In the time Shakespeare was writing, traditional assumptions about who had the right to exercise power were being challenged, and this gives his plays their dramatic tension. After writing his history plays in sequence, adding Henry V in it, Shakespeare gave a pause before writing King Lear…
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But this time it was not a character depiction from the chroniclers. It was rather a denial of man’s right to exercise his own construal of the essence of life and urge for a satisfying life in the order of events. Too much is lost in Lear’s world. The king is considered such a human figure that wears the coronet of the creation and has the ultimate knowledge and reason which gives him “the marks of sovereignty” (Shakespeare, King Lear I, iv,). In the play, “the possibility that there is anything divine in the human version of God’s likeness recedes” (Greer, 2002). Likewise, Prospero of The Tempest is a grand magician who is very powerful, yet Caliban’s presence elevates Shakespeare’s style which salutes the groundlings that represented a major part of the Elizabethan theatre. The Divine Right of Kings was mainly instilled to show that they were chosen by God for the safety and protection of the land and its people. The king’s decision in all aspects of government is the final decision and the most tyrannical of kings must not be resisted but obeyed (Greer, 2002). Through other history plays like Richard II, Shakespeare reveals the true picture of Elizabethan society and government. This paper will discuss the traditional notion of monarchy in Shakespeare’s time.
The sovereign power is associated with a family. The one in authority has more land and wealth and the others follow him like a flock of birds. Both the king and the queen participate in the government and royal matters. In the Tempest, Prospero and Caliban ruler-slave relationship is mutually considered just (McDonald, 2004). It was as if Caliban had come to terms with Prospero’s rule and dominance. But he eventually retaliates against his master. King Lear is also considered cruel but in a different light. By shunning his youngest daughter from the land he has decided to distribute amongst his daughters on the ground of whoever expresses love for him the most. This shows that “there is providence in the fall of a great man as in the fall of a sparrow” (Greer, 2002). Shakespeare shows that the long-established monarchy in the kingdom falls with the king. "Rumble thy bellyful! Spit, fire! Spout, rain! Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters: I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness; I never gave you kingdom, called you children, You owe me no subscription: then, let fall Your horrible pleasure; here I stand, your slave, A poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man.” (King Lear III.ii.) Lear has realized his mistake a little too late. He has lost his land and kingdom to his own shallow daughters. This recognition and the moment of epiphany collide and create a sensation throughout the play. Lear’s madness reaches its peak and concurs with thunder storm displaying the rage of the lost King and the exhilaration of the Divine force. Based on the theme of decay and the destruction of the world, Shakespeare makes it look like a morality play in which all the characters die. The restoration of the crown is not a ceremonial one because nobody has survived to attend it (Kott, 1974). It is worth noting that King Lear is himself a cause of his own plummet. In the Tempest, Prospero is a supervisor of his colony. Through this play, Shakespeare highlights the notion of a master-governed society. He also portrays that political picture of his times when people used to believe that without a master the people are savages and barbarous. He created an ugly and dark character that Prospero raises and governs. Later on his own island
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