King Lear Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

King Lear book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Please describe some similarities and differences between King Lear and Gloucester in King Lear by Shakespeare.    

Expert Answers info

D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write11,067 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Lear and Gloucester are both very similar in that they are betrayed and stripped of power by their children. Both wander as outcasts after having been powerful and high status people.

A chief difference is that Lear willingly gives away most of his power to his two eldest daughters based on their empty words. He has been in charge and deferred to for so long that it never occurs to him that this situation could end—it seems as natural as the sun rising in the dawn. As his Fool points out to Lear after he divides his kingdom, he is a bigger fool than the Fool himself. With his eyes open (if not seeing), Lear create the situation that puts him in his daughters' power.

Gloucester, in contrast, is manipulated by Edmund without any realization of what is going on until it is too late. He does not put willingly power into this illegitimate son's hands and hope for the best: he is deceived by his son in underhanded ways. He is trusting, but he trusts what appears to be the evidence of his senses: Edgar, to any rational person, might seem to be a traitor because of the way Edmund manipulates events. Here, Edmund creates the situation that strips Gloucester of power.

While both men are the victims of ungrateful and evil children, they react differently. Lear, who does not like to give up his illusions, retreats into madness to avoid fully dealing with his new reality. Gloucester, though blinded, gains insight. He faces reality, and therefore, wishes to commit suicide, though Edgar prevents it.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

shakespeareguru eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2010

write561 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Here are some basic similarities and differences to jump start you into a more detailed character analysis of each.

Similarities:

  • Both have children whose love and loyalty are in question.
  • Both fail to see, at the play's outset, which child is true and loyal and which is disloyal and false.
  • Both are old men who, rather than enjoy the status and ease of their age and rank, are turned out into the wild and harsh elements to make their way in the world.
  • Both Lear and Gloucester are reduced to despair about life and their situations.

Differences:

  • Though they both are reduced to despair, Lear's desire to escape from reality manifests as madness, Gloucester's as thoughts of suicide.
  • Gloucester's true/loyal son, Edgar, is able to assist his father through much of the events of the play, Lear's true/loyal daughter, Cordelia, arrives at the end and is not able to save Lear.
  • Gloucester is literally blinded in the play, while Lear's blindness is figurative.

I hope that these general comparisons help you hone in on the details that you need!

check Approved by eNotes Editorial