Artistic Form in King Lear
King Lear has remained one of Shakespeare's best works, and one of the best tragedies of all time, since the beginning of the 17th century; however, some early critics believe that certain elements of the story do not satisfy the criteria for a proper tragedy. The two plot elements under speculation are the subplot and the catastrophic ending. The primary focus of the story is set on the elderly King Lear, whose pride and greed blinds him, causing him to banish his only pure daughter, Cordelia, along with his most loyal subject, Kent. He bestows his power and land upon his ungrateful daughters Regan and Goneril, who immediately plot to strip him of the remainder of his power as well as his pride. A similar subplot emerges where the Earl of Gloucester is duped by his Don John-esque bastard son, Edmund, into banishing his real son, Edgar.
Both fathers realize their misjudgments before the end, but not before their downfalls. The play ends with the gradual insanity and death of Lear, as well as the deaths of Cordelia, Regan, Goneril, Gloucester, and Edmund. The happy ending or "poetic justice" is never achieved and the only exception to the seeming lack of justice is the pronouncement of the loyal Edgar as King, and the inferred bright future.
The earliest record of a criticism of King Lear is a letter from the Irish playwright Nahum Tate to a friend, written in 1681. In the letter, Tate describes King Lear as "a Heap of Jewels, unstrung and unpolisht." He describes in detail how he plans to rework several major elements of the story, adding a love affair between Edgar and Cordelia, rescuing Lear and Cordelia from execution, omitting The Fool (a source of wisdom as well...