Writers often need to convey very complex characters and ideas to their audience. An essential means of doing this is through symbolism and imagery. Symbolism is the use of physical things to represent abstract ideas, while imagery uses language to create mental pictures. In Shakespeare's King Lear, symbolism and imagery help define characters and the environment. In this report we will attempt to discuss the family and the state, the wheels of fortune and fire, madness versus reason, the storm, and nakedness and clothing. The condition of the King Lear's family and Gloucester's family represent the condition of the state.
What happens in one is reflected in the other. The family and the state can be though of as the micro and the macro respectively. The decline of the state begins right at the start of the play, where King Lear divides his kingdom and disowns his daughter. The Elizabethan audience would see this as breaking natural law, and would understand that repercussions would follow. The wheel of fortune is a cycle that represents four basic stages. These are preparation, learning to love, learning to understand, and learning to serve.
This is also known as earth, water, air and fire respectively. Edmund makes reference to this wheel towards the end of the play, and we see King Lear pass through this wheel during the play. The wheel of fire is the circle of torment and torture. It is considered a traditional form of torture for the damned. King Lear realises he has been a part of this wheel eternally at the end of the play.
Throughout the play King Lear, the fool, Edgar, and Kent speak with in language that is rich in imagery usually describing their inner state, while Edmund, Goner il, Regan, and Cornwall speak without the use of a lot of imagery and speak very concisely about their aims and their external situation rather than their inner state. It is through this language of imagery Shakespeare conveys the idea of madness. Conversely the lack of imagery conveys reason. This is how Shakespeare brings up the clash of madness versus reason. Shakespeare uses nakedness and clothing as a means to add complexity to a character. Clothing represents illusion, and in the play we see that those in thick extravagant clothing have a lot to hide, and that they are not fine and as great as their clothing.
On the other hand, nakedness represents truth and we see those characters that are naked or wear little clothing as honourable, and truthful. Shakespeare also uses the shedding or changing of clothing as a realisation and change within character and we see that with King Lear and Edgar. Pathetic Fallacy is a vital part of this play. The storm is a symbol for King Lear's mental state. As the storm seems to get more and more intense, Lear's madness also does so. Moreover as the storm end, King Lear begins to get his mind back.
Shakespeare use of symbolism and imagery is very vital and intended. By using this we get a better understanding of the characters in this play and can immerse in their world.