King Lear and OedipusRather than being akin to Job, I'm going to suggest that King Lear bears a closer resemblance to Oedipus. Why? Because of the crushing irony of their situations, and because of...

King Lear and Oedipus

Rather than being akin to Job, I'm going to suggest that King Lear bears a closer resemblance to Oedipus. Why? Because of the crushing irony of their situations, and because of the dramatic structure of their stories. Lear makes a public division of his kingdom, and anyone who has read history or Machiavelli should now be wincing from the very idea of it. When he misreads Cordelia's muted claims, and the other daughters' grand claims, he's sealed his fate, just as Oedipus' parents sealed his when they interpreted the prophecy. In both cases, actively misreading a public proclamation produced a grinding, inevitable tragedy.

 

With Oedipus, his tragic path spread through the land by means of the plague. In Lear, the king's tragedy spreads through the storm and the suffering of his people. Tireseas and the fool both speak the truth reluctantly, knowing they will be misread and punished, but they also add to the tragedy—and the irony.

 

It is not an absolute alignment, of course. Lear makes his own choices, and they are those of an old man; Oedipus combines his parents' folly with a young man's. His contains sexual contagion that is spread through the daughters in Lear.

Asked on by gbeatty

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e-martin's profile pic

e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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I agree that these plays present a number of similarities, most importantly the parallel understanding of social role as part of a "natural order". It is the perversion/corruption of the natural order that leads to King Lear's tragedy and to the tragedy of King Oedipus.

The relationship that each man has to the truth, specifically the truth of himself, is also rather similar, I think. 

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Does King Lear have the same kind of biting, tragic dramatic irony to it though? I suppose that this is one massive difference. Oedipus Rex has often been described as a kind of detective story, with the chief protagonist unwittingly tracking down himself as the principal criminal. These elements are not present in King Lear, though obviously Lear does recognise, at least partially, his own role in the tragedy.

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gbeatty | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

King Lear and Oedipus

Rather than being akin to Job, I'm going to suggest that King Lear bears a closer resemblance to Oedipus. Why? Because of the crushing irony of their situations, and because of the dramatic structure of their stories. Lear makes a public division of his kingdom, and anyone who has read history or Machiavelli should now be wincing from the very idea of it. When he misreads Cordelia's muted claims, and the other daughters' grand claims, he's sealed his fate, just as Oedipus' parents sealed his when they interpreted the prophecy. In both cases, actively misreading a public proclamation produced a grinding, inevitable tragedy.

 

With Oedipus, his tragic path spread through the land by means of the plague. In Lear, the king's tragedy spreads through the storm and the suffering of his people. Tireseas and the fool both speak the truth reluctantly, knowing they will be misread and punished, but they also add to the tragedy—and the irony.

 

It is not an absolute alignment, of course. Lear makes his own choices, and they are those of an old man; Oedipus combines his parents' folly with a young man's. His contains sexual contagion that is spread through the daughters in Lear.

Yes, the comparison of Lear to Oedipus is very apt, and certainly the metaphor of blindness connects the plays as well as all of the other points you mention. Oedipus is blinded by his pride:  he must know the truth and will go to all means to discover it.  Lear is also blinded by pride, but for him, in seeking statements of adoration from all of his daughters he is blind to the love of the daughter who will not play his game.  This is less of a quest for knowledge than an inability to discern it when it shows itself before him. Poor Oedipus, he plucked out his eyes because he saw the truth and it was too unbearable to see. In Lear, Gloucester understands the truth and is blinded for that. The complications form an interesting pattern that I am sure have made fodder for many an undergraduate essay!


All good points, and your mention of poor Gloucester reminds me of the diffusion of Lear vs. the focus of Oedipus. The blindness is displaced, and various other characters in Shakespeare's play might be seen as splinters or fragments of a more unified mythic structure. The fool could speak like an oracle (Teiresius), for example, but lacks the social status to be heard...but it is Kent who speaks against Lear's blindness early on: "See better, Lear; and let me still remain / The true blank of thine eye." 

sagetrieb's profile pic

sagetrieb | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

King Lear and Oedipus

Rather than being akin to Job, I'm going to suggest that King Lear bears a closer resemblance to Oedipus. Why? Because of the crushing irony of their situations, and because of the dramatic structure of their stories. Lear makes a public division of his kingdom, and anyone who has read history or Machiavelli should now be wincing from the very idea of it. When he misreads Cordelia's muted claims, and the other daughters' grand claims, he's sealed his fate, just as Oedipus' parents sealed his when they interpreted the prophecy. In both cases, actively misreading a public proclamation produced a grinding, inevitable tragedy.

 

With Oedipus, his tragic path spread through the land by means of the plague. In Lear, the king's tragedy spreads through the storm and the suffering of his people. Tireseas and the fool both speak the truth reluctantly, knowing they will be misread and punished, but they also add to the tragedy—and the irony.

 

It is not an absolute alignment, of course. Lear makes his own choices, and they are those of an old man; Oedipus combines his parents' folly with a young man's. His contains sexual contagion that is spread through the daughters in Lear.

Yes, the comparison of Lear to Oedipus is very apt, and certainly the metaphor of blindness connects the plays as well as all of the other points you mention. Oedipus is blinded by his pride:  he must know the truth and will go to all means to discover it.  Lear is also blinded by pride, but for him, in seeking statements of adoration from all of his daughters he is blind to the love of the daughter who will not play his game.  This is less of a quest for knowledge than an inability to discern it when it shows itself before him. Poor Oedipus, he plucked out his eyes because he saw the truth and it was too unbearable to see. In Lear, Gloucester understands the truth and is blinded for that. The complications form an interesting pattern that I am sure have made fodder for many an undergraduate essay!

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