Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 547

Edward Bond has described Lear as “a very grim play.” Its importance, however, does not lie in Lear’s tragic vision but in the story of one man who, against all odds, takes action to change his world. On this journey toward enlightenment, Lear undergoes tremendous suffering. Bond has said that “we develop through our problems, not just solving them, but through clashing with them.” In many of his plays, this friction manifests itself in violence. Some critics have charged that the violence in Lear is excessive and gratuitous. In response, Bond contends that the play accurately reflects the consequences of the abuse of power. His intention in Lear is to show how individual acts of violence and the large-scale violence of wars and power struggles alike reflect the sickness of an unjust society.

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This theme is most vividly expressed in Fontanelle’s autopsy. Lear watches the doctor’s exploration of the corpse, asking, “Where is the beast?” He believes that there is a monster inside his daughter that is causing her to act violently. Like Oedipus, Lear begins to see only after his blinding. He realizes that violent impulses do not have their origin within the individual. The wall he was building to prevent others from invading his lands was pointless, then, because it did nothing to solve the basic problems of society.

Similarly, it becomes clear during the play, both to the audience and to Lear, that Bodice and Fontanelle are really manifestations of their culture. The sisters’ schemes, manipulation, and love of power are all characteristics instilled in them unknowingly by Lear. When the ghosts of Bodice and Fontanelle appear to Lear in the play, they do so just as the coffins of soldiers are being returned home for burial. It is evident Lear’s daughters have been weaned on death and a confirmation of the established order.

Cordelia wants to understand how the Gravedigger’s Boy views life but cannot reconcile herself to his abundant charity. Cordelia’s fears are apparently justified as she witnesses her husband’s murder and through her own rape and miscarriage. She becomes a tough guerrilla leader in response to the actions of those around her. Cordelia believes that she can forcefully create a society that is fair and just.

The Gravedigger’s Boy presents a different way of life. On their farm, he and his wife provide for themselves, living off the land. Such a peaceful existence appeals to Lear, and for a brief time he thinks that he can be part of it. Bond, however, does not permit Lear to hide here. The destruction of this way of life is the writer’s way of demonstrating the impossibility of either Lear’s or the Gravedigger’s Boy’s escaping from reality: a reality resulting from a society Lear has formed but can no longer control. Bond is not criticizing a pastoral way of life; he is simply saying that it cannot exist within the established structure. The ghost of the Gravedigger’s Boy appears as Lear screams, “I must forget! I must forget!” The ghost acts as a reminder that Lear is part of a world that he must rejoin and destroy from within if he wants to help in establishing a new form of society.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1093

Parents and Children
In Lear Bond provides a picture of a family that has disintegrated. In the very first scene of the play, Bond portrays hostility between Lear and his daughters. Bodice and Fontanelle reveal to their father that they will marry his enemies, the Duke of North and the Duke of Cornwall, then tear down Lear's wall. Lear responds in kind, telling them he has always known of their maliciousness. When Lear
leaves the stage, Bodice and Fontanelle reveal then-plans to attack their father's army. Lear and his daughters are...

(The entire section contains 1640 words.)

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