The play King Lear is one of the great Shakespearean tragedies, but is the story really so tragic? On a superficial level, one might say yes. Lear lost his place as King, destroyed his relationships with his daughters and eventually lost his life. But there was one thing that he did gain in the process. This play illustrates King Lear's journey from ignorance to self-knowledge, which one might say is a far more rewarding destination. He starts off as a nave and ignorant old man, but as the play develops he learns a great deal about himself, his duties as king and about his relationships with his daughters. All of which play a large role in his identity as a person, a ruler and a father. Another thing to be noted is that the gains that Lear makes in self-knowledge always occur when he has reached his lowest point. It is when he is seemingly at his best that he is most ignorant about himself and his life.
At the beginning of the play Lear is most ignorant about his own identity. He is at the point in his life where he has reached old age and is supposedly "wise-. He is seemingly sure of himself, at his highest point he will reach in the play as a person, yet he has almost no idea who he really is. " Tis the infirmity of his age; yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself- (I.i.284). This statement was made by his daughter Regan, showing that at this point he is not only ignorant of his identity, but also ignorant of his own ignorance on the subject. As the play develops, his daughters begin to betray him. This causes him to become less self-assured and more insecure, which then leads him to question his own identity for the first time. "Who is it that can tell me who I am?- (I.iv.197).
As time goes on he is betrayed more and more. Kent is put into the stocks, which largely insults Lear, and his daughters refuse to let him stay in their homes. Lear is sent out onto the Heath, and into the storm.