Comedy and Tragedy, the two modes of Drama, are usually seen as separate and distinct. Philosophically, they are. Comedy unites; it brings characters into a greater sense of harmony with one another and the universe, rewards the virtuous, punishes the wicked, and upholds the cosmic order. Tragedy divides; it severs human relationships and devolves characters back to selfish instincts, disregards virtue and vice, metes out punishment in a random fashion, and tends to support the model of a nihilistic, disorderly, and hard existence. In Comedy, human frailties prove important but ultimately conquerable; in Tragedy, human frailties destroy, and there's not always resolution. Seen in this sense, King Lear is the epitome of tragedy. However, when we examine the play closer, we see an interesting dynamic at work: comedic and tragic elements interchanging on the stage. In the third act where Lear wanders the heath in the storm, the comedy/tragedy conflict on stage actually makes the ordeal all the more painful.
[...] The same imbalances of power and shunting of responsibility which let the sisters drive Lear onto the heath in a fit of madness let Edmund give orders to blind his own father. Gloucester's physical blindness only brings to mind the sad fact that Lear remains blind to his own nature. Only through seeing the actual bloodletting frenzy on stage can the audience really process the nature of Lear's madness. For the first time on stage, the audience gets a glimpse of the end of this play: all of this denial of responsibility is going to end violently. [...]
[...] On the other hand, we understand that Lear, in almost stock comedic fashion, has been locked out of the castle, trapped by forces outside his control in the elements by his vengeful and ungrateful daughters. There is psychodynamic confusion here: is Lear choosing to be out on the heath, or is he being thrown out on the heath, or are both occurring at once? How do we interpret this struggle? In his essay Comedy in King Robert Miola suggests an answer: “Lear is not merely a victim, but also an agent, not merely rejected, but also and emphatically rejecting. [...]
[...] However, in his essay entitled “Reason's Rhetoric: King Lear and the Social Uses of Irony,” Michael Hays has another explanation: “Edgar is exactly the opposite of what Lear supposes. He is not the ‘shattering evidence' of the universality of Lear's (and man's) plight. He is instead the active alternative power and poetic imagination to which Shakespeare draw attention” (Hays,107.) Edgar couldn't possibly be Lear's psychological equal, because, as the audience is only made too aware the more over-the-top Edgar plays this fanciful role, Edgar is making a choice to deceive Lear. [...]
[...] Wilson Knight points out in his essay “King Lear and the Comedy of the Grotesque”, these scenes are the emotional antithesis to the scenes where Lear made his grand, impassioned speeches to the heavens: in madness, he flashed on us the ridiculous basis of his tragedy in words which emphasize the indignity and incongruity of it, and make his madness something nearer the ridiculous than the terrible, something which moves our pity, but does not strike (Knight 92). In the beginning of this journey on the heath, Lear was a both a rebellious and strangely noble character, full of his own pride, actively denying his responsibility for his suffering. [...]
[...] Regan, Goneril and Edmund, in an attempt to both avoid admitting responsibility for the ongoing conflict and to secure their own positions of power, start looking for a scapegoat: now that the King has effectively escaped, they desperately need one. Gloucester, one of the last characters to hold any dominion of his good sense and conscience, presents the perfect target, returning to the castle unaware of the trap set for him. Regan and Cornwall bind and interrogate him, all the time treating him as a liar. [...]
using our reader.