Although it is never too late to learn, those lessons learned in old age are often the most difficult and the most costly. Following Lear s dispute with Goneril, the Fool tell him, Thou should t not have been old till thou hads t/ Been wise [I, v, 43-44]. In William Shakespeare s tragedy King Lear, Lear illustrates that wisdom does not necessarily come with age. The mistakes that Lear make leave him vulnerable to disappointment and suffering at a time in his life where he should be enjoying peace and contentment. This is shown through his rash decisions and his hints of madness throughout the play. Although Lear does achieve wisdom before he dies, he pays a dear price for living his life unwisely.
Right in the beginning of King Lear, Lear is marred by his inability to predict the consequences of his actions. Lear asks his three daughters to compete for his kingdom by expressing their undying love for the King. Both Goneril and Regan have no problem articulating their love for their father, however when it is Cordelia s turn she refuses to compete because she feels she cannot express the way she feels through words. This refusal enrages Lear and hurts his pride causing him to disown Cordelia foolishly: ...
for we Have no such daughter, nor shall ever see That face of hers again. Therefore begone Without our grace, our love, our benison. [I, i, 304-307] Ironically he later discovers that Cordelia was the only daughter that really loved him unconditionally. Lear cannot see into other people s characters and identify them for who they truly are.
When Kent reprimands Lear for his rash decision in disowning Cordelia, Be Kent unmannerly/ When Lear is mad. What wouldst thou do, old man [I, i, 162-163] Lear responds to Kent s opposition by banishing him from his kingdom. Later, Lear displays such superficial behavior that he does not even notice the simple disguise tha Kent wears in order to remain close to his King. When Lear loses the control and respect of his Kingdom, Lear s sanity goes along with it. Lear s madness is obvious during his final conviction: O Fool, I shall go mad! [II, iv, 327] Once Lear can no longer command his kingdom, he attempts to rule through a display of weakness, tearing off all of his clothes and reducing himself to a common beggar. Consequently, Lear realizes his mistakes, unfortunately, the price for his actions were too high and ultimately cost him his life.
(Quennell and Johnson 161) While wisdom should come with age, it is fair to say that Lear did not display this attribute right away. His pride blinded him and his downfall came as a result of his self-indulgence. Unfortunately, Lear s lack of knowledge condemned him from the beginning. This tragic hero learned the error of his ways too late for his salvation.
1. Quennell, Peter and Johnson, H anish. Who s who in Shakespeare. Great Britain: Chancellor Press, 1973 2. Shakespeare, William. King Lear.
New York: Pocket Books, 1993.