scion. Meanwhile, Edmund toys with the affections of Goneril and Regan.

Later, Goneril and Edmund plot to murder Goneril's husband, Albany. King Lear ultimately dies of a broken heart. He loses his courage to live when he realizes how deeply he has miscalculated his daughters' true hearts. In King Lear, betrayal runs deep: father betrays daughter, sisters betray each other, and wives and husbands commit adultery.

In The English Patient, Hana (a nurse) looks for redemption from her past. However, peace proves elusive. She struggles with guilt at her past failure to save her father's life, but tending to Almasy doesn't bring her the peace she seeks. Her affair with Kip, a soldier, is an enjoyable temporary distraction, but in the end, it falls short of the salvation she seeks. As for Kip himself, Hana eventually comes to represent a maternal figure to him. Neither Kip nor Hana find in each other the redemptive comfort they each crave.

As for Almasy, falling in love with Katherine results in tragedy. Although he and Katherine enjoy a secret tempestuous affair, Katherine's husband, Geoffrey, eventually discovers the truth. Geoffrey arranges what he considers a murder-suicide. However, he only succeeds in killing both himself and Katherine.

When Almasy returns to retrieve Katherine's body, he himself encounters added tragedy. The plane he flies fails in flight and becomes engulfed in flames. Almasy himself is burned beyond recognition.

The above are just some similarities between the two works. You may be able to find more as you contemplate the two stories.

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