Clothing in King lear.

Clothing in King Lear.
• In King Lear, Shakespeare creates a direct
parallel between the clothing a character
wears, and the power they wield. When we are
wearing garments of power we are oblivious to
reality, so only be removing the trappings of
power can we gain true perception.
Slide Historical
Around the time of this play in England there was the beginning of what would
become the middle class. Rich merchants were able to come into a lot of money
even though they were not of noble birth. They spent money mainly on clothing
that flaunted their wealth. These people then went to court and around town
showing off.
This offends the aristocracy. They believed that commoners should not be able to
dress as well as nobility because then nobody could tell them apart. Laws
established by Elizabeth’s father prevented commoners wearing specific items.
For example only royalty could wear clothing trimmed with ermine, lesser nobles could wear fox and
otter, and so on.
On June 15 1574 Queen Elizabeth I created laws called ‘Statutes of Apparel’ which addressed new
superfluities of silks, cloth of gold, and other foreign clothing items (Lear was written in 1603)
In a way this is society condemning people who put on clothing they do not
deserve. Shakespeare’s play is addressing this social issue
In Lear Kent’s abuse of Oswald – ‘a tailor made thee’ is a reflection of the noble
disgust toward commoners who dress like nobles. Kent asserts that Oswald has no
right, and that his status is caused only by his tailor. Oswald is the kind of lower
class who rises up through clothing. Direct polar opposite of Kent and Edgar, who
are noble, but are dressing down
Wears the clothing of a beggar, of a
commoner, and gains perception. As a
Earl’s son nobody ever told him he was
slow witted, and he never had any reason
not to trust people because he was
protected by his authority. However when
this causes his downfall and he loses the
vestiges of power, Edgar is able to develop
cunning and bravery.
Formerly the manservant to the King’s
eldest daughter he was used to doing
what he was told. After the abdication
Oswald’s clothing reflects Goneril’s
increased wealth, and it makes him
arogant. Oswald gets into a fight with
Kent (who vastly out-ranks him) and is
protected by his new clothing/power. He
is killed in the end because he does not
deserve his authority.
Pretends to be a humble gentleman (not a
high ranking earl) and is thus able to aid
his King.
As King of England nobody would ever
question him. He grew vain and selfish
because nobody ever took him down a
peg. Once his Hamartia ruins his life, and
Lear is forced to wear rags people treat
him like a normal person and he becomes
more loving and altruistic.
Lear in regal clothing.
As his costuming becomes more worn out, this reflects his fall from power.
Fools hat used as a symbol – tries to give this to Lear, to make the point that a) he
has made a fool of himself, and b) he has nothing.
“We are born naked, and everything else is drag” – Ru Paul. What you wear defines
who you are in society. Link between identity and clothing.
“Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou
art.”- Lear III iv
When Lear loses all his money and has to dress like a peasant he is treated badly by
those in power. Through his mistreatment he gains a sense of shame for his deeds
and empathy for Cordelia.
In Lear, clothing is used to give the impression of authority. Characters like Oswald
and Goneril put on clothes of authority even though they deserve none.
Act IV, Scene vi (168) pg 297
And the creature run from the cur? There thou mightst behold
the great image of authority: a dog's obeyed in office.-Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand!
Why dost thou lash that whore? Strip thine own back;
Thou hotly lust'st to use her in that kind
For which thou whipp'st her. The usurer hangs the cozener.
Through tatter'd clothes small vices do appear;
Robes and furr'd gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks;
Arm it in rags, a pygmy's straw does pierce it.
None does offend, none.--I say none; I'll able 'em:
Take that of me, my friend, who have the power
To seal the accuser's lips. Get thee glass eyes;
And, like a scurvy politician, seem
To see the things thou dost not.--Now, now, now, now:
Pull off my boots: harder, harder:--so.
Even a cur would be obeyed if
he were in an office of power
The clothing of the poor does not
conceal even the smallest evil,
whereas rich clothing hide all
The strength of justice is no contest for sin
protected by wealth. But protect sin with rags
and even a piece of straw would pierce it.
• Disguise used extensively in comedy (Viola as Cesario in Twelfth Night,
Masquerade scene in Much Ado About Nothing, etc.) but this is the only
major tragedy in which disguise plays a big part.
• Disguise in Lear not used to trick or hide, but to clarify reality. Those who
disguise themselves gain understanding about themselves and the situation.
• E.g. Kent – pretends not to know Lear, so that he can be with Lear again
when Lear has banished Kent. This allows Kent to aid Lear
• Edgar – as Tom of Bedlam he is able to see what people really intend. What
they think about him and his father. Being in disguise means he can not be
naïve as he must deal with real world problems. This new strength leads to
his cunning and Edgar is therefore able to help Gloucester.
Clothing is used to signify power. Those who have power are dressed more
It is established that clothing does not make the man. A man may have dressed up
very well but have no legitimate claim to authority.
People who have the clothing of power, or the undeserved power, are able to hide
their wickedness and mistakes. Whereas those with little status must deal with their
Consequently this play asserts that there is more to being a leader than the office of
power. One needs more than the authority and trappings of a position to be a good
leader of men. A good leader would not need authority nor fancy clothing to lead.
Lear was always protected from criticism by his royal robes and so be became
selfish- he suffered for his bad deeds. Edgar was given the opportunity as Tom O’
Bedlam to learn about himself and the world and thus became a good leader.

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