What is the overall message conveyed by the play King Lear?
For me the most important overall message (And I say "most important," because this is Shakespeare and there are, potentially, ump-teen "overall" messages.) would have to relate to the fact that the play is a Tragedy, and as such is meant to focus on the fall of a great and noble character due to a tragic flaw.
Tragedies, while not really meant to instruct the audience, are certainly intended to show how our own human nature is our worst enemy, and the more closely we look inside our own hearts and minds for the reasons our life is as it is, the more we'll understand the world around us. And in King Lear, Lear himself, suffering from the tragic flaw of a prideful and self-righteous nature, learns to see the world through new eyes, even as he suffers the consequences of his actions in the opening Act of the play.
So, the overall message, for me, is to look beyond the surface -- the title, job, sex or rank -- of a person to see what is in their heart. To not be too quick to listen to the easy words someone might speak, but to take care to watch how they behave before judging them or their actions. One of my favorite moments on the heath, in Act IV, scene vi, is when Lear, who has alleged that he knows so much about just behaviour and right and wrong observes:
Through tatter'd clothes small vices do appear.
Robes and furr'd gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks.
Arm it in rags, a pigmy's straw does pierce it.
So, he understands that clothes and position, ultimately do not make the man, but that we operate in the world as if they do. Of course, since this is a Tragedy, Lear learns his lesson too late. However, the audience does get the satisfaction of his reconciliation with Cordelia, once he can see her for who she really is, even though this redemptive moment cannot save either one of their lives.
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