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King Lear

King Lear


by William Shakespeare

King Lear Theme of Compassion and Forgiveness

A warning, Shmoopers: King Lear ain't going to make you feel great about people. Think of the warmest, fuzziest feel-good comedy... and then think of the opposite. Yup. That's King Lear.

King Lear is an incredibly cruel play, and many of the characters are absolutely pitiless. Yet a few characters show extraordinary sympathy towards others' suffering. The human capacity to feel for others survives even the most desperate of moments. Yet what we see in Lear is that compassion is usually based on some sort of obligation—such as loyalty or family ties. Interestingly, these loyalties and these ties are the same causes of the extensive treachery displayed in King Lear.

Questions About Compassion and Forgiveness

  1. Which characters in King Lear show pity? Which deserve pity?
  2. Does compassion serve any purpose in King Lear?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The existence of compassion in King Lear prevents the play from presenting a completely negative view of human nature.

In King Lear, pity is a useless human emotion; it doesn't help any of the characters through their suffering.

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