I would disagree with the statement above, since we can see from the very beginning of the play, that Lear makes the mistake himself of abdicating his throne to fuel his ego, which eventually results in his downfall. By abdicating his throne, not only is he plunging his family and community into crisis by abandoning his responsibilities, he is also violating God’s natural law. In the 18th Century man’s task was to obey God’s law and maintain his position in the hierarchy, fulfilling his duties. King Lear by giving away his kingdom went against this and violated the natural order.
This creates a parallelism between another of Shakespeare’s plays, “Macbeth.” Macbeth when he becomes king is not a true king, as he is not behaving like God’s deputy on earth, and instead he acts like a usurper. Both Lear and Macbeth abdicate their responsibilities, disobeying God’s law, which has devastating consequences to the family and country causing disorder and chaos later on in the play.
Following this, Lear out of pride and anger begins to banish those around him who genuinely care for him, starting with Cordelia. This is another of Lear’s tragic flaws, which prevents him from seeing the true faces of people because his pride and anger overrides his judgement. As we see in this first act, Lear does not listen to Kent’s plea to see closer to the true faces of his daughters. Kent has hurt Lear’s pride by disobeying his order to stay out of his and Cordelia’s way when Lear has already warned him “The bow is bent and drawn, make from the shaft.” Kent still disobeys Lear and is banished. Because of his flaw, Lear has initiated the tragedy by disturbing the order in natural law by dividing the kingdom, banishing his best servant and daughter and giving up his throne. This results in Lear surrounding himself with people who only wish to use him. This is precisely what happens and it is through this that he discovers his wrongs and amends them. Lear is finally thrown out of his daughters’ home and left with a fool, a servant and a beggar. This is when Lear realises the mistake that he has made and suffers the banishment of his two eldest daughters.
Lear’s overpowering “pelican daughters,” Gonerill and Regan show no respect for their father and thus cause him relentless suffering. They abandon him and estrange him from his kingdom, which causes him to lose sanity. The dismissal of Lear’s knights is significant since his followers are a symbol of Lear’s might and importance, but they also represent real fighting power. With only the support of a few old men, Lear will not be able to assert himself or regain control of the kingdom. His threat and curses seem increasingly empty as the scene unfolds. His speeches become increasingly disjointed, as he becomes more distressed, hinting at the madness to come.
Lear now speaks of his daughter using animal imagery, for instance he describes Goneril as a -“sharp-toothed, like a vulture” with a “wolvish visage.” King Lear is now isolated outside in the storm. The storm portrays the rage and anger Lear experiences and thus the storm serves as a pathetic fallacy. All of this contributes to the suffering of Lear due to the gross sins that he has committed. It is traced back to the single most important error that he made. The choice to give up his throne. This one sin had proven to have massive repercussions upon Lear and the lives of those around him eventually killing all those who were involved. For instance Gloucester loses his status and eyes and Albany realises his wife’s true heart.
However the audience at this point may begin to feel sorry for the protagonist, as he hardly deserves the extreme torment he receives from his daughters. From this suffering Lear becomes more compassionate, reassessing himself and the society he lives in. In Act I Scene 5, in his fragile mental state, Lear recognises that he has mistreated Cordelia and he begins to feel guilty for his irresponsible actions. Through this I feel it is possible to say that he has achieved heroism.
The thing that breaks Lear into death though, is the death of his youngest daughter, Cordelia. I feel this is also undeserved suffering Lear endures, since I feel by this point he has received enough punishment for his sins. He is no longer interested in titles and kingship and he now holds a humble view of himself- “forget and forgive I am old now.” Therefore I believe it is now his strength that makes the story a tragedy.
Bradley says that the tragic hero is “superior to the world” despite errors, because by suffering King Lear receives insight into social injustice as he gains self-knowledge, renewal and love. It is through these strengths that the play becomes a tragedy, because it seems that as soon as he is redeemed, he dies in despair, leaving the lesser characters left on stage.
Other interpretations say that King Lear is “a every man” figure from medieval morality plays. The “every man” figure was the central character of these plays, and they were tempted by the “vices” who lured “every man” astray. There were also “virtues” who when the vices lured “every man” astray, would bring them back on path. Morality plays always had happy endings, with mankind realising his errors of his ways and deciding to serve God. This is modelled in King Lear, as King Lear is an “every man ” figure as he has a mixture of good and evil in him and he can go either way.
In King Lear, the good characters such as Cordelia are personifications of “virtues,” and the bad characters such as “Edmund” are personifications of the “vices.” Lear finds true everlasting spiritual values before he dies, which parallels with the “every man.” Thus because of these values, he has built up strength in his character, which therefore makes the story a tragedy through his strengths and not his weaknesses. On the other hand however, Christian interpretations of the play, say that bodies are destroyed in King Lear by the characters own envy and lust. This would suggest it was Lear who destroyed himself, and thus it was his weakness, which made the play tragic.
In conclusion I feel it is difficult to say whether it was Lear’s weaknesses or strengths that caused the tragedy. Instead I believe that it was a mixture of both; Lear’s initial weaknesses of abdicating his throne and banishing his daughter and servant, as well as his strengths through the suffering and his transition through his state of madness made the play a tragedy.