In King Lear, sketch the character of Kent. How is he similar to Lear?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As the drama opens, Kent is not very similar to Lear.  He serves Lear, but does so with an honesty and openness that Lear has shown unable to acknowledge. For example in the opening scene, Kent speaks of the selflessness with which he associates in his own service to Lear:  

My life I never held but as a pawn 
To wage against thine enemies; nor fear to lose it, 
Thy safety being the motive.

In the emotional setting of the First Scene of the First Act, such honesty is distinctive.  It is not a condition that Lear is able to understand or recognize because of where he is in terms of his identity and sense of self.  Kent is very open about his own sense of loyalty and honor throughout the drama.  This is seen in how he does not recoil and retreat from Lear even when he is banished. Rather, he serves Lear in disguise as Caius, someone who appears to be of lower distinction.  Lear operates in a world of moral and emotional disguise, as he fails to see that which is true.  Kent, however, takes a disguise in order to carry out what he sees as his duty and obligation.  In this, one notices how divergent Lear and Kent at the exposition of the drama.  

Where Lear and Kent find similarity exists in how Lear moves towards the reality of truth and moral honesty.  For Lear, this process takes time, but when he achieves it, the language and images Shakespeare has him employ in his speech is strikingly similar to Kent.  For example, in Act V, scene 3, Lear speaks to Cordelia with the type of language that reflects devotion and a sense of commitment:

No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison.
We two alone will sing like birds i' th' cage.
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness. So we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news,
 
This language of commitment and pure loyalty to another is akin to how Kent initially speaks to Lear in the drama's exposition:
Royal Lear,
Whom I have ever honour'd as my king, 
Lov'd as my father, as my master follow'd, 
As my great patron thought on in my prayers-
It also matches the loyalty that Kent shows at the drama's end when Kent speaks to Lear as "the very man that That from your first of difference and decay/ Have followed your sad steps."  In the language that Lear and Kent appropriate, devotion and honor are embedded in the individual's soul, even if the surrounding world fails to validate it.  The similarity that exists between both characters lies in how each uses language to communicate devotion to another.  It is a form of speech that shows transcendence and permanence in a world of mutability and impermanence.  Kent's use of "honour'd" and "my master" merged with the notion of divine prayers parallels Lear's image of he and Cordelia as "gilded butterflies" and "birds in the cage."  The similarity in the language of both men in Act V is where convergence can be seen in their characterizations.
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