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A Comparison of Pride in King Lear and The Duchess of Malfi

The Sin of Pride Exposed in King Lear, and The Duchess of Malfi

In this brief monograph, we shall be hunting down and examining various creatures from the bestiary of Medieval/Renaissance thought. Among these are the fierce lion of imperious, egotistical power, a pair of fantastic peacocks, one of vanity, one of preening social status, and the docile lamb of humility. The lion and the peacocks are of the species known as pride, while the lamb is of an entirely different, in fact antithetical race, that of humility and forgiveness. The textual regions we shall be exploring include the diverse expanses, from palace to heath, of William Shakespeare, the dark, sinister Italy of John Webster, and the perfumed lady’s chambers of Ben Jonson and Robert Herrick.

The tragic hero of Shakespeare’s King Lear is brought down, like all tragic heroes, by one fatal flaw, in this case pride, as well as pride’s sister, folly. It is the King’s egotistical demand for total love and, what’s more, protestations of such from the daughter who loves him most, that set the stage for his downfall, as well as calling to the minds of the Elizabethan audience of Shakespeare’s day the above-cited biblical edict. This daughter, Cordelia, can be seen as the humble lamb mentioned earlier, and her love and filial devotion go not only beyond that of her sisters (which is nil) but beyond words, thus enraging the proud king whose subsequent petulant rebukes extend to a bit of ironic Freudian projection: “Let pride, which she calls plainness, marry her” (I.i.125). Here, Shakespeare is emphasizing Lear’s pride by having him indulge in the common tendency of despising in others (and in this case wrongly) what one is most guilty of oneself. Lear’s rash pride …

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…in which it is supposed to have been written for a certain Lady Haughty, a name indicative of not a little touch of pride, pardon my litotes.

So, to sum up, we have captured, examined, and tagged our various creatures of pride, and it is now time to set them free once more, to run wild over the four corners of the earth. The lions will devour all in their path with arrogant derision; the peacocks will peck and claw at one another as they jockey for position in their petty social circles, all the while pouting and preening, painting feathers on their feathers; and the lambs will go on being slaughtered in their docility, uttering never a scornful word, so that we may have lamb chops with mint jelly at Ruth’s Chris with our beautiful, precisely made-up girl friends.

“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

Proverbs 16:18

Shakespeare’s Othello – The Character of Iago

The Character of Iago

There is no doubt in « Othello » as to the role Shakespeare has given Iago, he is the villain, masterful at deceit he generates most evil in the play. The clever soldier, his incredible acting allows him to be two or three completely different people. During most of the Act the audience finds itself constantly trying to find a motive for Iago’s actions but finds none that can justify what he is about to do. What does seem to come back again and again is his view on women which he sees as sex rapacious and a danger to his machiavellian plans.

Scene 1 offers us a good preview as to what Iago is going to do for the rest of the Act and ultimately the rest of the play. Our first view of Iago is of a hard deceitful man who says « Sblood » as opposed to Roderigo’s « Tush! », we see already his powers of deception as he explains how he is even worse off than Roderigo, his furious language: « A fellow almost damned in a fair wife » manages to convince the intellectual Roderigo who is presented along with Cassio in contrast to Iago. They are polite, educated, fairly wealthy and can not imagine that something as evil and motiveless as Iago exits. Iago has not only lost his promotion but also his hero in Othello. We sense the irony in « We cannot all be masters, nor all masters can be truly followed » and see that what Iago says he will do to Othello he is doing Roderigo, he is manipulating him. He gets a bit carried away in his speech about how he hates the Moor to the extent that some parts are hard to understand: « Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago » which might mean that if he was the Moor he would not like to be followed by Iago (himself) so that we see that although he might be exaggerating to justify taking more of Roderigo’s money he really hates Othello. We see how he enjoys playing the part of the villain and already wonder why Roderigo can’t see that Iago has insufficient motives to do what he wants to do to Othello, we aren’t sure what he plans to do but can tell that it involves extreme sufferance and maybe death. He also acknowledges here that he is not what he seems to be: « I am not what I am » which strengthens the impression we have had of him so far.

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