The play presents to us several variations of characters. Firstly, there are good characters such as Cornelia and Albany. However, Just because we determine from their loyalty and honestly that they are good, they still contain a human frailty. For Cornelia this is her honesty. It is both a virtue and a vice. When Lear instigates the love contest he already proposes to give Cornelia the most opulent third of the kingdom but in order to feed his ego, sets his three daughters up to express their love for him.
Cornelia replies with instead of exaggerated declarations of love such as her sisters “dearer than eye sight” and a eve more than “all other joys”, she says “l love you as my bond requires, no more, no less”. In saying this Cornelia shows a self righteous pride and what can be argued Is a certain level of arrogance. This human frailty In her displays that she values honesty highly but the consequence Is her banishment from her father’s kingdom. Similarly Albany, although eventually a good character, Is chided by Goner” for his “milky gentleness”.
This we see is his human frailty, the weakness that allows him to be pushed around by his commanding and manipulative wife Generic. However, soon Albany discovers strength and stands up to his wife, as he finds her and Reggae’s actions morally reprehensible when Reagan and Cornwall pluck out Gloucester eyes. In this way it is true to a large extent that Shakespeare dramas study human frailty which is present even in inherently ‘good’ characters.
Then of course, there are the inherently ‘bad’ characters such as Goner” and Reagan described with plenty of animal Imagery such as “she-foxes” and “Tigers, not daughters” and Cornwall, Reggae’s husband and of course manipulative Edmund. These characters are evil and cunning and their selfish ambition for advancement, power and possession shows their Machiavellian view that the acquisition and effective use of wealth and power may necessitate unethical actions.
Their human frailty is this single minded ambition in itself. As a result of their scheming and plotting the two sisters and Cornwall manage to get rid of their “weak and mad old man” father Lear and Impart cruelty on others such as putting Kent in the gallows and plucking Gloucester eyes out. However once hey have Cornelia and Lear out of the picture and have completed their cruel acts, the competitiveness and ambition turns them against each other as both fight for power and for the love of Edmund.
The corollary is that Goner” poisons Reagan then commits suicide and both end up dead. Edmund who takes a neo-Darwinist approach to life and believes in constant competition and survival of the fittest has the human frailty of lack of compassion and humanity. He does not see this as weakness or frailty but In fact believes It to be of use to him In his advancement from shunned Illegitimate son denied of equal rights and Inheritance (due to Elizabethan England laws AT primogeniture) to a man AT power Ana wealth n.
In ten Ana however he gets his comeuppance as he loses the battle to Edgar his compassionate and wronged older brother and Justice is brought about by his death. A more complicated analysis of human frailty is provided by the characters of Lear and Gloucester who are neither inherently good or inherently bad. In fact, these characters begin the play as misguided and blinded to the truth and this is their human frailty. They cannot see the true deception of their bad children and the consequences of this lack of insight is that each mistreats their loyal child in favor of the deceitful ones.
Lear begins the play as a selfish and arrogant man whose ego makes him start the love contest. However when he banishes Cornelia and abdicates the throne (something which was unheard of and would have been a great affront to Elizabethan and Jacobean audience) he entrusts the Kingdom to Reagan and Generic which displays a clear lack of insight and shows to a great extent this human frailty. As the fool says “thou agaves them the rod and puttees down thing own breeches. Lear usurps his authority and becomes a ward of his two daughters. He is however insulted and shunned by them and slowly turns to madness “l fear I am not of perfect mind”. It is in this quote of madness which is symbolized by the storm, that Lear overcomes his human frailty of lack of insight and realizes important things. Erasmus is noted to have said “truth indeed is seldom palatable to the ears of kings” and we see that Lear, only when he is reduced to the level of the Fool and ‘Old
Tom’ (who is actually Edgar), sees the error of his ways. Lear has to suffer the impact of mental aberration and the indignity of poverty to feel compassion for the “poor naked wretches” in his kingdom and to see that Generic and Reagan are evil “sharp tooth wickedness like a vulture” and Cornelia is ‘golden’ and the loyal one. Thus too great extent this play explores the human frailty in Lear of lack of insight but gives us hope as we see him change from a vain, selfish, proud king to a man of renewed humility and humanity.
Similar to Lear, Gloucester who rejects his loyal son Edgar lives Edmunds false letter, false duel and skilful treachery, faces the consequences of his human frailty of lack of insight when his eyes are plucked out. Though this seems an unjust punishment “more sinned against then sinning” , we see that he too learns from the loss of sight “l stumbled when I saw’ and in his literal blindness is metaphorically unblended as Edmunds true nature is revealed to him and he again is reconciled with Edgar his good son. In this way through each of the characters though they vary in nature, human frailty is explored by Shakespeare.
Shakespearean dramas to a great extent study this human frailty in each of its characters sometimes leaving us disparaging or unsatisfied at the conclusion of the play and often times such as with Lear and Gloucester leaving is hopeful as the human frailty is over come. As a result Shakespeare leaves us the audience with the hope that we too can emerge from the consequences of our own human frailties and this appeal is one of the reasons King Lear is such a widely enjoyed play today, five hundred years after its writing.