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Home » , » Explain Shakespeare's use of sub-plot in King Lear
King Lear is one of the greatest tragedies of William Shakespeare. It is a mixture of main plot and sub-plots. Sub-plots are the plots by which the main plot is nourished. They are introduced to brighten the main plot of a play. If we go through the play King Lear, we notice more than one plot. Here Shakespeare has used matured sub-plots which are very significant. These sub-plots are very closely related to the main plot and develops parallel. We cannot separate one from the other. The sub-plots deal with the misfortunes of Gloucester.

Many critics have divided their opinions about the main plot and the sub-plot. Many critics opine that Shakespeare has no plot. Actually, Shakespeare is the greatest borrower. A famous critic A.C. Bradley regards the sub-plot as a defect. He points out that the play suffers from structural weakness which arises chiefly from the double actions and at the same time weakens the dramatic effect of the King Lear's story by diverting our attention to the characters and events of the sub-plot. Actually, the sub-plot never destroys structural unity of the play. It is a contrast to the main plot, rather a close parallel to it. 

In King Lear, the main plot deals with the misjudgment and misfortune of Lear because of the ingratitude of his two elder daughters- Goneril and Regan. On the other hand, the sub-plot deals with the misjudgment of Gloucester and his subsequent blinding and suffering. Thus, the main plot and the sub-plot are woven together the whole play.

Both the main plot and the sub-plot deal with the theme of good and evil. In fact, good and evil are closely demarcated in King lear. While, Goneril and Regan, Cordelia is good. Similarly, in the sub- plot, Gloucester's illegitimate son Edmund is bad while his legitimate son Edgar is good. At the end of the play, evil is defeated and good prevails but with too much cost of lives. Thus both Goneril and Regan die and so dies Edmund. But Corderil and Lear die too. Only Albany survives to rule the country with the help of Edgar.In this play, the main plot and the sub-plot are mingled into a single entity.

Thus by introducing these two plots, one is father-daughter and the other is father-son, Shakespeare shows that the children both sons and daughters may be the same evil. Shakespeare exposes a parallelism of characters Cordelia and Edgar through the main plot and sub-plot. Neither of them utters any complaint about the withdrawal of parental love. Both do their duty with love and affection. So we find the sub-plot is not as a contrast but a complement to the main plot and this is why it is so important. Therefore, King Lear is a unique blend of the plot of Lear and plot of Gloucester.


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