William Shakespeare, being one of the most outstanding writers of all times, created a number of picturesque and profound characters who became symbolic characters. At the same time, the profoundness of his characters reveals the complexity of human nature and human relations the author wanted to convey to his audience. In this respect, his “King Lear”¯ and the main characters of the play, especially the King, are particularly noteworthy. The characters of the play are so complicated that many writers attempted to use the similar or even absolutely the same characters in their own works. At this point Barker’s “Seven Lears”¯ is particularly noteworthy because the author attempts to reevaluate the main characters of the Shakespearean play and focuses his attention on King Lear, who evolves and changes throughout the Barker’s work.
On comparing both characters of King Lear created by Shakespeare and Barker, it is important to underline that the difference is really striking. As the matter of fact, Barker was apparently impressed by the character created by Shakespeare in his “King Lear”¯. This is probably why Barker pays more attention to King Lear and he attempts to analyze in depth this character. In fact, Barker attempts to understand how and why King Lear changed as a personality, what affected his life and how he arrived to the point when he becomes a Shakespearean mad King.
At this point, it is worth mentioning the fact that Shakespeare creates quite a strange, a bit bizarre character who seems to be getting out of his mind when he decides to refuse from his royal power and divide his kingdom among his daughters. What is more, he takes decision on the basis of the verbal expression of love to him as a father and king from the part of his daughters who prove to be quite hypocritical, all but Cornelia, who cannot help from saying the truth, her real feelings. In such a way, Shakespearean King Lear is a naĆÆve, old King who is eventually totally abandoned and neglected, loses all his power and love of those daughters whom he considered to be his best and most beloved ones. Therefore, he is apparently going to be slightly mad being disappointed with his life as an ordinary man as he is deprived of his royal power. Only when he lost his power he understands that:
O reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest things superfluous:
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life is cheap as beast’s
(Shakespeare, II, 4).
In such a way, Shakespeare reveals the drama of a disenchanted character whose highest expectations have failed. Eventually, he changes his understanding of the world:
Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,
That bide the pelting of thisĀ pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, 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,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them.
And show the heavens more just.
(Shakespeare, IV, 4).
In stark contrast, Barker attempts to look beyond this image of an aging King who refuses from his power because of his naivety or madness and gets disenchanted. In fact, Barker traces through seven stages of the development of King Lear as a personality and as a King, which change each other throughout the play. At the beginning Barker depicts King Lear as a young and idealistic prince. Gradually, as he matures he just gets more and more convinced in the illusionary nature of his dreams. It is important to underline that Barker’s King Lear is more human and closer to real life. In fact, his madness, a characteristic of Shakespearean King Lear, is not an inexplicable paradox, but a natural effect of the entire life of the main character who has ideals which will have never come true that makes him come through all the stages in his life from the idealism, when he was a prince, to the Shakespearean mad king at the end.
Thus, Shakespeare and Barker created different characters or, to put it more precisely, they view one and the same character from a different perspective and, if Shakespearean King may be characterized mainly implicitly. In contrast, Barker uses explicit characterization of King Lear, exploring his personality at different stages of his life.