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You Can't Always Get What You Want

Shakespeare, King Lear Acts 1,2 -- Jerz: EL150 (Intro to Literary Study)

"O, reaon not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man's life is cheap as beast's."

I think this quote really provides insight into Lear's character at this point in the play. He seems to want to retire with all the nice comfy luxuries he has: the status and independence his own train of servants gives him makes his life mean more than just being put out to pasture. He can't get by with just the bare necessities of life; of course, the funny thing is, the bare necessities for him are a houseful of his daughters' servants waiting on him hand and foot. He wants his servants, not his daughters'! By the same token, he doesn't want Cordelia to just say that she loves him as much as she is able to while still entertaining the concept of devoting herself to a husband; he wants her to love him more than life itself! Is it just me, or does he seem just a bit of an egomaniac? However, here's how brilliant Shakespeare is: by the end of the scene I'm more on Lear's side than the daughters'. Where Lear once seemed fanatical about having his huge entourage with him day and night, the daughters now seem like fanatics. What kind of person would shut out their father, no matter how bad their relationship was, into a big storm? Especially when he's in an irrational emotional state and could easily get hurt or even killed? Now it's obvious that their passionate affirmations of their love for him were just ploys to get property. That's what I love about this play. You're never completely siding with one character against another; they all have their flaws and inconsistencies. However, what I think Lear, Regan, and Goneril all have in common is what Lear says in this quote; they think only about superficial things like having enough servants or having too many servants--what they ignore is the basic human need for love and understanding. They want more than what's necessary but don't worry about the necessary. In this way, Cordelia so far is the only one who knows what's up--she spoke from the heart and wasn't greedy for things she didn't absolutely need.

Comments (1)

Chera Pupi:

I can definately see how you would think he was an egomaniac.I tend to analyze people a lot and kind of reason out why they act and speak the way they do (even in real life). I kind of felt that the reason he wanted everyone to flatter him was because of his insecurities. I'm not sure exactly what these insecurities are, whether it is that he is getting older or that he feels he's losing his daughters, he's insecure. I think that knights and his servents are kind of comforting to him--he wants to hand over the kingdom to his daughters yet still live like a king. By them taking his men away, he is seeing his power diminish more and more. I also agree that in this play, it's hard to "pick a side"; almost like a Flannery O'Connor work eh?

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