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Instances of Parallelism in King Lear

Many twists and turns characterize the television soap operas of today. Subplots are a distinctive trait of these daylight dramas, for they keep an audience on the edge of their seats. Subplots keep the material fresh and the audience wanting more. Shakespeare uses secondary plots as a literary device to greatly dramatize the action of the play and to spark a contrast to his underlying themes in King Lear. The secondary plots can incalculably improve the effect of dramatic irony and suspense. The effective usage of subplots in King Lear, as a form of parallelism, exhibits analogous traits of prominent characters. Using such a literary device permits the audience to understand the emotions of the essential characters in the play. The magnificent similarity of different plots and characters can illustrate Shakespeare’s perfect use of parallelism in King Lear.

Parallelism is greatly enhanced by the use of subplots, for it creates emphasis and suspense. The parallel between Lear and Gloucester displayed in the play cannot possibly be accidental. The subplot of Gloucester corresponds to the major plot of Lear. The two fathers have their own loyal legitimate child, and their own evil and disloyal kin. Gloucester and Lear are both honourable men, who have children that return to them in their time of need and are sightless to the truth. Like Lear, Gloucester is tormented, and his favoured child recovers his life; he is tended and healed by the child whom he has wronged. Their sufferings are traceable to their extreme folly and injustice, and to a selfish pursuit of their pleasure. In the early beginning of King Lear, Cordelia says that her love for her father is the love between father and daughter, no more, no less.

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“Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty
According to my bond; nor more nor less.” (Shakespeare.I.i.93-95)

In response, Lear flies into a rage, disowns Cordelia, and divides her share of the kingdom between her two unworthy sisters. Such folly and injustice is encountered by Gloucester in the secondary plot.

“O villain, villain! His very opinion in the
letter. Abhorred villain, unnatural, detested, brut-
ish villain; worse than brutish! Go, sirrah, seek
him. I’ll apprehend him. Abominable villain! Where
is he?” (I.ii.80-84)

Gloucester fooled by his wick bastard son, Edmund, attacks Edgar and leaves Edmund to his evil plans. The parallel incidents of Lear and Gloucester add to the dramatic irony in the audience.

Great Shakespearean plays such as King Lear often illustrate the theme of good versus evil. The protagonists of this play, Cordelia and Edgar hide in the beginning of the play and reveal themselves at the end to conquer and defeat Edmund’s malicious plans. Cordelia is safely sheltered from her sister’s cruelty in France, as Edgar hides and disguises himself in order to escape Edmund’s torment. The parallelism between Cordelia and Edgar is very similar. When Lear was suffering from the bitter torture of the storm, Cordelia invaded Albion not to take the land, but to allow Cordelia to nurture and recover her father from the cruel abandonment from Regan and Goneril.

“Seek, seek for him,
lest his ungoverned rage dissolve the life
that wants the means to lead it.” (IV.iv.17-19)

This rescue coincides with Edgar’s assistance to his father after his fall down the cliff at Dover.
“Think that the clearest gods, who make them honors
of men’s impossibilities, have preserved thee.” (

Edgar compliments God’s grace for saving his father’s life and thus comforts him afterwards. Cordelia and Edgar, when in need of their parents, appears and rescues them from the worst situations. Such parallelism cannot be possibility accidental.

The malevolent scheme in both plots also displays the parallel betrayal in King Lear. After Lear segregates his power to his two elder daughters, Regan and Goneril, Lear was powerless and fearless in the eyes of both daughters. Immediately after the division of power, both Regan and Goneril intend to reduce their father’s remaining authority so that Albion will be under their control.

“Pray you, let’s hit together;
If our father carry authority with such disposition as he bears,
This last surrender of his will but offend us.” (I.i.306-309)

Similar to the sisters’ plan, Edmund also decides to inherit all of Gloucester’s power, and thus plots Edgar’s forged letter with orders to kill his father. After Gloucester leaves and gives orders for Edmund to find Edgar, Edmund boasts of his trickery of Gloucester and Edgar.

“That he suspects none; on whose foolish honesty
my practices ride easy. I see the business.
Let me, if not by birth, have lands by wit.
All with me’s meet that I can fashion fit.” (I.ii.195-197)

Gloucester’s simple mind has not thought of Edgar’s true intentions, despite the letter and its orders to kill Gloucester. His foolishness and mental simplicity allows him to be misled by his illegitimate bastardized son. He suspects his legitimate son of sins, which were really to be found in his illegitimate son. His error led to his downfall and Gloucester now is so deeply in despair that he believes all men to be little more than animals. The pronounced resemblance of the plots was intentionally written by Shakespeare to satisfy the parallelism of both good and evil in King Lear.

Furthermore, Gloucester’s death in the secondary plot is a parallel to that of Lear’s in the main plot, despite the fact that Gloucester does not have the tragic catastrophic death of Lear. In a way, Gloucester acts as a demonstration of what can occur when he endures immense suffering and avoiding insanity. Lear’s anguish led him to insanity while Gloucester is led to despair and attempted suicide. Before Gloucester’s attempt at suicide, he realizes that he has wronged Edgar and condemns his blindness of Edmund’s plan.

“My father, poorly led? World, world, O world!
But that thy strange mutations make us hate thee,
life would not yield to age.” (IV.i.10-13)

This parallels Lear’s death as he also condemns his perceptiveness and wronging of Cordelia.
“I have seen the day, with my good biting falchion.
I would have made them skip: I am old now,
and these same crosses spoil me. Who are you?
Mine eyes are not o’ th’ best: I’ll tell you straight.”(V.iii.277-282)

Both deaths run on the same rail of train tracks, as Lear and Gloucester die as better and wiser men than they showed themselves at first. Great parallelism was revealed as Shakespeare uses this literary device to entice and capture the heart of his audience at the end of the play.

Shakespeare has greatly utilities secondary plots and its parallelism to the main plot. Such artistic talent was wonderfully portrayed in King Lear to emphasize each character’s emotions and intentions. The dramatic use of parallelism improves Shakespeare’s control of tension in the audience. The essential themes of King Lear were examined with ease through complex literary devices. King Lear should be used to compare all literature with parallel secondary plots. The superb resemblance of different plots and individuals exemplifies Shakespeare’s flawless use of parallelism in King Lear.

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Instances of Parallelism in King Lear. (2021, Mar 04). Retrieved July 16, 2021, from