King Lear - Imprisonment


In the play King Lear, by William Shakespeare, the idea of imprisonment is a fundamental to the plot and central ideas. All characters are imprisoned, whether it is physically, socially or psychologically. Through their society and its?, as well as their own faults each character suffers ?imprisonment? in some form.

King Lear is one of the more caged characters of the play, he suffers both social and psychological incarceration and this is one the chief reasons for his descent into mental hell and inevitable downfall. Lear is imprisoned by the role he must play in society and by his own internal shackles. The abdication of the throne initiates the action in the play, through the consequent chain of events. However this indicates that Lear is imprisoned by his responsibility to society, he is bound by a social harness. He renounces the throne to lead the rest of his life in pleasure and in doing so he disrupts the Great Chain of Being, he challenges the position that he has been given and thus his family and indeed the entire nation, descend into disorder and chaos. The storm is symbolic of this occurrence, the weather imitates the state of men. "One minded like the weather," the gentle man recognises the disquiet and unrest of the storm, as a manifestation of the turbulence in Society at the time. He is not only responsible for the harmony of a nation, as the father figure it is also his duty to maintain harmony in his house. This he does with little success when "bribes" his daughters to fuel his own ego. "Which of you shall we say doth love us most,/That we our largest bounty extend," Lear is requesting his daughters to compete in a "game" of words, he does not really wish to know who loves him the most, he simply wishes to be flattered, through this he is rashly abandoning his responsibility as a parent and as the father figure. He is imprisoned by societies values, as a man and the King he has control, this he abuses, to his own demise.

Lear suffers psychological imprisonment, both through his societies ideals and his own blindness to the truth. He is psychologically imprisoned by his society, in that his mind cannot break free of the gender roles, he has certain expectations of women and when this mould is broken he is staggered. "Though women all above./But to the girdle do the Gods inherit;/Beneath is all the fiends," this violent outburst is a reaction to the way his daughters, Goneril and Regan, have treated him. The patriarchy in which he lives requires women to be subservient and compliant to the man, however in this instance Lear has been completely dominated by both daughters and finds himself in the middle of a storm. This breaks the gender roles the he has set in his mind and thus he is shaken and curses women, for the prison of his mind, will not allow him to be free to see the true nature of his situation.

Ironically in the end, when Lear is free of his social and psychological fetters, he becomes literally imprisoned. "You must bear with me. Pray you now forget/And forgive. I am old and foolish," right before Lear and Cordelia are captured he sees the error of his ways, his psychological restraints are broken and thus his social ones no longer matter. Paradoxically, he captured immediately and physically imprisoned. Come let?s away to prison./We two alone will sing like birds i?th?cage," in previous scenes Lear would have acted outraged should he have been imprisoned but through his emotional journey and his release from his psychological and social manacles, he accepts this and is compliant. This breaks his gender role as a domineering male and truly serves to show how freed his mind has become, as he is lead away to prison. He also I able to perceive the hierarchy for what it is, he gains more knowledge and carrying for others through his mental freedom, and consequent physical imprisonment. "Poor fool and knave, I have one part in my heart/That?s sorry yet for thee," in this line Lear acknowledges his fool and faithful servant, while these people are not as high on The Great Chain of Being, he understands that it does not matter. Through his suffering and stripping down on the heath