King Lear by William Shakespeare

Because of the essence of individual identity, it is a requisite for the formation of a sense of self, which is necessary for everyone’s development as a mature person. As a consequence, each person’s opinions are divided into a number of categories, such as man or woman, Muslim or Catholic, and even as small as a family member. Regardless of how people’s self-identities collide, identities have a much wider scope, which makes them collective in the sense that they spread to cultural groups and nations, making people feel bad when their identities are violated. Having an identity in the community gives a sense of security, and many people are willing to take drastic measures towards ensuring that they achieve this cause. In King Lear, William Shakespeare introduces arguments about justice, authority versus chaos, and reconciliation and he shows the actions which lead to undesirable results (Kittredge, 1940). Apparently, from this play, Shakespeare demonstrates the manner in which it becomes difficult for characters such as Edgar who are involved in criminal acts to have a chance of regaining their identity. The fight for restoring self-identity in the face of the expectations and opinions of people from the society is shown throughout the play by the overlapping motifs of madness and betrayal. Motifs are defined as recurring contrasts, structures and literary devices applicable in developing and informing the major themes of any play or story. On the same note, the primary emphasis is placed on the characters of Edgar and the manner in which he became the hero regardless of his tenuous identity in the entire play.

Analysis of the Play

Justice is the main ingredient for the progress of people, and neither is it readily offered, nor avoidable, and its every step needs suffering, sacrifice, and struggle. As a play, King Lear is filled with awfulness and cruelty of humans, as is shown by the number of terrible events which have been propagated by major characters such as Edgar. Apparently, this had led to questions being raised on the existence of justice in the present world, and the nature of its indifference and hostility to humankind, thus; prompting different characters to voice their opinions. The unfolding events from the lack of justice in the play lead to series of betrayal among the characters in the play. Edgar starts the play as a clueless wealthy son of Gloucester who is regarded as the most powerful man in the kingdom, and his illegitimate brother called Edmund manipulates him into trusting him. Edmund succeeds in laying false accusations on Edgar for planning to kill their father, subsequently leading to Edgar’s expulsion from the society and disguising as a Tom O’Bedlam for purposes of survival. The wrongful conviction deprived Edgar of every good thing he had at his disposal, which saw him being robbed his identity. In these turbulent times, Edgar experiences the horrible King Lear events, and he did intervene to prevent more horrible things to come into play, and through his determination and hard work, his survival becomes necessary as he seeks revenge towards the end, which forms part of justice. To this effect, Gloucester on learning of his planned death, states that the gods kill them for sport (Kittredge 1940, p. 37) while Edgar claims that the gods are just (Kittredge 1940, pg. 169).

Authority is an important aspect of gaining control in the society, and for an individual from the royal family, once stripped of these powers, their sense of self-identity fades. Where there is no authority, there are chances that there will be chaos, and the latter would result in series of madness as shown in King Lear. In as much as the story focuses on dynamics of the family, much emphasis is also laid on political authority, which is demonstrated by King Lear who is not only a father, and by giving power to Regan and Goneril, he is risking cruelty and chaos in the whole of Britain (Kittredge 1940, p. 260). Accordingly, this prompts Edmund to plan on his ascension to power at the expense of Edgar, making the kingdom plunged into civil crisis. Ideally, where there is no authority in control of people in a nation, there are chances that madness will develop. Accordingly, in the play, madness is a major motif as it is connected to incidents of hidden wisdom and disorder, as shown through Edgar and The Fool. On the one hand, The Fool who often spies for King Lear gives his information in babbles, and later, Lear turns insane when he remembers the chaos that has befallen his kingdom. On the other hand, the insanity of Lear provides him with a chance of having great wisdom through reducing him to bare humanity, and he is not in royalty anymore, thereby learning the aspects of humanity. Edgar joins in the series of madness as he provides valuable information to the King, and as an insane beggar, he becomes hardened and prepared to defeat Edmund when the play comes to an end. Therefore, there is the need for an establishment of a firm authority in leadership to ensure that there is a platform for offering justice.

Reconciliation is regarded as an important aspect in efforts of trying to regain peaceful relations between two conflicting parties or nations at war. This is an essential element that seeks to repair the betrayal and madness that is portrayed in the play, King Lear. Ideally, after the turnout of events which led to Edgar’s father believes that his son wanted to kill him which resulted in his exile and wrongful conviction, any reader would anticipate Edgar being angry at his father. However, Edgar becomes very kind to his father in his blindness, guiding and caring for him, and taking extreme measures such as killing the man who attempted to capture his dad. While doing all these, he still finds it difficult to tell his father about his identity until the moment when his father was dying (Kittredge 1940, p. 190). Additionally, Gloucester assuming the innocence of Edgar states that he wishes he could be reunited with his son. He states that “O dear son Edgar… Might I but live to see thee in my touch, / I’d say I had eyes again (Kittredge 1940, p. 25). Gloucester died from a combination of joy and shock when Edgar revealed his identity to him, which explains why he kept his identity at bay as he feared something fateful would happen to his father. It is important to note that this is an example of an act of forgiveness, which culminates to reconciliation, the basis which justice is dispensed to every member of a community.


Apparently, this paper has adequately covered the aspects of identity as shown in the play The Tragedy of King Lear, through using different motifs and themes to illustrate the intended concepts. Furthermore, there have been series of the definition of critical issues which have been supported by arguments in a bid to ensure that there is coherent and free flowing information. Edgar, just as shown by the different discussions, is an example of an individual trying to fight against all the odds and societal expectations towards making himself relevant to the principles of the society. Indeed, Edgar has shown the proper steps that should be taken in the event one is faced with a series of challenges such as identity crisis. Despite the false accusations and convictions, the exile from the country, disguising as a homeless person and being stripped of all his wealth, Edgar still did not lose hope in re-establishing himself and went ahead to help his father. Therefore, Edgar and Edmund alongside other characters discussed herein have successfully illustrated the means of integrating motifs with the main themes portrayed in the play. The topics of betrayal and blindness have mixed appropriately with the issues of justice, authority and power, and reconciliation. Therefore, it is essential to put up all the struggle as a means of ensuring there are an establishment and achievement of self-identity which is an important element to any individual. The fight for regaining self-identity in the face of the expectations and opinions of people from the society is shown throughout the play by the overlapping motifs of madness and betrayal.

Work Cited

Kittredge, George L. “The Tragedy of King Lear by William Shakespeare.” (1940).

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