Pride in King Lear

One of the major themes I noticed while reading King Lear is that of pride. Almost every misfortune brought about during the play is due to one character’s pride or another. On the other hand, those characters that do not act upon their pride are shown to be some of the most favored in the play.

Those characters, such as Lear and Gloucester, who act upon pride are shown to have misfortune and death fall upon them. Gloucester’s pride is shown in that he is embarrassed to have Edmund as a son. We can see this in his conversation with Kent, wherein he states, “I have so often blushed to acknowledge/ him” (I.i.10-11).  It is upon this embarrassed pride that at least partly, if not wholly, motivates Edmund to his schemes. These eventually lead to the plucking out of Gloucester’s eyes, the loss of his will to live, and finally his death upon learning of Edgar’s true identity. We can also see pride resulting in downfall from the main conflict within the play. In the opening act, Lear wishes to be exceedingly flattered. He questions, “Which of you shall we say doth love us most? / That we our largest bounty may extend” (I.i.52-53). Lear wishes to have profuse declarations of love directed towards him by his daughters. He had always favored Cordelia and meant to give her the largest share. However, when she declares the truth of her love instead of extremely flattering him, he disowns her out of his hurt pride, and thus the major conflict of the play begins. Lear overcomes his pride throughout the following events, but by acting upon it at the play’s opening, he is not able to have the relaxed retirement that he dreamed of having. Instead, he is faced with the death of all three of his daughters as well as his own at the play’s conclusion.

On the other hand, Albany and Edgar, characters who were not motivated by their pride, are shown to be highly favored. Both are shown to overcome the obstacles presented them, and are two of the characters most easily sympathized with. Edgar garners the most sympathy between the two, as he encounters far more misfortune. Despite everything his brother puts him through, Edgar is shown to let go of his pride when he offers his hand to Edmund following their battle. “Let’s exchange charity/ I am no less in blood than thou art Edmund” (V.iii.166-167). Albany is also thought to be a great man, and is even shown to be the favored son in law of King Lear, “I thought the king had more/ affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall” (I.i.1-2). He shows sympathy for King Lear throughout the play and argues for both Lear and Cordelia’s pardon following their capture. Albany stirs away from his pride even to the very end of the play. Instead of becoming king as would be his right to claim, he instead passes it on to Edgar.

The characters who let pride reign within themselves are shown to bring about the events of their downfall because of it. The characters who are not slaves to their own pride, however, are shown to be highly regarded and rewarded by the end of the play. The one glaring exception would be that of Cordelia. She is unfortunately killed during the play’s final act. Her death shows us that our pride doesn’t just affect ourselves, but also the ones around us regardless how innocent they may be.

-Justin Kemp


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