Does King Lear Play the Tragic Hero, or the Autocrat?
It is quite possible to make an argument in favour of either answer, an argument that would prove to be quite a debate, although one answer would weigh in favour of the other. To prove this, certain elements would have to be analysed thoroughly, all aspects taken into context and sufficient research done into the matter. This is the only method in which a fair debate of the argument can be taken into consideration.
We can only find the answer to this question if we know what the two arguments mean; this will provide a solid base onto which the rest of the debate can rest, a foundation of fact. Aristotle, a great founder of the definition of tragedy used the word catharsis to describe the effects of true tragedy on the spectator. Aristotle stated that the purpose of tragedy was to invoke pity and terror, and thereby effect the catharsis of these emotions. Other critics see tragedy as a moral lesson in which fear and pity are excited by the tragic hero’s fate serve to warn the spectator not to similarly tempt providence. This interpretation is generally accepted that through experiencing fear vicariously in a controlled situation, the spectators own anxieties are directed outward, and, through sympathetic identification was the protagonist, his insight and outlook are enlarged.
Also, as importantly and significantly, Aristotle introduced the term hamartia, the tragic flaw, or an inherent defect or shortcoming in the hero of a tragedy. Aristotle casually described the tragic hero as a man of noble rank and nature whose misfortune is not brought upon him by villainy or corruption, but by some error of judgement. This imperfection later became known, or interpreted as a moral flaw, although most great tragedies defy such a simple distinction of the term. We could say that in many cases of tragedy the hero is never passive, but struggles to resolve his tragic difficulty with an obsessive dedication, that he is guilty of presuming that he is godlike, attempting to surpass his own human limitations.
The need, or lack of order in a society, could be a reason why the tragedy came to be, and is known in Greek terms as hubris. This ethical and religious thought portrays the resulting implications of impious disregard of the limits governing human action in an orderly universe. It is the sin to which the great and the gifted are most susceptible, and in Greek tragedy is usually the hero’s tragic flaw.
As in this argument, the terms of an autocrat have to be observed with some scrutiny to ensure no bias comes into play. The term autocrat, meaning that a person was to rule with unlimited power and resources, and who has undisputed influence or authority, has applied to many rulers, and a prime, and certainly recent authentication of this fact arose in the early 20th Century, in China. During the first half of this century, China saw the gradual disintegration of the old order, a common theme in King Lear, and the turbulent preparation for a new society. The foreign political philosophies of leadership undermined the Chinese system and provoked a mass turnaround for the Chinese government. But they, with their old order firmly engraved into their operating procedures, found it difficult to prepare for democracy. But in this difficulty they had to place an autocrat at the head of state, and leave the revolutionaries with only minor footholds in the political system. This therefore meant that the people were not ready for the relinquishment of a dictatorship, as the people were not experienced in dealing with problems in such a different manor. Such a parallel may be hard to find throughout King Lear, yet alone in any of Shakespeare’s works, but certain elements may hold familiarity with minor roles in King Lear.
I believe, with the help of the information studied, that no parallel can be found between this autocracy and the role of King Lear in his self-titled play. It is possible that autocracy, common among certain themes that arise in King Lear, could be confused as the role of King Lear, but in fact does not. This thesis can be proven by the lack of any subjective data in favour of this argument, and the lack of a match in respect between its definition and presence in King Lear. In opposition, the theme of a tragic hero fits so perfectly into its definition by Aristotle and other great thinkers of his kind, that it would be almost impossible to argue against it. The studies by these great thinkers have proven to be most helpful in the study of this argument as their studies match and parallel the themes of King Lear almost perfectly. Such as hamartia and hubris, their provocative and deductive variation of the same theme proves a catalyst in an argument in favour of the tragic hero.
It is most certain that King Lear provokes pity and fear into the minds of the spectator, in a tragic story of morality, and mortality that is sparked by Lear’s hamartia, his fatal flaw, arrogance and vanity combined with a stubborn and selfish outlook upon life, which proves to be his downfall.