Pathetic Fallacy in King Lear
Pathetic fallacy is the use of weather as a representation of emotion or theme in a piece. The most notable use of pathetic fallacy in Shakespeare's King Lear is the storm in Act 3. The storm can be seen as a representation of many aspects of the play. For example; loss, chaos and rebirth.
The storm reflects Lear's loss of status and power. Before, he had everything. He was a great King with hundreds of knights at his beck and call.
Now he is powerless, lost in a storm with nowhere to go. The only people he has, before Gloucester comes to his aid, are Kent, a man he thinks he has just met, the Fool and Edgar, who he thinks is a madman. The storm shows us just how helpless and vulnerable he has made himself. As Goneril observes, “Old fools are babes again.”
It could also be seen as a physical representation of the present and future chaos in the play. Lear is losing his mind; “My wits begin to turn”. His thoughts and wishes are completely chaotic and his speech is fantastical. Add the presence of a rambling, seemingly deranged Edgar to the mix and the noise of the situation gives an impression of how it feels to be Lear. This scene also foreshadows the chaotic ending of the play, with the King and all the people he loved dead; his daughters, Kent and the Fool.
The storm isn't only a negative thing though. It can also symbolise rebirth as the King learns new perspective in it; “The art of our necessities is strange, And we can make vile things precious.” It is here that he begins to see the error of his ways, although he isn't fully changed until he awakes with Cordelia. The rain is reminiscent of baptism*, and Lear's lack of clothing is similar to that of a newborn, so the storm is a new beginning for Lear, as he learns pain and suffering; “Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel.” Up until now he has been served everything he needed or wanted but now he has lost his power and his standing, he needs to find a way to exist without those comforts, he needs a new life. The storm is a symbol of this transition.
The storm is in the middle of the play so it is literally a central part of everything that happens. It shows Shakespeare's genius as he puts loss, chaos and rebirth in our minds before we've seen just how badly things go. Almost everything that happens before or after the storm can be linked to it.
Benvolio's Babe xoxo