The theme of self-knowledge in King Lear


King Lear is a tragic play composed by William Shakespeare (1564-166160). It depicts the misfortunes of king Lear due to his wrong decision and the ingratitude of his two eldest daughters named Regan, and Goneril. The play shows King Lear’s suffering and the progress of a King becoming a Man. Besides, it shows how king Lear becomes a man of self-knowledge after losing everything.  

More Notes: King Lear

Lear’s decision to divide his reign: 

In the play, King Lear is the old lord of Britain who decides to resign and divide his realm between his three daughters named Regan, Goneril, and Cordelia. Before parting his kingdom, Lear tells his daughters to express their love for him. Regan and Goneril, Lear’s eldest daughters, both express their pretentious love for their father. Hearing it, egotistical Lear becomes delighted. 

Lear’s youngest and most adored daughter Cordelia adopts an alternate strategy. She clarifies that she can never describe her depth of love in words for her dad. Lear doesn’t get what she is attempting to say, and angrily, Lear banishes Cordelia from his kingdom. observing all incidence, The King of France turns to Cordelia impressed by her virtue. Then, he marries Cordelia without any dowry and leaves Britain.  Now, Lear stays with his two cunning daughters after dividing his all reign. 

Banishment of Kent  

Being emotionally blinded, at first Lear banished Cordelia for refusing to confess her love for him then he banished his loyal servant Kent. The reason for banishment Lear’s faithful servant Kent tries to tell him to ‘See better’ meaning that he needs to open his eyes to the mistake he is about to make, but stupidly Lear also banishes his most trusty companion but Kent serves him in disguise. Later, Lear regrets this as his other two daughters betray him and he becomes a victim of a tragic environment. 

Rise up self-knowledge of Lear 

When everything starts going wrong and Lear is stuck outside in the storm, he has hit his lowest point. he says: 

“Doth any here know me? This is not Lear: 

Doth Lear walk thus? speak thus? Where are his eyes?” 

Here Lear can no longer recognize himself. He now knows that he is not the strongest ruler in Britain. He tries to understand his mistake and also he thinks about his position in Britain now.  Thus, Lear’s emotional blindness starts to remove and rise up self-knowledge. 

Realization of truth 

After this wrong decision, Lear remains happy for a very short time because Goneril and Regan cheat Lear and they reject Lear and throw him from the palace and which shakes his heart of Lear. Being expelled from the palace by his daughters, Lear wanders the countryside with his Fool and Kent. While roaming among the common citizens, Lear begins to have a change of heart as he realizes for the first time that there is a wide gap between the nobles and the common people. 

Besides, when Lear was thrown from the palace a storm starts Lear rushes out into the dark and stormy night in a careless mood. But either Regan or Goneril makes any effort to save their father from the storm. 

Seeing all Lear’s soul feels heavy pain and he speaks,

. “I am a man more sinned against sinning.”

Here the storm scene brings a great change and develops the Self-Knowledge of King Lear. It also shows the helplessness of human beings on this earth. Lear feels the real condition of the lower-class people. He thought when he was a king. He did not have any knowledge about suffering or sorrow because he used to lead a happy and comfortable life with strong protection. 

But when he is powerless and shelterless and wanders under the open sky in the midst of rough weather nobody caresses him. None come to help him. He realizes, once the person was surrendered by friends and courtiers now, he is alone under the vast sky without any protection and no one besides him. 

He realizes the truth that man is very small in this vast world and feels love and sympathy toward mankind. At the end of the tragedy, he realizes the condition of the poor Seeing the miserable condition of Edgar disguised as Bedlam-Beggar. It creates an opportunity for king Lear to understand himself as becoming a man mentally and physically from a king. Thus, king Lear becomes a real man and a man of self-knowledge. 

More Notes: Suggestions


Now we can say, Lear was a selfish, vain, egotistical, haughty, and dictatorial King in the beginning but at the end of the play we find him to be a gentle, sympathetic, and humble person. Finally, he emerges as a man from a King who wins the sympathy and affection of all of us. 

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

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