9 Literary Analysis
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9 Literary Analysis example: Undressing King Lear, Diantha Smith King Lear begins the play fully clothed, not only in a crown and robes, but also with power and respect. Throughout the play, Lear’s mental and emotional states are reflected by his change in clothing. As he loses more and more control —first of the kingdom and then of his own mind—his body also becomes more exposed. At his greatest points of self-realization Lear says: “unbutton here” (III.iv.109) and “Pray you undo this button” (V.iii.310). The audience may literally see more of King Lear’s body as he sees and understands more of his true self. His loss of clothing and sanity reveal a lot about human frailty and help make King Lear one of Shakespeare’s most intimate tragedies. The first item of clothing King Lear gives up is his crown and the Fool warns Lear, “Fathers that wear rags / Do make their children blind / But fathers that bear bags / Shall see their children kind” (II.iii.48–51). Lear soon realizes that his Fool is right—at least as far as his eldest daughters are concerned . Like the king in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Emperor’s New Literary Analysis     61 Clothes, Lear allows flattery to get the best of him and ends up losing not only his clothes, but his dignity as well. Ironically, as long as he wore the crown, Lear couldn’t see the true nature of those around him, but as soon as he takes it off he begins to understand who truly loves him. The next major loss of clothing occurs when Lear is thrown out by Regan and Goneril and left out of doors during a tempest. This night is the first time King Lear has ever been exposed to harsh elements and he considers the poorest in his kingdom, saying, “Poor naked wretches . . . O, I have ta’en / Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp, / Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel” (III.iv.28, 32–34). His realization of how his robes of state have blinded him is complete when he sees Edgar, almost completely naked, and says, “Thou art the thing itself; unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, fork’d / animal as thou art. Off, off you lendings! Come / unbutton here” (III.iv.106–109). The king takes off his clothes and puts them on “Poor Tom,” foreshadowing Edgar’s return to power (which seems to change hands just as easily as men change clothes). More importantly, however, we have evidence that Lear is fully aware of how shallow his life is. Without the warmth of love and kindness, all of his possessions—even the silks and furs—offer no real comfort unless they are shared with others. Though Cordelia gives King Lear new hope and new garments when she finally finds him again, his return to comfort does not last long. The web of betrayal has already been spread and by the end of the play every member of Lear’s immediate family is dead. For Lear, losing Cordelia is equivalent to losing any hope of redemption or future happiness. When he realizes that her life is over he symbolically pleads, “Pray you undo this button. . . . Do you see this? Look on her! Look her lips, / Look there, look there!” (V.iii.310–11). These final lines represent the final undressing of Lear as his spirit leaves his body, but the reference to “her lips” also tells us that Lear may have finally understood why Cordelia’s silence was better evidence of her love than any words. If this play has a moral, perhaps it is that we must be careful how we judge, especially when it comes to outward appearances. We may realize, as Lear did, that: “Through tatter’d clothes [small] vices do appear; / Robes and furr’d gowns hide all” (IV.vi.163–64). All of us hide behind appearances in some form or another. Though facing adversity is painful, it is usually when we are “unbuttoned” that we can see things most clearly. example: Luke Skywalker vs. Dracula: Gothic Elements in Star Wars, Benedek Nyikos The original Star Wars movies seem like an unlikely place to find Gothic elements . After all, they are all about spaceships, laser swords, and teddy bear 62    Genres creatures that can destroy elite military troops. On closer inspection, however, Star Wars turns out to be full...


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Subject Headings

  • English language -- Composition and exercises -- Study and teaching.
  • Literary form -- Study and teaching.
  • Language arts.
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