In our AP Literature class, we have recently read one of the most tragic of Shakespearean tragedies, King Lear. King Lear contains both the pessimistic realities and the signs of optimism in such well-crafted manner that the coexistence of the two seems natural. I would like to summarize, briefly, the coexistence of the two possible interpretations.
Unlike many other plays, King Lear could possibly be considered as the most tragic of Shakespearean tragedies not only because of the sheer number of deaths that happen but also because of how the nihilist idea perpetuates throughout the play. Along with Lear’s final illusion before his death that Cordelia still survives and with continued disregarding of Edmund by the nobility despite his death, Cordelia’s death shows the culmination of such nihilist values: the crucifixion of the Christlike figure and the pagan gods’ failure to meet the earthly demands.
Yet, as in all tragedies, some signs of optimism can be detected. Lear’s newly detected sympathy and the idea of socialism and the reestablishment of justice and natural order after Albany and Edgar’s survival all indicate some positivity left in the play. Moreover, Kent’s seemingly endless loyalty, even as he decides to follow his master, Lear, to his death at the end of the play, seems to indicate the power and the persistence of a relationship.
Filled with literary allusions, symbols, and ideologies, I strongly recommend that you read King Lear, and if you have already read the book, read it once more, searching for those enriching, hidden, and never-ending treasures that Shakespeare not-so-unintentionally offers.