Catahrsis in Shakespeare's King Lear

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Few Shakespearean plays have caused the controversy that is found at the ending scenes of the tragic playKing Lear. Every human death for people, who witness it, is an image of our own promised end. "Is this the promised end?" asks Albany at the end of King Lear. "Or image of that horror?" replies Kent. The bizarre nature of the scenes at the end of King Lear causes numerous questions to arise. One important issue that critics and readers have about this play is whether there is any sense of catharsis at the end of King Lear or not. Catharsis helps the audience feel fulfilled and frees them of burden and tension caused by the play. Some people believe that there is no sense of catharsis at the end of King Lear at all because of the exceptionally painful conclusions while others believe that there are a few conclusions at the end of King Lear that contain somewhat sense of catharsis such as the deaths of Lear, Edmund and the two evil sisters.

According to Aristotle ?Tragedy should arouse the emotions of pity and fear, but in a healthy and balanced proportion.? King Lear does not fit into the Aristotle model of tragedy. According to Aristotle a tragic play should leave the audience free of stressed emotions and feelings at the end.

The sense of catharsis in King Lear can be seen from a different perspective if each character is analyzed individually. Some characters leave the feeling of catharsis while some don?t. One such character that does leave the audience with some sense of catharsis is the character Edmund. Edmund is one of the most evil characters in this play who betrays his father and his younger brother by faking a letter. He also cleverly gets the support of the two evil sisters by showing both of them that he loves them. From the starting of the play he believes that the world and his father is not fair to him and tries to achieve as much power as he can. ?Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land, Our father's love is to the bastard Edmund.? Edmunds brother Edgar who is the legitimate son of Gloucester suffers great pain and sufferings because of Edmund?s evil plot and his father?s blindness. At the end of play when Edmund dies and Edgar still alive, gains his land back, it leaves the audience with the sense of catharsis and makes them feel that justice has been done. Some people might even find the blindness of Gloucester an act of catharsis because it took him so long to discover his real son who loves him the most.

The death of the two evil sisters Regan and Goneril also contains some sense of catharsis. When Lear decided to step of from his responsibilities and asked his daughters to tell him who loves him the most, these two sisters flattered him by telling him things that they didn?t mean at all and because of them their youngest sister Cordelia who replied honestly got exiled. After they got the land from their father they treated him extremely roughly and were very cruel to him, his servants and Gloucester. They were also secretly having an affair with Edmund and were cheating on their husbands. At the end of the play when both of them die at the same time it leaves the audience with some sense of catharsis. Once again the audience naturally believe that justice has been done.

There are many situations at the end of the play that make it sound like there is no sense of catharsis at all in King Lear. One such situation is the death of Cordelia. Cordelia was the nicest and most fair character in the play that didn?t do wrong to anybody. She took care of her father even after he kicked her out of his kingdom. She spoke gently without using any evil words that every other character in the play used. When Cordelia dies, especially after being so happy with her father it puts a lot of tension and stress on the audience and the audience naturally believes that this death is unjust full. The death of King Lear is a controversy. Some people believe that he deserved to die while there are others who believe that his death was unjust full too. For the people who believe that he should?ve died, catharsis was done while for the others there?s again the stressful feeling when they walk out of the play. ?Some critics suggest that there is catharsis by interpreting the ending as a burst of joy that kills Lear. Others argue that there is no catharsis in King Lear because Lear lived as a fool and died as a fool and never fully recovered from his insanity.? The death of Cordelia and Lear is too distressing for the audience to feel anything but sorrow therefore it leaves no catharsis for some audience. 8:24 april 07 Throughout the play there are situations where the sense of catharsis can be seen but then there are also situations where there is no catharsis at all. It all depends on how the audience approach the situation and how they take the incidents. In general King Lear should be considered as a play that does contain some sense of catharsis. It is the extraordinary tragic nature of this play and the presence and non-presence of the catharsis that makes it such a superb and amusing play.