Friday, February 14, 2014

King Lear by William Shakespeare

I have to say that reading Shakespeare as an adult is way more fun with the past experience of having read it as a homeschooled teenager. I first read King Lear when I was about 12. Probably needless to say, I hardly remembered it at all when I started it this time around. Here's a comprehensive list of all the details I remembered:
  • The first scene is very long and it involves King Lear misinterpreting something his daughter said. 
  • Goneril and Regan are jerks. 
  • Something gross and violent happens (who knows what). 
  • People die at the end. 
Yeah, okay, Shakespeare may not have been my primary focus as a 12-year-old. (What's King Lear in comparison with cute boys?) But I do remember liking the play, believe it or not. It was my first real introduction to Shakespeare, and although I barely understood a word, I loved it. 

So it was sort of nostalgic to read King Lear again, for the first time since those fateful few weeks as a 12-year-old.

As far as my current reading goes, I think this is the sort of play that you really have to read several different times in life, to see it from all different angles. From my current angle--newly-married 20-something--I obviously relate best to Cordelia, Goneril, and Regan (just considering my time in life, not my personality--I hope). So the questions I'm asking myself are: What is my responsibility to my parents (and other family members, for that matter) when they're old and need help? (My parents haven't gotten to that point yet, though--they're actually traveling the world and having a grand old time, and I think they'll continue to do so for the next thirty years. I'm jealous of them.) How much do I need to sacrifice for them? Is it my duty to give up everything else in my life for their happiness? Is it my duty to forgive (or ignore) their every shortcoming and every wrong they've done to me? (Not that I expect them to ever treat me the way Lear treats Cordelia.)

I think the question this all comes down to is this: What does it really mean to be family? Does it come with particular obligations that can't be broken no matter what the other person does?

This might be a superficial reading of the play in comparison with what I could say. (You know, about how King Lear explores life, the universe, and everything.) It's what stood out to me most this time around, though. Like I said, it's probably because I'm at a time in my life when my relationships with my family members are being re-defined.

How do you read King Lear? 


  1. Wow. You started reading Shakespeare at 12? I was 16. In my defense, I did start reading it of my own free will, though. And I'd read Charles and Mary Lamb's condensed versions of a bunch of his plays when I was younger than 16. Still, I first read Lear in college and didn't really care for it much. Still don't.

    1. Well, I wouldn't call myself one of those precocious 12-year-olds that just picks up Shakespeare on a whim and thoroughly understands it. (I was taking a Shakespeare class at the time, so I kind of had to read it.) I think reading Shakespeare at 16 on your own free will is a lot more impressive! I like King Lear, but I'm not sure I revere it the way my World Lit professor does (I think he called it one of the best works that's ever been written in the history of the world--I don't think I would call it that. Not that I've read enough literature to even make such a judgment). I can imagine why you wouldn't like it.

    2. Yeah, I'm so character-oriented that... I don't like most of the characters, and the one I do like (Cordelia) has a tragic ending. Not a fan.