Exile as an Enriching Experience
It is easy to say that exile is a terrible experience, but when viewed at a different perspective, it is plain to see that exile can be an enriching experience. Edward Said focuses on the sadness of exile and yet states that exile can become a potent, even enriching experience. People have been enriched through exile in King Lear through self realization, character insight, and family ties.
King Lear is guilty of exiling and eventually becoming exiled himself. By going through this experience, Lear gains insight of himself. Exile provides Lear with time to examine the situation that he is in and to see the truth. The time he spends away from his castle is when he has his turning point. This is evident when he says, Off, off you lendings! At this point, Lear is on the brink of insanity, and yet he has a revelation. Lear realizes that he was wrong in the past, on several accounts. He sees that he did not pay enough attention to the peasants. He also realizes that he made a rash decision when he banishes Cordelia. Exile allows Lear to realize that he is wrong. It humbles him and eventually allows him to ask for forgiveness; Pray you now, forget and forgive. I am old and foolish (5.1.98).
The idea of character insight through exile is exemplified in Kent more than in any other character. Character insight refers to any knowledge that is either new to the audience, or simply reinforced by something, in this case, banishment. Kent does not allow exile to change who he is. He is determined to do his duty, and continues to so until the end of the play. Banishment is a catalyst that allowed the audience to see Kents good characteristics. After being sent away by King Lear, Kent has no obligation to protect his King, and yet he is resolute when he says, My master calls; I must not say no (5.3.388). In staying by his King and fulfilling his duty to no ends, it proves that exile has not changed Kent for the worse. When going through exile, Kents character is enriches in the sense that his good characteristics are maintained and highlighted. Kent does the opposite of what is expected when banished thus enriching his character in the eyes of the audience.
The experience of exile strengthens family ties such as Lear and Cordelia, and also Gloucester and Edgar. Cordelia does not change when she goes through exile; it is Lears transformation that changes their relationship for the better. He humbles himself and asks for Cordelias forgiveness. In doing so, he strengthens their family ties. Cordelia was Lears favourite before his temper took over. She eventually returns to her original position, but because Lear and her underwent banishment, their relationship is enriched. Because they were apart for so long, Lear has time to miss her. Therefore, on Cordelias return, he cherishes her all the more. The relationship between Gloucester and Edgar is strengthened in the same way. Time apart from allows them to appreciate each other that much more. Both families take their exiles in stride. The children forgive their parents and their relationships become enriched through exile.
The stereotype of exile as a horrible experience as described by Edward Said is disproven in King Lear. For the most part, his analysis does not apply to the play, except for his final remark. Said states that, exile can become a potent, even enriching experience. This holds true for the characters in King Lear. The characters that do go through exile come out of it enriched in one way or another. King Lear proves that exile is quite the enriching experience.
Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Ontario: Academic Press Canada, 1964. Print.