July 24, 2008

Book Review: King Lear, by William Shakespeare

Posted in Book Reviews, Literature at 5:26 am by faith786

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Assalamu Alaikum,

…Now that I look at the title, it should be a “Play” review, but… you get the point.

I have been re-reading some passages of King Lear on the internet (I do not own it, but I REALLY WANT to) and I remembered reading that play. Okay, to the real review

King Lear, by William Shakespeare

This play is known as one of the four great tragedies of Shakespeare’s works and for a good reason too. I have read the other three, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello, and I honestly think that King Lear sweeps them all, even Hamlet. Hamlet has a high literary quality that I cannot deny, but the thematic issues and the character relationships and the plot of King Lear just warps the reader into a whole other world.

King Lear, in short, is a story of a man going through an insane process to humble his arrogant self. A story of hubris, really. In terms of literary technique/device, it is a play, so I would not be too critical in that lens. There are a lot of motifs and symbols. Language is crafted around a lot of elements of human, nature and gods (according to the play).

Thematically, I feel that King Lear is just *MIND-BLOWING*. There is a constant argument between justice and mercy and how those two are interpreted through conversation and actions of the characters. It is also a story of arrogance and humility, breaking of previous perception to an exposure to a *wider* reality. A story about major family problems (both Lear and Gloucester). Conflicts of man vs. man, society, gods, nature and self with many characters. A huge relationship between man and nature. The relationship of nature and divine. Also themes of authority and chaos. But I think what I love most of the themes in King Lear is the idea of redemption and reconciliation. It is a story about messing up and hopes of rectifying oneself.

Obviously, it is not a happy ending. Perhaps the worst ending out of all four tragedies, but it is just so powerful! I do not want to give away the plot, but I can say that although I knew some people were going to die, the way it all happened just blew my mind.

There are many quotes I love, but my obvious favorite:

Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty
According to my bond; nor more nor less

-Cordelia, Act I, scene I

So here are the stats in my book:

Style of Writing: I won’t deny it; it is *high* level language. It is written in old English, so I would recommend a dictionary and read it attentively. Some of the lines are amazing and the language/diction/imagery is wonderfully portrayed. But again, heavy language so warning flag before reading it.

Themes: Already mentioned a lot of them, but to sum it up: justice vs. mercy, hubris, redemption, family problems, rule vs. chaos, man and nature, nature and gods. Most of them are answered in Shakespeare’s eyes, but few are left open for reader interpretation, but I think few are left in such a way that people cannot really answer Shakespeare’s questions. I do admit though, he does bring up few loaded questions.

Character development: In terms of relationships-many people grow and others fail. The main growth takes place in Lear, Gloucester, Edmund and arguably Edgar. OH! And Edmund is the one antagonist that I have SO MUCH SYMPATHY FOR. He is really human and I love how he is portrayed.

Symbols: Eyes, nature, blindness (again, eyes), the storm, clothes, body parts (eyes, heart, tongue, etc.)

Plot: Definitely an interesting story if you can get over the language barrier. A little slow in the beginning, but it really picks up. Plot is one of the best I have ever read for a tragedy.

Islamic rating: 2/10 (For attempted adultery [play does not indicate any actual acts done], poisoning people, deception, extreme despair in gods, idea that there are godS, suicide, nudity [Lear in one scene rips off his clothes, but nothing is described], lying, backbiting, severe disrespecting parents, oh, yeah and murder) Nothing is explicit though-except when one character’s eyes get ripped out. Otherwise, majority of the action happens between scenes or past/future.

Book Rating: 9/10 I only docked off a point because I will admit, the language is hard. I had to read it again to really love it. But otherwise, everything is superb. I honestly think that it should be read by everyone in high school and that there are powerful lessons to learn.



For Muslims


I think this is a book that deals a lot with Islamic issues (although it has a low Islamic rating). I attended Agenda to Change Our Families and even Shaykh Hamza Yusuf admitted that King Lear is a story of family problems and I think Muslims can learn a lot from it, other than don’t kill yourself or kick your dad out of his kingdom.

It is a play that deals with faith and how humans interpret their relationship with God/gods. The play does not tell you what to believe, but that it impacts us and it forces us to think.

There is also references to the the beginning of creation story with Shaytan–King Lear is full of himself, but by the end of the story, he is humbled. Well, we do not know about Shaytan, but human beings often go through the humility process throughout life.

I don’t know, but if a Muslim reads this play with an attentive ear, I think it just calls to us in numerous ways. I can see a lot of narrow-minded Muslims having heavy criticism and being like–King Lear mentions gods, therefore we cannot read it. But that is the character’s words. Books and plays are only what we make of them. So I really would recommend this play as a play a person should read at least at some point in his/her life. Anyway, too much typing.




  1. Redwan Ahmed said,

    stop writing posts about christianity, you should write posts about islam. that means you are racist.

  2. faith786 said,

    Pardon me? This post is not “Christian.” It is about a play by William Shakespeare.

    And I writing posts on religion are not correlated with racism. And I do not think you have any arguments to call me racist.

    So please refrain from quickly labeling people. I appreciated your comments, but please take a little more care on what you write. Thank you!

  3. Sarah said,

    HAHAHAHAHAHHA (to Radwan’s comment).

    Anyway, I just finished King Lear. I liked it, but I will admit, since I read it rather quickly I didn’t absorb all the deep thematic issues, or grow to love it. But I am planning to go through it again.. and insha’Allah I’ll call you some time in the next couple days to discuss it 🙂

  4. faith786 said,

    WATCH KING LEAR FOR ME!!!!!!!! (I was laughing too, but I decided to not put that in my comment. Lol)

  5. Tarifa said,

    I would also like to request that Redwan either write more meaningful comments or write fewer ones. Honestly, he just proves the Muslim stereotype of getting quick to anger. I am not Muslim, but I am an advocate of religious awareness and I like how this blog writes about real-life issues (particularly in your epiphany series, faith786) and at the same time, hold true to your faith of being Islamic.

    Calling her racist for writing something you believed to be Christian, which it is NOT, just proves how unintelligent you are. You cannot even insult people logically and you have no right to condemn Christianity. How would you like it if I said stop writing posts on Islam and more on Chrstianity and if you don’t your racist, Redwan?

    People like you are the reason why Muslims are seen in a negative light. I hope you don’t show this in your own blog. And thanks Sarah for pointing that out. That totally demeans the ethos and logos of his site.

    Thanks Faith786 for putting up things on Islam, literature, lectures and your own thoughts. I find it a wonderful site to look and I keep you on my favorites. Can’t wait to read more of your articles soon and good luck with your book!

  6. Assalamu Alaikum said,

    can you delete Redwan’s comment as well as the following posts (including this one)? i feel kinda bad for him.

  7. faith786 said,

    This has certainly been an interesting day on my blog.

    I am an advocate of expressing one thoughts, but I would again like to ask people to please be a bit thoughtful in your responses. I will not take down these comments because they are the property of their authors. Otherwise, I would have deleted Redwan’s comment from the start and not allow it to be on the blog. I only censored it out of religious etiquette or for other comments, for sake of the privacy of the author.

    I will be taking a more conscious effort to now look through every comment, but unless they repeat, I will allow them to be on the blog. I may also consider now censoring more within comments, but to not allow them at all would be taking away a person’s right to say what they want to say.

    I like everyone’s concerns, but I will like to ask Redwan, Noreen and Tarifa if they can *edit* their own comments and put this all behind us. Really, it sounds like an internet war for no real reason. We are all here to learn a bit, right?

    As for Noreen’s question, I have not been able to attend any lecture recently, so I have been listening to some and taking notes. A lot of them though are almost the same thing that is on my blog, so I refrain from reposting again. That is why there has been a lack of lecture notes.

    And thank you, Tarifa for your compliments. I will agree with you that it is not right to condemn Christianity, but I would like to ask if you can perhaps *rephrase* what you wrote in a light that applies to all of us.

    And *ahen* *ahem* Assalamu Alaikum, this is the lesson of the day–we are owners of our words. We say them, we have to keep to them. He apologized, the end. Noreen and Tarifa said what they wanted to say, and unless *they* want to change or add to it, they must stick to their words.

    This comment is becoming ridiculously long, so I ask that if anyone has any concern, please feel free to email me.

    *Last request*: If people want to comment on things not related to the current article, please post it in the suggestions, comments and concerns page. Thank you!

  8. Redwan Ahmed said,

    King Lear is widely regarded as Shakespeare’s crowning artistic achievement. The scenes in which a mad Lear rages naked on a stormy heath against his deceitful daughters and nature itself are considered by many scholars to be the finest example of tragic lyricism in the English language. Shakespeare took his main plot line of an aged monarch abused by his children from a folk tale that appeared first in written form in the 12th century and was based on spoken stories that originated much further into the Middle Ages. In several written versions of “Lear,” the king does not go mad, his “good” daughter does not die, and the tale has a happy ending.

    This is not the case with Shakespeare’s Lear, a tragedy of such consuming force that audiences and readers are left to wonder whether there is any meaning to the physical and moral carnage with which King Lear concludes. Like the noble Kent, seeing a mad, pathetic Lear with the murdered Cordelia in his arms, the profound brutality of the tale compels us to wonder, “Is this the promised end?” (V.iii.264). That very question stands at the divide between traditional critics of King Lear who find a heroic pattern in the story and modern readers who see no redeeming or purgative dimension to the play at all, the message being the bare futility of the human condition with Lear as Everyman.

  9. faith786 said,

    I have a request that when posting something that is not your own words, please reference where you received the information from.

  10. lydia said,

    I am reading King Lear as one of my college assignment. I really need your help in answering these:
    1. What moral can we take from the story?
    ( I have my own version but would love to read yours)
    2. Do you have any questions that you would love to ask from this story?
    ( I might use those questions as my references when my lecturer asks me)
    Thanks a lot

  11. faith786 said,

    ***May contain spoilers***

    1) Well, I don’t know if I can pinpoint any specific moral to take from the story other than that arrogance can either destroy you or your life (or both). For Lear, he luckily got humbled from his arrogance (before it destroyed him) at the sacrifice of destroying his life’s illusion that he was really loved and that his country was fine.

    But I don’t think that is a proper moral. A proper moral I can think of is that you should not favor one child over another because it will always go back at the parent. Two examples: Gloucester trusted the wrong kid, leading to his blindness.Lear trusted Goneril and Regan which led to Cordelia’s death and in turn his own. (People argue that Cordelia’s death caused grief in Lear to die.)

    2) Well, I have a question to the author–we constantly see ‘gods’ reference in terms of justice and mercy and the syntax/implications in the play suggest that justice and mercy are dualities (as it is also somewhat in the Bible and in other Christian theological works). Being Muslim, I believe that God’s qualities of being Just and Merciful are *complementary* not, *dualities.* How would the story change if any character considered that (particulary Edward) or why can’t justice and mercy be complementary. Justice is not always punishment and mercy isn’t always about giving ease. People think Coup de Grace is a form of mercy even though I think it isn’t and I am against that for although you are taking away pain, you are also taking life.

    But I digress.

    Another question I would want to ask is that: what happened to Edward’s and Edgar’s mother and Cordelia’s, Regan’s, and Goneril’s mother? (Gloucester and Lear’s wives?) I know they are not present, but there is no explanation why. And could the lack of the motherly figure explain some of the family problems Lear and Gloucester have? Or would they add to it? What are the parent roles Shakespeare is trying to suggest? Would there be family corruption with or without the mother? (Hamlet had a mother and there was family problems.)

    Hope that helped.

    And can I ask where you go to college? I feel honored writing a King Lear paper is asking me for information! Hope it helps!

  12. faith786 said,

    Dang, I should have just emailed you. Haha.

  13. shivam said,


  14. ayesha said,

    I would like to thank faith786 for his review. It really helped me in doing my project on the book. Thanks a lot!

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