July 24, 2008
Book Review: King Lear, by William Shakespeare
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
…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.
I LOVE KING LEAR!
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.
Again, I LOVE KING LEAR!