In most of Shakespeare’s tragedies, such as Hamlet and Macbeth, all have a tragic formula, in which he also uses it in this play. Most of his plays have five acts, which contribute to his tragic formula. The tragic formula is when the “Good” characters, in this case of the story of King Lear they are Cordelia, King Lear, Kent, Edgar and Gloucester, will start off in the first two acts good. Whilst the “Bad” characters, in this case Gonerill, Regan, Cornwall and Edmond, begin in the bad position. Then soon the “Good” characters begin their downfall and gradually fall down towards act three, where they will hit the bottom of their downfall. The “Bad” characters would rise above the “Good” characters in act three. Act three is the mid-point of the story where the main action of the story begins. After act three, the “Good” characters will climb up again in acts four and five, where the “Bad” characters fall back down to once they started.
The hero, Lear, (like most heroes in Shakespeare’s plays) would have wealth and is a powerful figure, with a complex personality. At the start of the play, Lear had a great deal of material wealth, with a high powerful position in society, “Attend the lords of France and Burgundy, Gloucester. Gloucester: I shall my lord.” Act1 scene1 line29. His bossy personality, in this quote, reflects his high authority. The language Lear uses also displays his high authority. He often uses the royal “we” and “our” instead of “I” and “my” in the first act, “Know that we have divided in three our kingdom, and ’tis our fast intent to shake all cares and business from our age, conferring them on younger strengths while we unburdened crawl toward death.” Act1 Scene1 line32. Because Lear is in a very powerful position, it will make his downfall greater because he has further to go till he reaches rock bottom.
The start of the tragic flaw is often in the hero’s personality (generally) and the flaw will be shown in Act1. Lear (the hero) has a tragic flaw, which is his greed in love. His lust for flattery by his daughters indicates the audience his tragic flaw. After, the audience will see him spiral downwards to a certain point, after series of catastrophic events, and then climb back up to recover. “Lear: What can u say to draw a third more opulent than your sisters? Speak. Cordelia: Nothing my lord. Lear: Nothing will come of nothing… Hence and avoid my sight!” Act1 scene1 line80. This shows Lear’s first step to his downfall because he has banished Cordelia because of his lust for flattery by his daughter.
The cause of Lear’s tragedy was ‘De Casibus’, which is a fall from greatness. Lear wanted elevation from the flattery of his daughters but this triggered his downfall. In the first act Lear wanted his daughters to say they loved him. But Cordelia refused to say it as she thought it was morally wrong, to compete with her sisters’ flattery, “And yet not so, since I am sure my loves more loves more ponderous than my tongue.” Act1 scene1 line73. But Lear reacted in anger and in a rage he disowned and banished Cordelia, “Here I disclaim all my paternal care, propinquity and property of blood, and as a stranger to my heart and me hold thee from this forever.” Act1 scene1 line107. He then banishes Kent, because Kent was protecting Cordelia, “Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least… Freedom lives hence, and banishment is here.”Act1 scene1 line146. This caused his downfall to be greater because if Kent (his trusty, loyal servant) wasn’t banished Lear’s downfall may not be as great. Although Kent was still serving Lear in disguise, he was unable to help him as much because he mustn’t be found out by the King.
In the first two acts, Shakespeare reflects the tension by using imagery of the elements of storm, “Winter’s not gone yet if the wild geese fly that way.” Act2 scene4 line43, “We’ll set thee to an ant, to teach thee there’s no labouring i’th’winter.” Act 2 scene4 line62. This indicates that trouble will be lying ahead. The first quote means that winter is still here and will not go away if you go that way. Winter is portrayed as a bad season because there is often stormy weather in that season. The second quote is a metaphor of winter, which predicts that there will be trouble ahead. The storm in the play reflected on how bad it was going for Lear, this would deepen his downfall, as nature was also acting against him, “Blow, winds and crack cheeks. Rage, blow you cataracts and hurricanes, spout till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks! You sulph’rous and thought-executing fires, vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts, singe my white head.”Act3 scene2 line1. Shakespeare uses lots of cacophonous words in this quote, such as “Blow”, “Crack”, “Spout”, “Cataracts”, etc, which emphasises the storm that is acting against Lear.
The language Lear is using is a sign of Lear’s madness, later you can see him gradually lose his sanity. Lear loses everything in this play, mentally (his sanity), materially (his riches) and personally (his daughters). This makes his downfall greater as more is lost, “Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare. Forked animal as thou art. Off, off, you lendings! Come unbutton here.” You can see he has hit rock bottom here, because he is taking his clothes off for Poor Tom, who’s a beggar. You can also see that he’s quite insane because of the way he talks, “Off, off, you lendings!”Act3 scene4 line95. His daughters (Gonerill and Regan) had a huge impact on him, “Wilt break my heart?”Act3 scene4 line4. Lear asked Kent (in disguise) whether he’ll break his heart when Kent is only asking him to go to hovel. This displays Lear’s mental state, as his daughters broke his heart and he’s now afraid that everyone is going to break his heart too.
Because King Lear is a ruler, his personal tragedy is matched by a national tragedy too. When Lear behaved inappropriately towards his daughters, the country was set into a civil war, which deepens Lear’s downfall. At the end, King Lear went through some self-discovery (anagnorisis) and found out his mistakes he had done. The recognition of his mistakes when it is too late deepens the tragedy and downfall, “If you have poison for me, I will drink it… You must bear with me. Pray you now, forget and forgive. I am old and foolish.” Act4 scene6 line70. He realises how silly he was and prays for forgiveness.
He tries to make amends, even though it’s too late, by suggesting that he will drink poison if she would give him any. In the beginning, Lear was quite ignorant, which contributed to his downfall, but he has gained some knowledge and become a little wiser. At the end, Lear shows his weaker side because he doesn’t use the royal “we”, “I have seen the day with my good biting falchion.” This is a comparison to what he was like at the beginning of the play. From a tall powerful figure, to a normal person. The comparison would make his downfall seem greater as there is something to compare to look as if it there is a huge gap.
You can see that King Lear has travelled from being the ruler of the Kingdom to a almost like a beggar, losing absolutely everything, his sanity, possessions and family. All of this started by his tragic flaw, which is his greed in love. Lear’s character contributed quite a lot to his downfall because he was quite selfish, as he wanted love from his daughters. Although Lear died at the end, he has learnt from his experience and has become a better person. As you progress through the story you find out that Lear’s downfall is great as his selfish, ignorant personality contributes it to go further.