King Lear And Macbeth Essay Research Paper

King Lear And Macbeth Essay, Research Paper

The act of creating and developing a character called characterization not only

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establishes a character, but serves as a means for the author to reveal the

themes of the play. “A literary character is the invention of the author,

and often inventions are indebted to prior inven-tions”(Kirsch 236).

Therefore, through characterization many common themes repeat with in an

author’s literary col-lection. Shakespeare is the inventor of many characters

and throughout his plays themes often reappear. Macbeth and King Lear, two of

Shakespeare’s tragedies, exemplify this technique. The protagonists of these two

plays, Mac-beth and King Lear, by means of their actions, thoughts and words

reveal a theme to the audience. Shakespeare has many portraits of madness among

his characters, and he returns to the theme again and again. Indirect

characterization in the form of Lear’s mad speeches allows Shakespeare to convey

the theme of madness. For example one of Lear’s first speeches after wit begin

to turn, “Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are, That bide the pelting

of this pitiless storm, How shall your house-hold heads and unfed sides,Your

loop’d and window’d rag-gedness, defend you?”(III.iv.35-38). Lear’s

insanity in-creases over the course of the play, demonstrated to the audience

through more speeches, until his emotions over-throw his reason at the climax of

the play. Lear erratic-ally shouts in to the storm, “Rumble thy bellyfull!

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”(III.ii.14-17). The example of Lear invoking the storm to destroy

the seeds of matter along with many other absurd statements il-lustrates that he

has an unsound mind and it is made clear to the audience by his words.

Shakespeare expands on the theme of madness in King Lear by Lear again using his

words to express the reason for his insanity. The cause is the realization that

his daughters Goneril and Regan do not love him. One critic explains the cause

of Lear’s madness, “It is the agony of the learning that exposes Lear as an

old, rejected man which forces him over the brink of madness”(Stuart 172).

The finally pushes him over the edge was the cruel actions afflicted on him by

the people that supposedly loved him. “To such a lowness but his unkind

daughters.? ‘Twas this flesh begot Those pelican daughters” describes

Lear of the cruelty of his daughters (III.iii.76,80-81). The character of Lear

produces the theme of madness by expressing his own increasing insanity and

reasons the reason for it in raving tangents. Shakespeare further explores the

theme of madness in a second play with the thoughts and actions of Macbeth. He

characterizes a madness driven by the guilt that he feels from committing

murders. “He looses his head in the horror of the murders, when it was

done, considering them to deeply for sanity” (Paris 8). Macbeth can do

nothing but think of the murders that plague his conscience, causing him to slip

further into madness and away from reality. For example, in his mind he can not

wash the blood from his hands. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this

blood Clean from my hand?”(Macbeth.II.ii.59-60). Another example of the

theme of madness that is characterized by Macbeth is found in act three, scene

four – the climax of the play. Immediately guilt ridden from ordering the murder

of Ban-quo, Macbeth reaches his pinnacle of madness; exemplified by his delusion

of Banquo’s ghost. Showing that he can no longer differentiate between reality

and his imagination Macbeth shouts, “Avaunt! And quit my sight! Let the

earth hide thee! Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold; Thou hast no

speculation in those eyes Which thou dost glare with” (III.iv.93-97). Ross

responds to him, “What sights, my lord”(III.iii.118). The Insanity of

Macbeth is shown in these quotes. Shakespeare’s description of Mac-beth’s

thoughts the reveals he theme of madness. Further development of Macbeth’s

character reveals the theme of betrayal. The actions controlled by his blind am-bition

causes him to betray important people in his life. Macbeth’s betrayal is the

murder of Duncan. He even admits to this himself, “? He’s here in double

trust: First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, strong both against the

deed; then, as his host Who should against the murderer shut the

door”(I.vii.12-15). Duncan is Macbeth’s king and lord, he trusts him to be

a faithful servant; by murdering him he not only betrays this trust but also the

code of honor to his lord. One critic explains it “Duncan is? Mac-beth’s

kinsman, king, and guest; he is to be murdered in sleep. No worse act of evil

could well be found. So the evil of Macbeth is betrayal”(Bernard 53). Even

though Mac-beth knows that he has committed an act of betrayal he does not find

it to be wrong; “For mine own good All causes shall give way”

(III.iv.134-135). This shows his ambition causes him to betray at all coasts.

Macbeth’s actions done to conquer is ambitions reveal the theme of betrayal. The

characterization by means of Lear’s actions con-tinues the theme of betrayal in

King Lear. Lear banishes the two people that care the most for him, Ken and his

daughter Cordelia. Lear ask his daughter how much they love him; the flatter him

while Cordelia is honest. Lear takes offence to answer. As a critic explains,

“When Cor-delia refuses to follow her sisters in answering with ‘gilb and

oily art, the stage has been set for Lear’s wrathful indignation”(Rosinger

497). In a fit of rage says to Cor-delia: “Better thou Hadst not been born

than not have pleas’d me better”(I.i.237). By his reaction to her Lear

casts off the person dearest to him, thus betraying the love between him and his

daughter. When Kent attempts to defend Cordelia he is treated with the same

rage. Lear says that Kent should be banished because he sought to make the king

break his vow. With the single phrase, “Out of my sight!”, Lear turns

against Kent. A true friend, Kent hon-estly cares about Lear and by banishing

him Lear betrays Kent. Lear’s enraged actions to banish and disown the two

people that care most deeply for him bring out the theory of betrayal. Along

with betrayal the characters bring out other themes. Shakespeare uses the

characterization of Macbeth and Lear to reveal the themes of the plays. The

themes these characters developed are madness and betrayal. Simi-larities in the

themes are found because the characters of Lear and Macbeth were established in

the same manor. The characters actions, thoughts, and words establish the themes

the plays. Themes from Leading Men Introduction – The protagonists of these two

plays, Macbeth and King Lear, by means of their actions, thoughts, and words

reveal a theme to the audience. I. The theme of madness A. In Lear 1. Mad

Speeches 2. Madness from what other people did to him 3. Madness highest at

climax B. In Macbeth 1. Insane thoughts 2. Madness from guilt 3. Madness highest

at climax II. Theme of betrayal A. In Lear 1. Kent 2. Cordelia B. In Macbeth 1.

murder of Duncan 2. murder of Banquo Conclusion – The characterization of

Macbeth and Lear is the means that Shakespeare uses to reveal the themes of

madness and betrayal.


Paris, Bernard J. “Bargains with Fate: The Case of Macbeth.”

American Journal of Psychoanalysis 42(1982): 7-20. Rosinger, Lawrence.

“Gloucester and Lear: Men who act like Gods.” ELH 35(1968):491-504.

Shakespeare, William. King Lear. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1957.

Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.,1994. Stuart,

Betty Kantor. “Truth and Tragedy in King Lear.” Shakespeare Quarterly

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