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Thread: Why did King Lear give up his kingdom in the first place?

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    Why did King Lear give up his kingdom in the first place?

    Hello everyone,

    Sorry if this is a novice question, but I was watching Lear today and I just can't pin down why the heck he gave up his kingdom in the first place.

    We know he must not have been a "philosopher king" due to his actions after giving up his crown, in the Marcus Aurelius sense of a King at least. Could it be as simple that he just wanted to retire so he could fart around with his friends? I wouldn't think a king like that would have a grand kingdom to give away in the first place.

    If anyone can give me some insight it would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks.

    Keif

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by keif View Post
    I just can't pin down why the heck he gave up his kingdom in the first place.
    Lear's opening words tell us he, like all reasonable men, appreciates that to every thing there is a season under the sun. In particular, a time to die.

    Know that we have divided
    In three our kingdom: and 'tis our fast intent
    To shake all cares and business from our age;
    Conferring them on younger strengths, while we
    Unburden'd crawl toward death.

    While we today live in a death denying culture, is not King Lear, some centuries Before Christ, expressing a more mature and prudent view of human life and its sure end?
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    ^You make Lear sound far more noble than he is in I.i. It was expected that kings reigned until they died. The line to focus on is the first one you highlighted, not the last.

    He wanted to enjoy the luxuries of being king, without any of the responsibilities. This is why he divides up his kingdom and mooches off his two daughters, feasting with his knights and so forth.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    You make Lear sound far more noble than he is in I.i. It was expected that kings reigned until they died.
    I'm not suggesting that giving up all but the title of King was normal at the time. Simply that, putting the best construction on all things, we should take Lear at his word in I.i. and even applaud his generosity of spirit. Certainly Cordelia's view of her father is not so negative.

    For instance, had Lear's 3-way division of his kingdom worked out, King Lear would have spent his old age ensconced with his beloved Cordelia. Alternatively, had Cornwall been a man of Albany's calibre, the outcome would have been better for Lear.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Also important to remember that the King Lear source myth requires the basic plot point that he divides his kingdom between his daughters on the basis of the "how much do you love me?" test. It's impossible to get away from the fact that Lear's story is basically a cautionary one, and even if he had good intentions you kind of are supposed to see his choice as misguided.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
    - Margaret Atwood

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    So he grew a great, successful kingdom in his rein. But with his age grew his pride and arrogance. With his pride and arrogance grew a yearning to live the "fun life" without responsibilities--to go out with a bang so to speak--and also with the pride and arrogance came the decision to split his kingdom up the way he did, with the stipulations he set (Daughter's love test).

    When his bad decision backfires on him he cannot believe what is happening to him and goes into madness, which is the price to pay for "falling" (Falling meaning he was a great king who became prideful). Macbeth experiences a similar "fall", but in a different way.

    Thanks for your insights.

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    Registered User Corona's Avatar
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    On a first level I'd say he does that to distribute his power as he felt he had grown too old to control his vast reign.
    Of course there are deeper meanings and utter reasons: he did that despite the fact losing his power could still endure his status as the king; that could somehow be described as an innate faith in natual order he still had to try out for discovering how much love had his daughters for him.
    On another level, if we come to see the King as a mortal god - I'm unsure but I think Frazer wrote an interesting essay on a similar topic - the assignation of the reign to his daughters was a way to preserve his status as a god.
    Anyway, the simplest explaination is the best: he gave away his reign because he felt too old to manage it - I don't know if it's intended to be a hyperbole, but it's said he's in his eighties - and believed this couldn't lead to him being rejected as a King.
    Last edited by Corona; 01-04-2013 at 04:55 PM.

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by keif View Post
    So he grew a great, successful kingdom in his rein. But with his age grew his pride and arrogance. With his pride and arrogance grew a yearning to live the "fun life" without responsibilities--to go out with a bang so to speak--and also with the pride and arrogance came the decision to split his kingdom up the way he did, with the stipulations he set (Daughter's love test).
    I agree with Corona, and feel Keif's interpretation, while creative, is less than true to the play and dilutes the high drama of Act I, scene i. King Lear divides his kingdom in good faith and expects his daughters will pay him the homage befitting a monarch. Cordelia's ingenuous response surprises him - and us.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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    I quite like Orwell's reading of King Lear in his essay Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool. He thinks the play is about the idea of renunciation vs the reality. Lear wanted to do the noble thing and retire gracefully but didn't count on his abdication revealing the true selfish nature of his daughters.

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    Tu le connais, lecteur... Kafka's Crow's Avatar
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    Lear gave up a God-given duty and right to rule his people. His tragic flaw 'hamartia' is presumptuousness. He presumes that he can divest himself of what God invested him with (the Elizabethan idea of the divine rights of the ruler), he grows in tragic stature as the play progresses. He starts off as a pompous and presumptuous old fool who is too old to rule but not too old to go out hunting with his train of courtiers. His stupid test of his daughter's love shows his presumptuousness at its worst. There is pomposity in Lear in early parts of the play. He is a fool and he tries to fool himself with his silly test. The rest of the play is the story of this stupid old man's learning of the truth the hard way. Reading anything 'noble' in the 'king' at the beginning will reduce this great play to merely a story of misery and destruction. Lear achieves his tragic grandeur through his folly and his gradual understanding of his mistakes and the prices he pays for it and how he behaves in the face of his tragic disillusionment.
    "The farther he goes the more good it does me. I donít want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the sh1t the more I am grateful to him..."
    -- Harold Pinter on Samuel Beckett

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    Registered User Corona's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kafka's Crow View Post
    Lear gave up a God-given duty and right to rule his people. His tragic flaw 'hamartia' is presumptuousness. He presumes that he can divest himself of what God invested him with (the Elizabethan idea of the divine rights of the ruler), he grows in tragic stature as the play progresses. He starts off as a pompous and presumptuous old fool who is too old to rule but not too old to go out hunting with his train of courtiers. His stupid test of his daughter's love shows his presumptuousness at its worst. There is pomposity in Lear in early parts of the play. He is a fool and he tries to fool himself with his silly test. The rest of the play is the story of this stupid old man's learning of the truth the hard way. Reading anything 'noble' in the 'king' at the beginning will reduce this great play to merely a story of misery and destruction. Lear achieves his tragic grandeur through his folly and his gradual understanding of his mistakes and the prices he pays for it and how he behaves in the face of his tragic disillusionment.
    That's an interesting overview.
    I think Shakespeare's attitude towards the King to be dualistic: during the beginning it's evident Lear's committing a mistake due to his presumption, the presumption of controlling everything. He thinks even love can be "measured" - the test he arranges for his daughters -, hence the sentence "nothing will come of nothing".
    So I think Lear's tragedy is that of being unable to understand pure love, that is irrational. That and the fact he has to experiment the fall of his moral world, a world in which royalty has a value in itself - making possible for a king to deprive himself of his wealth and still mantaining his title. Lear is a fool as he's unable to understand that, a bit like Othello is not able to see people's true nature.
    On another side, I also think Shakespeare gave a tragic aura to the King, hightlighting he had to be a great man in his youth still loved by everyone but the "enemies"(Edmund, Cornovaglia and, maybe, his two "evil" daughters).

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kafka's Crow View Post
    Lear gave up a God-given duty and right to rule his people...He starts off as a pompous and presumptuous old fool who is too old to rule but not too old to go out hunting with his train of courtiers...Reading anything 'noble' in the 'king' at the beginning will reduce this great play to merely a story of misery and destruction.
    Lear is certainly pompous and presumptuous from the beginning. If that presumption extends to the division of his kingdom, why does his advisor, noble Kent, focus just on Lear's harsh treatment of Cordelia? Why do Gloucester, his good son Edward and just Albany have no criticism of the division per se?

    If King Lear, ruling England centuries before Christ, has a God-given duty and right to rule his people, which Iron Age, Celtic deities conferred this duty and right?

    Besides, the witty opening lines of the play express bemusement at the equal treatment of Albany and Cornwall (the dreadful), but say nothing of Lear's decision to divide his kingdom.

    Kent.___I thought the King had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall.

    Glou.___It did always seem so to us; but now, in the division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the Dukes he values most, for equalities are so weighed that curiosity in neither can make choice of either's moiety.
    Last edited by Gladys; 01-06-2013 at 05:47 AM. Reason: Opening lines of play
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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    Tu le connais, lecteur... Kafka's Crow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gladys View Post
    Lear is certainly pompous and presumptuous from the beginning. If that presumption extends to the division of his kingdom, why does his advisor, noble Kent, focus just on Lear's harsh treatment of Cordelia? Why do Gloucester, his good son Edward and just Albany have no criticism of the division per se?

    If King Lear, ruling England centuries before Christ, has a God-given duty and right to rule his people, which Iron Age, Celtic deities conferred this duty and right?

    Besides, the witty opening lines of the play express bemusement at the equal treatment of Albany and Cornwall (the dreadful), but say nothing of Lear's decision to divide his kingdom.

    Kent.___I thought the King had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall.

    Glou.___It did always seem so to us; but now, in the division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the Dukes he values most, for equalities are so weighed that curiosity in neither can make choice of either's moiety.
    Lear is not the man that anybody would mess around with. He is headstrong and short-tempered. Only when his childishness becomes absolute injustice does Kent try to come 'between the dragon and his wrath', when the 'bow is bent and drawn' etc. Ominous imagery of war and bestiary. Naught wrong with reading Elizabethan ideals in a pagan plays. Shakespeare wrote for an audience who believed in the divine rights and duties of the monarchs. Eleanor Prosser's excellent study of Hamlet (Hamlet and Revenge) reads the 'Danish' play in the light of Elizabethan beliefs. Lear chose to become an 'idle old man' and must go through the journey of a tragic hero to learn about his mistake. Lear is shown as juvenile, headstrong, stupid, whimsical and even obscene ('nothing will come out of nothing') and has to pay for his sins with madness, penury, loss and death.
    Last edited by Kafka's Crow; 01-08-2013 at 03:57 AM.
    "The farther he goes the more good it does me. I donít want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the sh1t the more I am grateful to him..."
    -- Harold Pinter on Samuel Beckett

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    something witty blackbird_9's Avatar
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    Put bluntly, Lear is a poop face and spends this whole scene getting his rocks off.
    He quite plainly says he simply wants to be rid of the responsibilities of ruling which is his reason for dividing and distributing the kingdom. Left at that, it's not all that bad. But here's the thing, he puts everyone through this absurd song and dance, even though he already knows how he's going to divide the land... and that's just rude. It is perhaps even more rude than actually basing his decision on their claims of love (which would be foolish, but not all out malicious) . If he really left it up to their speeches, he would have had to hear all three before distributing the land, but instead, he left the largest land till last. He just wanted to here a chorus of "I love Lear" for his own entertainment.

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blackbird_9 View Post
    Left at that, it's not all that bad. But here's the thing, he puts everyone through this absurd song and dance, even though he already knows how he's going to divide the land... and that's just rude.
    What do you expect from an absolute monarch of decades standing, circa 700 B.C.? Humility, self effacement, a deep consideration for others? Lear is no popularly elected president or fawning prime minister. Like Alexander the Great and many a Roman emperor centuries later, Lear is king and behaves like one. That's appropriate.

    What is inappropriate, as Kent insists, is that Lear should blindly act against his own best interests.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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