King Lear

king lear title page

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.

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The Tragedy of Macbeth

Macbeth, a famous play by William Shakespeare, tells the tragedy of a brave soldier named Macbeth who commits bloody murders to secure his position as the new king but becomes overwhelmed with guilt eventually leading to his downfall. This play was written under the reign of James I of England, otherwise known as James VI of Scotland; thus, Fleance was said to be a direct ancestor of King James. During that time, King James despised witches and discriminated against the Jews; his likes and dislikes are shown in Shakespeare’s play, indicating his respect for his king. The real 11th century Scottish King, Mac Bethad mac Findláich, who also employed deadly measures to fulfill desires, influenced the character of Macbeth. To this day, Macbeth provides numerous famous speech references as well as interesting discussion questions in our lives.

Lady Macbeth, a major proponent in convincing Macbeth to employ murderous plans and his partner in crime, proves to be an interesting character due to her un-feminine, bloodthirsty thoughts and actions. Shakespeare sets up a gender role switch between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth; Macbeth acts hesitant and scared, while Lady Macbeth plans decisively and fearlessly to kill King Duncan. She takes on the masculine role of being the leader of the family and directs Macbeth on how to handle certain situations. I believe that Shakespeare brings up this gender issue to attempt to blur the separation between men and women, because at that time in Europe, women and men were strictly attached to their stereotypes. Through Macbeth, Shakespeare introduces a new perspective by providing Lady Macbeth with the power to have control over her husband.

Macbeth’s renowned “tomorrow” soliloquy takes place after Lady Macbeth’s suicide and demonstrates ultimate despair and his surrender to fate. There are two main points we can infer from these lines: the bond of love and trust between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth grows weaker as accumulating guilt cause both of their mental and spiritual status to deteriorate and Macbeth’s years of reign are more exhausting than one can imagine. Macbeth could be showing regret for his previous decisions because he understands that he did not experience the happiness, honor, and trust a rightful king should receive, instead he gained hatred and shame, and caused chaos within his country.

To conclude, the over-arching theme/lesson can be related to the dangers of over-ambition. Macbeth’s deep dark ambitions for power lead him to kill King Duncan, Macduff’s family, and other innocent people, resulting in his guilt and isolation. Macbeth is a commonly required book for high school students, and I recommend this book for those who have not read it in English classes and who enjoy Shakespeare’s writings because of its shortness and interesting, yet tragic, story line.