Shakespeare in King Lear articulately portrays an exploration of personal identity and universal suffering. Throughout this play, characters are forced to redefine and rediscover themselves through uses of disguise and status. Therefore, according to Shakespeare, identity is changeable and fragile, and its concept can be changed through acting. Shakespeare has employed character transformation in most of his works. In As You Like It, Rosalind and Celia are forced to disguise themselves as lower class citizens to find truth, innocence, and love.
In Measure for Measure, the Duke disguises himself to reveal the innocence of Claudio and the deceit of Lord Angelo. However, the use of disguise in King Lear shows a great significance in class distinction and portrays a positive light on lower class. Generally, it is not common for kings to sympathize with beggars or people of lower status, but in this case King Lear shows sympathy to beggars through Edgar. The act of undressing by King Lear to be in the same level with beggars helped him regain lost innocence. Additionally, Edgar uses clothing to disguise himself as a beggar to dismiss his past identity.
He uses the life of poor Tom and clothes himself like him to remain in the same class (Burton and Harold 77). Therefore, the play portrays clothing as a disguise to reclaim lost status by transitioning to lower social status. According to Maclean, disguising is where one character assumes two roles. The process involves voluntary or involuntary masquerading, mistaken or concealed identity, madness, or possession (Maclean 49). Decoding a disguised character is a difficult task, but it is clear in King Lear the characters that heavily use clothing as a disguise to portray a certain identity include King Lear, Edgar, and Kent.
At the beginning of the play, King Lear is dressed in opulent clothing to signify higher social status, authority, and dominance. Kent and Edgar are also well dressed to signify closeness to nobility or higher social status (Greenfield 282). Conversely, as the play progresses class struggle is portrayed through Lear, Edgar, and Kent as they change their clothing to adapt to changes and troubles that befell them after expulsion from nobility “For confirmation that I am much more! than my out-wall (outward).
Uniquely, the play portrays a rather interesting factor of Marxist reading that shows that it is difficult for individuals of a lower class to transition to the upper class. In fact, in the play, only characters in the higher class were transitioning to the lower class. From Kent’s remarks, “for confirmation that I am much more / than my out wall” (III. ii. 44-45), it is evident that class is associated with clothing. Furthermore, Lear associates clothing with nobility when he points out Edgars’ lack of silk, leather, wool, and perfume; to show sympathy he removes his clothes (Burton and Harold 79).
From Lear’s reference to Edgar’s lack of certain attire and Kent’s remarks, it is evident that physical appearance through clothing plays a key role in defining with which societal class one is associated. Moreover, the use of costume or clothing in King Lear is another essential aspect of theater that illustrates the significance of the identities of individuals throughout the play. Both Edgar and Kent are compelled to re-clothe to preserve themselves. In doing so, they simplify their personalities to their basics.
Whenever asked “what art thou? ” the response of Kent was “A man, sir” (Greenfield 284). In this way, he is showing his complete lessening into a minor person in its most straightforward terms. Edgar, then again, takes “the basest and poorest shape that ever penury in disdain of man / Brought close to monster” hence pushing off everything, including his human structure (11. iii. 6-12). The utilization of “basest” is noteworthy as it is reminiscent of Edmond’s monolog in Act 1 Scene 2, in which he utilizes the word four times in a solitary line.
Edgar has, along these lines, tackled a component of Edmond’s personality virtually as he has tackled his dialect. Analogously, another important aspect of clothing in relation to identity is the connection of nakedness as truth. According to Greenfield, “nakedness there represented something bad, such as poverty or shamelessness. However, it also associated with [… ] the naked truth, and so had favorable symbolic meaning” (Greenfield 282). Although King Lear’s undressing can be associated with madness, nudity also helped him find the truth.
King Lear’s loss of clothing signified loss of power and it is here where he and Edgar are seen in their most natural state as men. Ideally, it represented poverty, and according to Greenfield, it is only at this state that man can reclaim innocence. It is at this state that King Lear’s confession is manifested: “How shall your household heads and unfed sides [… ] / Defend you from seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en / Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp; / Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel” (III. vi. 31-34).
In some instance, Edgar is considered more than a beggar when the Fool refers to him as “a spirit” and Lear refers to him as his “philosopher” (III. v. 164); this ensures confession is convenient. After confession, undressing of clothing linked with nobility and sin takes place”Off, off, you lendings! Come unbutton / here” (III. vi. 100-102). Later, King Lear is portrayed as a character that has regained his innocence. For King Lear, bareness is a camouflage utilized to outline the embodiment of man in his most common state, which calls for the ideas of truth, and separates the classes as per truth.
Through Edgar, camouflage is utilized deliberately as a part of a request to safeguard one’s self, and also through selfconservation; the rebuilding of his respectability is surfaced, consequently taking out the degenerate elites who once directed him (Burton and Harold 83). Kent’s character, through the majority of his imperfections as a veiled man, permits the group of onlookers to get a handle on the trouble in utilizing facades, as he always comments on his own.
His defects permit the gathering of people to end up mindful of the social stratifications, through the understanding that Kent’s move into he lower class was not as limitless as the King’s, and was unlike Edgar’s, for he was dependably a worker to some degree (Greenfield 285). It is essential how every character portrays the aspect of identity though in distinctive ways, and how through the included measurement of the facade, the layers of translating King Lear turns out to be even more infiltrating. Nevertheless, while the impact of the facade is comparable for both Kent and Edgar, its life span is most certainly not; at the point when camouflage is no longer fundamental, the saint Edgar rises.
The point of camouflage referred to when individuals would cloth themselves according to the social status or positions that were not their own. In particular, this aspect is clarified toward the end of the play as his personality is expressly reestablished with the revelation that demonstrates a noteworthy movement from the clear irrevocability of “Edgar|| nothing am” (IV. vii. 9). The way in which Edgar portrays himself regarding Gloucester in Act 5 exhibits the path in which his family is essential to his personality.
Particularly, this is possibly because of the hereditary laws of the time, which expressed that the eldest child would acquire their father’s title. Clothing was important in this case because the manner in which the sons dressed was symbolic and representative of the royal or ruling family. Gloucester’s personality will, in time, turn into his own. Alternately, Kent is hesitant to come back to his previous self, holding up to uncover him “till time and I think to meet” (IV. vii. 10).
Whether this is because of a feeling of delight or lost control is vague; in any case, it can be contended that the basic reason for Kent’s camouflage is to secure Lear’s character while Edgar’s is to ensure his own. Shakespeare’s origination of human life in King Lear is established upon the foundation of clothing. Personality is exhibited as something flexible, utilized as a device to control and misdirect, to propose that parts are continually being accepted as a method for self-conservation.
As such, clothing portrays this aspect. A generational partition in regards to the birthplace of personality exists in the play, with the most seasoned characters esteeming the significance of family legacy and the more youthful characters the significance of the person (Greenfield 286). Nonetheless, as the play advances, it turns out to be clear that even things, which appear to be changeless, in particular family ties and positional titles, are subject to transition.