Comparison Essay: King Lear vs. The Stone Angel

Introduction
A Story Conflict
Theme of journey
Setting of Nature
Social Responsibility
Loyalty
Resistance to Social Rules
Madness
The idea of Madness
Minor Characters
Conclusion

Both literary works, King Lear and The Stone Angel, bring up questions concerning ideas of madness and reason, morality and traditions, social norms and human dignity. These works belong to different epochs, but represent similar problems of individual choice and social injustice, human cruelty and misunderstanding which cause terrible sufferings for the main characters. The main difference is gender of the protagonists: King Lear is a man while Hagar is a woman. Thesis King Lear and The Stone Angel are based on similar themes and social settings used as lens of social injustice and low morals.

Help With Comparison Essay: King Lear vs. The Stone Angel
Help With Comparison Essay: King Lear vs. The Stone Angel

In both works, the authors create a story conflict using the theme of ‘journey’ and setting of nature. In the Stone Angel, ‘the kingdoms’ of King Lear can be compared with Hagar’s life divided between past and future. King Lear’s announcement at the beginning of the play—that he intends to divide his kingdom into three parts—must therefore have struck a severely discordant note to Shakespeare’s audience, especially when the play was performed at court. As most modern nations realize, in unity there is strength; in division, weakness abides. He gives his reasons, more fully in the Folio than in the quarto text. He says that he is old and therefore wants to give up the responsibilities of kingship, although he wishes to retain the name and all the “additions,” or titles and honors, of a king. Moreover, by dividing the kingdom now, he believes he will forestall the rivalry that might lead to “future strife”. He could not be more self-deceived, as events turn out; for, as Curran later informs Edmond (and the audience), conflict is soon brewing between the two dukes for control of the whole kingdom. Similar to the play, Hagar experiences different period in her life: in childhood, adolescence and old age. Similar to King Lear, her life is full of trials and difficulties. “Because I cannot remember doing it nor yet recall definitely not doing it…I become flustered” (Laurence, 30). The main difference is that in the Stone Angel, Laurence depicts a journey towards death while Shakespeare describes a journey as a search of truth and morality. Apparently, Shakespeare and his contemporaries still clung to the traditional belief that all of nature, human and otherwise, is somehow connected and integrated in an orderly fashion. To disturb one part of that order inevitably causes disruption in other parts. The unnatural behavior of his daughters to their father, upsetting the obedience and gratitude that children naturally owe their parents (as subjects owe their sovereign), is reflected in the storm that rages out-of-doors, a violent disturbance in the elements of non-human nature. In The Stone Angel settings of Hagar’s journey associate with cold and death of a person. It means that human beings need warmth to still alive. The beauty of nature is in contrast with the inner state of the hero.

The theme of nature plays a crucial role in King Lear and the Stone Angel describing inner psychological states of the characters and their life struggle. King Lear is a play that dramatizes a good deal more than that, but the complex significance of nature, which has a number of meanings in the play, is extremely important. Here, the romantic concept of nature must not unduly influence our understanding. For Laurence, nature did not refer to the concept of a healing or beneficial aspect of creation, to which one might flee for recreation and restoration, for peace and tranquility. From the very outset of the play, The Stone Angel explores many of these ideas, especially the ways in which nature, once violated, may become a terrible scourge. “The sunflowers had risen beside the barn as always, fed by the melting snow in the spring, but they’d had no other water this year” (Laurence 159).

Social responsibility is important for both characters. Loyalty is not a one-way street. Issues of loyalty also involve issues of social responsibility, particularly the responsibility those in power have to those they govern—their loyalty to their subjects. If Lear shows irresponsibility in dividing up his kingdom, however well motivated he thought his decision was, he later learns not only how wrong he was, but also how he has neglected his obligations as king. Stripped of his power, out in the wild weather with only his Fool and Kent to help him in act 3, he is entreated to seek shelter in a poor hovel. At this point, something remarkable comes over him. For the first time, Lear begins to think of others’ welfare besides his own. When Kent urges him to enter the hovel, he replies: “Prithee, go in thyself, seek thine own ease” (Shakespeare). Hagar’s sense of social responsibility is here awakened as he realizes that, self-absorbed in her own affairs, she has been unmindful of the misery his subjects’ or any rate the poorest among them. “Every good joy I might have held, in my man or any child of mine or even the plain light of morning, of walking the earth, all were forced to a standstill by some break of proper appearances- oh, proper to whom? When did I ever did I speak the hearts truth? ” (Laurence 292).

In King Lear, convinced that Gonerill and Regan have acted criminally in their abuse of power, he criticizes his wife for her brutal treatment of her father and, upon hearing of what has happened to Gloucester, he swears revenge upon the perpetrators of that gross injustice (Shakespeare). His feelings towards the daughters notwithstanding, Albany assumes his proper role in protecting the kingdom against what is clearly a foreign invasion. Similar to these themes, Laurence depicts cruelty and misunderstanding of society which forces Hagar to fight against low morals and false responsibility. Hagar says: “‘Pride was my wilderness, and the demon that led me there was fear. I was alone, never anything else, and never free, for I carried my chains within me, and they spread out from me and shackled all I touched” (Laurence 292).

Madness is a central theme in both plays. Various kinds of madness are contrasted with each other and all of them with commonly accepted modes of sanity. The main fact is that the protagonists are not mad or instance as their relatives and friends suppose. For instance, Lear is not mad at the very beginning, when he determines to divide up his kingdom among his daughters. This becomes apparent only at the end of the play. In the Stone Angel. Hagar is not mad searching for self-identity and personal value in life. When Kent in King Lear tries to reason with him, he gets nowhere and blurts out in exasperation, “Kent unmannerly / When Lear is made” (Shakespeare). By this, Kent means that Lear is acting unwisely, not that he has gone out of his mind. But Lear does eventually go out of his mind, driven there not only by the treatment of his daughters, but as much or more by the growing recognition that he has indeed acted unwisely and unjustly and by his passionate reaction to this insight. In the Stone Angel, Hagar is not mad reflecting upon her life, its grievances and loosing hopes, ideals and values. Speaking in apparent nonsense, she often makes the greatest sense of all, once we plumb beneath the surface silliness of her words.

The theme of madness and sanity is unveiled in opposition to society and its norms. Shakespeare and Laurence develop minor characters to show readers that their rationalism is superficial; it is fed, or rather led, by lusts that are deeply irrational. As a result, these characters are ultimately self-defeated. In the Stone Angel, Laurence underlines that madness is not a natural state of Hagar but perception of her personality by her relatives and society in general. For instance, when Hagar calls the Connors to ask them to send John home, Mrs. Connor says “You must be mad. We have no son called David.” Hagar “never told John … He kept on spinning his spider-webs, and I could never bring myself to say a word. Instead, I tried to show him I believed in him” (Laurence 157).

In sum, Shakespeare and Laurence depict that not everyone can do his own thing in every arena of life, so society and state power must set some limits to human behavior. Both authors describe that when the mixing of low morals and traditions occurred fair justice disappeared as well as interpretation of reality. Shakespeare and Laurence have much in common portraying eternal human’s problems. In both works story conflict stems not from insensitivity but from a ethical code which functions as the characters’ defense against the overwhelming chaos of misunderstanding and violence.

Works Cited Page
1. Laurence, M. The Stone Angel. University Of Chicago Press, 1993.
2. Shakespeare, W. Ling Lear. http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext97/1ws3310.txt

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