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Archetypes in King Lear

Character Archetypes Cordelia: Seen by literary critics and commentators as The Scapegoat or Martyr (her death in a public arena brings a conclusion, though not a happy one, to this drama) or The White Goddess (she is good, beautiful, is accepted by the king of France as a marriage partner because of the purity of her ideals.) Regan and Goneril: Seen as two Villains in the story (can also call them antagonists); also, we could characterize both of them as Temptresses or Black Goddesses, because of their mutual extramarital interest in Edmund. Lear: Seen by some critics as the ultimate King archetype the height of temporal male power and authority. Part of the Kings Shadow (and, this is certainly Lears Achilles Heel) is his resistance to criticism, questioning, and challenges in decisions about controlling his kingdom (think about his treatment of Kent when Kent criticizes him, think about his treatment of Cordelia, think about his willingness to listen to the empty flattery of his two elder daughters) One literary critic sees in Lear an unfolding series of archetypes: Yaweh, the rigid, wrathful, contradictory, unconscious God of the Old Testament, Job, The Man who must suffer Yawehs injustices (think of Lears journey through madness, old age, and the slights of his elder daughters), Prometheus, the Greek Hero eternally punished for stealing fire (really, knowledge) from the Gods this critic sees Lear as overreaching, wanting human perfection, and failing when he loses Cordelia and the critic finally sees Lear, by virtue of his death after suffering a broken heart, as a Christ figure. Kent: Seen as a Knight to Lears King, because he sides with the Princess (Cordelia), suggesting she is in the right, and because he remains loyal to his King, Lear, even when Lear rejects him. The Fool: Associated with the clown or trickster archetype; this archetype involves making people laugh, making them cry (perhaps the

2 Shadow Clown), and wearing a mask that covers ones real emotions. The Fool, or court jester archetype, is more connected to those in power than the Clown is (Clown is seen as low or common). The Fool is seen especially telling those in power the truth in an outrageous or humorous way. Lears Fool is all about being in the thick of power, being able to dispense outlandish observation directly to the powerful, but nonlistening, Lear.

Symbolic Archetypes Some symbolic archetypes appearing in Lear are The Storm (symbolizes Lears descent into madness and rage), light (Gloucesters entrance, with torches, in Act II illumines both the darkness and Edmunds dark act of wounding himself to perpetuate the pretense of Edgars treachery). The Storm, which is also a kind of quest Lear must endure, also has elements of The Maze or Labyrinth (seen to show a hidden aspect of the self that needs to become conscious)

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