Old Age and Wisdom Are Not Synonymous in King Lear
In life, people usually interpret old age and wisdom as the same thing. Wisdom, by definition, is the knowledge of what is true or right. It is common belief that with old age there is experience and along with that comes wisdom. However this theory does not apply to every individual. One might experience numerous scenarios in life and not learn anything from them. The play King Lear by William Shakespeare is one example that demonstrates the loop hole in this theory. King Lear is an eighty year old king who decides to divide his kingdom between his three daughters if they profess their love for their love for him in front of the kingdom. Cordelia, his youngest daughter, who refuses to do so, is banished along with Kent, Lear’s loyal knight. The characters that highlight the shortcoming of the mentioned theory are King Lear, Gloucester, and Edmund.
King Lear is an aged king, who does not make the wisest choices throughout the play. At the beginning of the play, Lear decides to give away his kingdom to his three daughters. He believes that he is too old to be a king anymore, and that his daughters will be better able to rule the country. Lear decided that each daughter will get their share of the kingdom, if only they admit their love to him in front of everyone. (1, I, 52-58) “Tell me…merit challenge.” This quotation from the play is the first indication that reveals King Lear’s lack of wisdom. His naivety does not allow him to see his daughters for more than their appearances. Lear believes that his daughters will admit their love for him without lying. While in fact his two eldest daughters only say they love him, because they want to claim their dowries. His pride and insecurity do not allow him to see through the lies of Goneril and Regan. The second most significant mistake he makes, is banishing his youngest and most beloved daughter. Cordelia, who has an honest heart, claims that he loves her father no more nor less than the fatherly bond that he shares with her. Lear who is enraged with her response banishes his only daughter that truly loved him. The decision of her banishment was done rashly, and as the play goes on, Lear understands what a huge mistake he has done. Finally, another example that represents Lear’s foolishness is when he is staying with his eldest daughter. He decides to stay at Goneril’s estate for six months with an entourage of one hundred knights. Lear expects his daughter to clean after him and his knights as if she was his mother. (1, III, 20) “Old fools are babes again...” this quotation demonstrates how Goneril is tired of looking after her father. He is doing nothing but sleeping and eating all day, as if he were a child. This exemplifies that Lear still thinks that he is a child and deserves someone to treat him like one.
Gloucester is the character who is parallel to King Lear, which makes him no wiser than Lear himself. Gloucester has two sons who are named Edmund and Edgar. Edmund is the son that was born outside of his marriage which makes him illegitimate. Consequently, Edgar will be the person who inherits all of Gloucester’s fortune. Edmund, who is tired of all the mocking, decides to conspire against his brother and father. Gloucester is easily fooled by the story that Edmund provides him about how Edgar desires to kill Gloucester to inherit all of his fortune. (1, II, 79-83) “O villain…where is he?” In this scene, Gloucester has believed that his own son, Edgar has conspired against him; solely because Edmund has showed him the letter he has forged to frame his own brother. Gloucester also did not see his sons for what they truly were. He believed that Edgar was the villain and Edmund was his loyal son. However it was the exact opposite. It is after he has his eyes pulled out when he sees his sons for what they truly are. When he has his eyes pulled out, he summons Edmund and