KP Book Review: King Lear

This play by the Bard isn’t the type of story that you want to pick up to read for fun—unless your favorite pastime happens to be reading gut-wrenching tragedies.  But it also has numerous implications for writers, which is why I’m recommending kinglearreviewthis book to Kingdom Pen subscribers.

Given the popularity of this book, particularly in English and Literature courses, the basic plot of this story may very well already be familiar to you: the story of the aging king who decided to separate his kingdom among his three daughters.  When one of the daughters refuses to flatter him like her sisters do, but chooses to show her genuine affections for him instead, the aging king misunderstands her intentions and disowns her from the inheritance, dividing the kingdom instead between the two flattering daughters.  And from there, the story pretty much goes downhill from there, as the king learns to his expense how much of a grave error he made when divvying up his inheritance.

However, none of that keeps this play from being a good play to read.  First of all, for lovers of literature, this play has a pretty-permanent slot in the list of the Classics, and its fame alone may very well be enough to draw others to read it.  The glorious paradoxes, subtle revelations of truth, and character arcs of this play are beautiful, and those alone make the book worth reading.  But I also think that in order to be a good author in general, regardless of story genre or type, one ought to first be a reader of tragedies.  In an age dominated by positive character arcs among protagonists (not a bad thing necessarily), it is only more important to see the power behind the negative character arc and see by example how characters fall as well as they succeed.  Sometimes, you can only learn one skill when you have first seen the opposite of that skill.  And for me, seeing a well-done negative character arc like the one in King Lear has helped me to better understand how positive character arcs should work as well.

The play is a tragedy, yes.  But it’s a classic for a good reason, and, as a classic, contains valuable lessons and examples that authors can and should glean from.  It’s a story that reminds us that bad choices have bad consequences.  But while we can’t always alter the consequences, we can learn from them while we suffer.

Content Advisory: The play, like all of Shakespeare’s plays, contains some language and sexual innuendo.

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Josiah DeGraaf is a high school English teacher and literature nerd who fell in love with stories when he was young and hasn’t fallen out of love ever since.
He writes because he’s fascinated by human motivations. What causes otherwise-good people to make really terrible decisions in their lives? Why do some people have the strength to withstand temptation when others don’t? How do people respond to periods of intense suffering? What does it mean to be a hero?
These questions drive him as a reader, and they drive him as a writer as well as he takes normal people, puts them in crazy situations (did he mention he writes fantasy?), and then forces them to make difficult choices with their lives.
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels with worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as entertaining as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. In the meantime, you can find him writing articles here or short stories at his website (link below) as he works toward achieving these goals.
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  1. I have this— I’ll have to read it now. 🙂

    • Josiah DeGraaf says:

      Glad to hear it! Hope you enjoy it! (At least to the extent that you can enjoy a tragedy like this. 😉 )

  2. Okay, this convinced me. I’m going to get it from Librivox as soon as I can. I know I almost did once before and can’t think why not.

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