Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 776
Lear, the king of England, now in his old age. Lear’s enterprise to protect his lands from attack by the dukes of North and Cornwall is near completion. By constructing a wall around his kingdom, Lear is shown as a strong and politically effective leader. His failure, however, is that in keeping enemies out, Lear also traps within the country various internal destructive forces. Consequently, civil war breaks out, and Lear is driven from his own kingdom. Wandering in the wilderness, he returns to an almost childlike state, shrugging off responsibility for the society he created. Captured by the new government, Lear begins to learn, for the first time, the kind of king and father he has been. Strict and authoritarian, but with the best of intentions, Lear has been overprotective, suffocating his daughters’ individuality and causing them to respond viciously to the world. Now, as their prisoner, Lear is made “politically ineffective” by the removal of his eyes. Lear’s blinding symbolically begins his growth in understanding, and he begins to see that the only way forward is a peaceful one. Lear is shot attempting to destroy the wall, which represents the severe and annihilating man Lear was as both a parent and a king.
Bodice, Lear’s daughter. Ambitious, intelligent, organized, and dangerous, Bodice, like her sister, craves political power. Unlike Fontanelle, however, Bodice is not easily fooled. She marries North expecting nothing and so is not surprised at discovering that her husband’s bravery is far from genuine. Having taken joint control of the country, she discovers the limitations of power and fails to achieve the success and fulfillment she desires. Bodice emerges as an isolated and lonely woman.
Fontanelle, Lear’s daughter. Fontanelle’s psychological scars, caused by a lonely childhood without a mother and living surrounded by the death of soldiers in war, go deeper than those of her sister. Fontanelle, a scheming but not particularly intelligent woman, is searching for the love and security always denied her. She does not find it through her acquisition of power, her marriage to Cornwall, the torture of Lear’s chief adviser, Warrington, or her countless romantic affairs.
Duke of North
Duke of North, Bodice’s husband. North is a foolish character who is simply a pawn in the political game played by Lear’s daughters. According to his wife, North is impotent and a coward afraid of war.
Duke of Cornwall
Duke of Cornwall, Fontanelle’s husband. Like North, Cornwall is fraudulent, deceiving Fontanelle into marrying him by sending the letters and pictures of others. Cornwall, described by Fontanelle as a “frightened little boy,” like North is afraid of fighting.
The Gravedigger’s Boy
The Gravedigger’s Boy, a thoughtful and compassionate man. His farm serves as a model of self-sufficiency, demonstrating how it is possible to survive in spite of the political world in which he lives. Generous to Warrington and Lear, providing both with food and Lear with a place to stay, the Gravedigger’s Boy has an ignorance of politics that leads to his death. His ghost returns to provide Lear with hope of an escape from reality. Lear’s gradual insight into the cause of suffering, however, means that the vision Lear has of the boy fades: The Gravedigger’s Boy dies for a second time.
Cordelia, the Gravedigger’s Boy’s Wife, a happily married and pregnant farmer’s wife. From the beginning of the play, Cordelia is concerned about her husband’s philanthropic nature. The arrival of Lear also causes her great concern. Cordelia’s fears for their well-being are justified by the arrival of the soldiers, the murder of her husband, and her own rape and subsequent miscarriage. As a result of this incident, Cordelia becomes openly...
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