Volume 73, Issue 2, Spring 2021

David V. Urban
Pages 127-143

Slender Self-Knowledge
Tragic Consequences and Redemptive Hope in Shakespeare’s King Lear and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

This essay argues that King Lear’s tragedy is largely brought about by Lear’s lack of self-knowledge, a character defect that long precedes the foolish decisions he makes in King Lear’s opening scene and which precipitates his own death and the deaths of those he loves. Lear’s lack of self-knowledge encourages Shakespeare’s audience to have sympathy for Goneril and Regan and to recognize that Lear’s beautiful progress of redemption is mitigated by his failure to ever recognize his longstanding wrongdoing against his elder daughters. By contrast, in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet’s humble choice to learn and be humbled by Darcy’s letter empowers Elizabeth to achieve self-knowledge at a youthful age even as it brings happiness and numerous redemptive benefits to herself and to those whom she loves.