The motif of suffering is a main concern in "The Tragedy of King Lear." Whether from dramatic, literary or psychological viewpoints, the heart of King Lear is in the suffering of the titular King. Although Lear realizes his mistake of disowning Cordelia early on, the play never seeks to show his resolution or redemption, but instead tracks his suffering, which Mark Van Doren described icily as "glacial, inexorable, awful and slow." Harold Bloom notes that Lear must be seen as "paradigm for greatness - at once father, king and a kind of mortal god," to understand his disempowerment under Goneril and Regan. At their hands, his age changes from a source of wisdom to weakness, changing from a king to merely "a poor old man/As full of grief as age, wretched in both." His authority disappears, and while he curses passionately "-I will do such things-/ What they are, yet I know not; but they shall be/The terrors of the earth," he has no power to realize these. The sisters cutting his retinue of knights from a hundred to fifty to finally none mirror the shearing away of his hopes of their piety and love, as well as of his own identity as king. His only remaining dignity is the "noble anger" where he resists tears and their connotations of womanliness and weakness, pledging that "this heart shall break into a hundred thousand flaws/Or ere I'll weep," which emphasizes greatness, even in his current feeble state.
The inclusion of Gloucester's tragedy to parallel Lear's enhances the play's complexity, and critics have discussed the links between the two greatly. Where suffering is concerned, what is most dramatically significant might be their language of expression. To Mark Van Doren, Gloucester's suffering is plain and conventional, where Lear's, given the privilege of madness, is poetic and lyrical. Juxtaposing their responses to their plight makes this clear, where Gloucester can only say "Alack, alack the day!" while Lear states majestically how "When we are born, we cry that we are come/To this great stage of fools.