William as a stranger to my heart and me

William Shakespeare’s King Lear represents a journey of self-recognition
and self-awareness. The characters of Lear and Gloucester undergo major self-recognition
by the end of the play, while Edmund undergoes no self-recognition and ultimately
is killed by his brother, who has recognized his true nature. Both Lear and
Gloucester are tricked and betrayed by some of their children. Lear by his two
eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, and Gloucester by his illegitimate son,
Edmund. In trying to achieve this self-awareness, some characters suffer
physically, some mentally, and others both. This play represents a self-recognition
of one’s true nature and the true nature of others.

Lear is initially portrayed as a naïve
old man who believes that all his daughters truly love him. Initially mistaken,
he later comes to realize that Cordelia is the only true, loving daughter that
he really has. Both Goneril and Regan use the most flowery language possible to
proclaim their “love” for their father, while Cordelia speaks what is truly in
her heart. Lear says to Cordelia, “Here I disclaim all my paternal care/And as
a stranger to my heart and me hold thee from this forever” (1.1.125-128). Lear
now considers Cordelia as foreign blood, a stranger to him. Lear’s proclivity
for hearing what he wants to believe makes him disinherit Cordelia and banish
her from the family. As Lear says to Kent, “Hear me, recreant; on thine allegiance,
hear me!/If on the tenth day following thy banished trunk be found in our
dominions, the moment is thy death” (1.1.191-202). Lear banishes Kent as well
for straight up telling him what he has done is wrong. From his descent into
madness, the only ones that still truly care for him are Kent and Cordelia. By
banishing his two most loyal subjects, Lear is setting up his own disastrous
fall.

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Lear’s madness comes to light
during the major storm, leading him to part of his self-recognition. The
deterioration of his thoughts mirrors this raging storm. In what seems to be a
delirious moment, Lear begins speaking to the storm saying, “Then let fall your
horrible pleasure. Here I stand your slave, a poor, infirm, weak, and despised
old man” (3.2.20-22). The storm does not owe Lear anything, unlike his horrible
daughters. This speech is inadvertently meant for Goneril and Regan as they
despise and do not care for their father, thinking of him only as a decrepit, old
man. Within the storm, Lear relates to how humans cannot have control over
nature, just as he has no control over his daughters or his kingdom anymore. Further
into the storm, Lear comes to self-recognition that he was a neglectful ruler
who did not take care of all his subjects. He begins to see how the wretches of
society feel by realizing that he too feels like them after losing his identity
of being king. Lear is now “naked” without his identity. Lear also begins to
greatly identify with the disguised Edgar and says to him “Off, off, you
lendings! Come, unbutton here” (3.4.115-116). Reduced to a simpler man, Lear
comes to acknowledge his weaknesses and that he is no longer king. By relating
to the half-naked Edgar, Lear is completely letting go of his identity and
showing his true humanity.

Lear’s finale of recognition comes
when Cordelia is sentenced to death. At first, Lear thinks that Cordelia has
come to take revenge for being banished, but she is really there for redemption
and for the love of her father. Lear says to her “I know you don not love me,
for your sisters have, as I do remember, done me wrong” (4.7.83-84). Lear still
has not fully recognized that Cordelia truly does love him, but he has
recognized that her sisters are completely horrible people who only seek power
and wealth. As both Cordelia and Lear are sentenced to death, Lear finally
realizes that he wants to live out the rest of his days by her side. He says to
her, “Come, let’s go away to prison. We two alone will sing like birds i’ th’
cage. When thou dost ask me forgiveness, I’ll kneel down an ask thee
forgiveness. So we’ll live, and pray and sing, and tell old tales” (5.3.9-13). He
promises to give Cordelia his forgiveness of banishing her and her love, now
knowing that he truly does love his daughter with all his heart. However,
before he can carry out these promises, both Cordelia and Lear succumb to
death. Lear dies as a result of his grief and love for Cordelia. Without anyone
else left to love him, he dies as well. Leaving these recognitions behind ensures
that Lear has been forgiven by Cordelia.

Gloucester is very much like Lear
in his suffering concerning his children. However, Gloucester suffers much more
physically while Lear suffered mentally. Gloucester’s true loving child, like
Cordelia, is Edgar. His illegitimate son, Edmund marks the beginning of his
downfall and eventual suffering. Similar to Lear, Gloucester also falls victim
to the scheming of his unloving children. However, Gloucester’s journey to
self-recognition is much more violent and gory. Also like Lear, Gloucester
banishes his child, mistakenly believing that he wants him dead. Gloucester’s
proclamation, meant for Edgar begins with, “Let him fly far! Not in this land
shall he remain uncaught/Bringing the murderous coward to the stake; he that
conceals him, death” (2.1.66-73). Gloucester is so gullible that he immediately
is on the search for Edgar, intent on killing him on the account of his “betrayal.”
Both Lear and Gloucester banish their children, later coming to terms that they
were mistaken.

Gloucester’s self-recognition and
recognition of his children result from the physicality of his suffering. By
being physically blinded, he begins to see the truth in himself and his sons. Immediately
after he has lost his sight, Gloucester comes to this recognition and
proclaims, “O my follies! Then Edgar was abused. Kind gods, forgive me that,
and prosper him” (3.7.111-112). Gloucester realizes that he has wronged Edgar and
prays to him indirectly for his forgiveness and future prosperity. Even without
his physical sight, Gloucester finally comes to terms with the wrong treatment
of his true loving son Edgar and with the realization that his illegitimate son
Edmund has been betraying him all along. The one that truly gets Gloucester to
his recognition is Edgar disguised as poor Tom. Edgar is able to interact with
his Father, inadvertently later saving his life. However, similar to Lear’s
demise, Gloucester also dies over his joy and grief for his son Edgar. By
revealing himself to his Father, Gloucester’s delight and willingness to forgive
himself lead him to pass away in shock, knowing the truth about his son and
about himself.  

Edgar’s disguise as poor Tom helps both
Lear and Gloucester to their recognitions. As both Lear and Edgar are stripped
of their identities by their family members, Lear relates to him in a very deep
and emotional way. This disguise helps lead Lear to his self-recognition of not
being a good leader who overlooked certain people in his kingdom. Also while in
disguise, Edgar keeps his own father from suicide and learns the truth about
his brother and how remorseful Gloucester is in the way he treated him. Without
these interactions, Lear would not have gained some of his self-recognition and
Gloucester would have died without forgiving himself for his treatment of
Edgar. Edgar’s role as a moral compass helps both these main characters to their
ability to recognize themselves and the poisonous within their families.

Edmund, the bastard of Gloucester,
is a mirror image to Goneril and Regan as he too only wants the title and inheritance
from his father. Unfortunately, knowing that he will not receive this
inheritance as he is not true born, he begins to conspire against his father
and half-brother Edgar. Edmund achieves some self-recognition of his true
nature at the end of the play, but not enough to be forgiven. Due to his
treachery and Edgar’s recognition of his brother’s true nature, Edmund dies at
the hands of his own family. Resulting in Edgar’s revelations of himself and
their father, Edmund is fatally wounded and falls to his brother. As he is soon
to die, Edmund comes to some self-redemption as he says, “I pant for life. Some
good I mean to do despite of mine own nature” (5.3.291-292). Edmund recognizes
that his true nature is not being a nice person. However, he begins to feel
guilt and remorse for wanting Lear and Cordelia to die so he tries to reverse his
actions, but fails to do so as Cordelia has already passed. This recognition of
his self-nature shows that even the most evil of characters can see something
in themselves, even if it does them no good. Even though Edmund has this self-recognition
of his personal nature, it still does not convince Edgar enough and he follows
the others into death.

Self-recognition is not Edgar’s
strong suit, rather as he comes to recognitions dealing with his own family. Edgar’s
awareness comes as a recognition of his brother’s true nature. After being
mistakenly stripped of his identity and forced into a disguise as poor Tom, he
learns about the turmoil occurring within his family. Similar to Cordelia, Edgar
is still kind to his father, considering how he has divided their family. When
finally recognizing the truth behind his brother, Edgar proclaims to everyone, “thou
art a traitor, false to thy gods, thy brother, and thy father, conspirant ‘gainst
high illustrious prince” (5.3.161-163). Edgar calls out his brother, knowing
about all the wrongs he has committed and fatally wounds him. Edgar’s
recognition comes as a turning point in the play as he is the lone wolf to
survive and become king.

As all these characters come to
their recognitions, they in turn, almost, redeem themselves from mistaken
actions. Lear and Gloucester recognize who their true children are and get to proclaim
their own love for these children, even if it means dying. Both Lear and Gloucester
die getting to know that Cordelia and Edgar love them. They come to their
realizations about their true natures and those of their children, while Edgar
comes to a realization about his brother, rather than his father. If they had
not come upon these realizations, Cordelia and Edgar would still be living in
vain without the love of their parents and Edmund probably would have triumphed
over Gloucester. Through these recognitions, the characters also go through a
change of personality as they each reveal the true nature of themselves and
their families. By coming to these recognitions, the play King Lear represents the
journeys taken to find them.