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Shakespeare's Hamlet, Othello and King Lear

Updated on May 14, 2014

William Shakespeare, born April 1564

Shakespeare's King Lear

King Lear is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare somewhere between 1603 and 1606. The play is based on an old legend revolved around Leir of Britain, a mythological Celtic king. The main character of the play is King Lear, an elderly man who had held the throne in Britain, but as he approached old age decided to divide his kingdom amongst his three daughters. He did not simply divide the kingdom equally amongst the three of them, but asked them to prove themselves to him, and when the youngest daughter was silent when asked how much she loved her father, King Lear decided to give all of the land to his other two daughters. After he realizes he made a mistake, he falls into madness and runs away from the land.

King Lear was Driven to Madness and Exiled Himself from His Kingdom

Self-Exile in King Lear

Should Lear have run? Lear fleeing Britain played an integral role in the play King Lear and his own self exile contributed significantly to the plot of the story. After disposing of his estate between his three daughters based on flattery rather than fairness, Lear spirals into a state of madness and tragic consequences come for all of his family. His own selfishness, his own self-exile caused the erosion of the lives of his loved ones.

Shakespeare wrote King Lear as a tragedy based on the legend of Leir of Britain, a mythological pre-Roman Celtic king.

Othello is Driven to the Brink of Insanity by the End of Shakespeare's Play

Shakespeare's Othello and Hamlet

Two of Shakespeare's more famous works, Hamlet and Othello, are both stories based on the passions that can lead a man to insanity, as well as the process that leads him up to his breaking point.

Hamlet is the story of the dramatized revenged of a prince (Hamlet) against his uncle in honor of his father’s death (King Hamlet).

Othello is a tragic story of jealousy, love, and betrayal. Othello, the main character of the play, is a man plagued by his own psyche.

Eventually Othello's jealousy drives him to insanity in the end, much like Hamlet’s anger drives him to insanity at the end of the play.

Shakespeare's Hamlet

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the story begins with the ghost of King Hamlet telling his son to seek revenge against his murderer, who happens to be his uncle. Prince Hamlet vows to find the right opportunity to strike, but he will seek revenge for his father. The plot unravels, and so does Hamlet’s sanity. He becomes delusional with these intricate plots and ideas of how to kill his uncle in honor of his father. A good deal of Prince Hamlet’s narrative sounds more like he is speaking to himself then the audience or other character in the play. Hamlet's speeches are soliloquies, however, even when he is speaking to someone, it sounds as if he is contemplating matters in his own mind, debating what to do and what not to do- slowly drifting off into insanity.

Shakespeare's Othello

Shakespeare’s Othello is a tragic love story about how jealousy and betrayal can lead a man down the path of insanity. The story of Othello revolves around a character Iago, who out of jealousy, tries to drive a wedge between Othello and his wife Desdemona. With much success, Iago is able to get into the mind of Othello, much like King Hamlet got into Prince Hamlet’s mind, and ultimately Othello’s jealousy and heartbreak caused him to smother his wife in her sleep.

Both Hamlet and Othello were Shakespearean characters driven by rage and passion to the brink of insanity. Although the plays differ in many ways- Hamlet was a story of revenge and the mystery of death, while Othello was a tragic love story revolved around betrayal and jealousy, both stories revolve around how intense passion can drive a man to insanity.

Hamlet was a Man Who Thought Himself Mad

King Lear, Hamlet, and Othello- Three Men, All Mad

All three men we have discussed, King Lear, Hamlet and Othello, all wound up going mad by the end of the play in Shakespeare's work. In King Lear, we saw a man driven to insanity due to his inability to treat the women he loved as equals, while in Othello we saw a man lose his mind because of jealousy and the loss of the only woman he loved. Hamlet lost his mind because he couldn't grasp reality anymore. He became completely paranoid and no longer knew what was real and what was not. Although the plays are vastly different, Shakespeare ties them together by showing mans intrinsic flaw, the human mind.

Shakespeare's Tragic Flaw

Do you agree that the tragic flaw of all humans is the mind?

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    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 2 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Thank you for this interesting hub on the Bard of Avon. You've chosen well - I recommend you go see King Lear, a very powerful play which is not for the squeamish!

      I saw it two years ago in London, at the Almeida Theatre, with Jonathan Pryce as the old King.

      If you're ever in London you must visit the Globe Theatre, right by the Thames. A beautiful experience.

      Votes and a share!

    • Kathleen Odenthal profile image
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      Kathleen Odenthal Romano 3 years ago from Bayonne, New Jersey

      Thank you for your kind comment Cherylann! Shakespeare sure had a way with words and a way to relate his characters to man himself

    • Cherylann Mollan profile image

      Cherylann Mollan 3 years ago from India

      Very interesting hub and you've beautifully laid out the crux of all three plays. I think Shakespeare was the smartest man alive, his understanding of the human psyche is accurate. I do think our mind can be our best friend and our worst foe. It is the only part of our body that is the hardest to control and can exercise complete control over us. It is these Shakespearean characters that bring to life the power of the mind and what it is capable of.

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