Last Updated Apr 11, 2010 10:24 PM EDT
Of course at the first level King Lear is a Shakespearean tragedy that illustrates what happens when children are consumed by greed and lose their love for their parents. On the other hand, Charles Handy considered Lear one of the best texts on leadership, in particular what happens when leaders lose their emotional self-control.
The key themes of Lear are deception, greed, cruelty, and misjudgement. Sort of like Wall Street, Lehman Bros and the Global Financial Crisis.
In the play there are many declarations, but typically the person making the declarations wants something in return. These declarations lead to the misjudgement of character that runs rampant through the play. Gloucester and Lear both misjudge their children, because of whom one goes blind and the other loses his sanity. It is only after this happens that they both can finally see the true character of their offspring. This is the first lesson for the leader when dealing with others: "Always back self-interest; it is the one horse in the race that is always trying."
The second lesson is that some people are particularly able to disguise their true emotions. The daughters, Goneril and Regan, trick their father into believing that they love him above all else. Edmund, too, tricks his father, Glocester, into thinking he is a loving devoted son. All three disguise their true greediness. The irony is that the few characters that must physically disguise themselves in the play are the few characters that are not motivated by darker emotions. Kent and Edgar disguise themselves: one to help the king, the other to escape punishment. In the end, Shakespeare shows them to have pure and decent motives. The dukes and two eldest daughters however, who at no time in the play hide their face nor their actions, do hide their true nature. This deception is particularly done by the well-off (Wall Street again?). Again to quote the Bard: Through tatter'd clothes small vices do appear; Robes and furr'd gowns hide all.
The final lesson is that successful leaders maintain self-control of their emotions and remain cool under pressure. They do not let their passions wipe away reason. Edmund has a passion for the title of Earl of Gloucester and Regan and Goneril each have a passion for power. All three eventually die because they lose their self-control. Lear's passions cause him to do unwise things such as leaving during a raging storm, and cutting off his most devoted child, Cordelia. Again to quote the Bard: Give me that man That is not passion's slave and I will wear him In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart, As I do thee.