“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”. Sir Walter Scott may not have intended to describe the tangled web of secrets that fuels Shakespeare’s tragedy “King Lear”, but it certainly applies. Secrets come in many shapes and sizes, and in works of literature they can be categorized as either secrets that are unknown to the reader or secrets that unknown to the characters. In “King Lear”, the secrets are kept from the characters. As in many great tragedies, it is the secrets in Shakespeare’s “King Lear” that cause the tragedy to occur.
In the first scene of “King Lear”, Lear tells his youngest daughter that “nothing will come of nothing”, referring to her refusal to profess her love for him, but unfortunately for him, he was dead wrong. Lear refuses to recognize that his two eldest daughters are evil and only his youngest truly loves him. This is the secret in the story; the two older daughters hide their wickedness behind a mask of kind words, and Lear allows the secret to remain a secret, by his unwillingness to accept the fact that his daughters do not love him.
What follows plunges Lear into the depths of hell, and then through his eventual realization of this secret, he is able to redeem himself. Shakespeare writes this story in a manner that the reader understands the cause of Lear’s problems, but Lear himself does not. This draws the reader into the story because the reader knows that Lear’s actions will lead to his downfall. As the story progresses the reader begins feeling very sympathetic towards Lear, because they understand the failure of Lear to expose the secret.
Without the secret, however, a lot of heartbreak would have been saved, but there would have been no story. For it is the secret and the subsequent heartbreak that draws the reader into the story. The overall effect of this secret is crucial to the development of the tragedy. This technique is seen in many tragedies. In “Oepidus Rex”, the secret during this story is that Oedipus married his mother and killed his father, in” Romeo and Juliet” it is their secret love, and in “Desire Under the Elms” it is that the son is the secret father of his father’s baby.
The secret aspect in all of these stories aid in the mystery and also the horror. The secrets in “King Lear” set the story in perpetual motion, and aid in the effect and overall impression the story has on the reader. As seen in many tragedies the secretive element creates the story, fuels the plot, and sets the stage for the tragedy to occur. As the secret is exposed and the heartbreak occurs, the tragedy unfolds. The reader’s knowledge of the secret draws them into the story allowing them to see the classic struggle between good and evil.