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In Shakespeares King Lear and in its screen version Ran by Japanese director Kurosawa Akira we observe personal dramas, in which family relationships are gradually destroyed, the bond between parents and children is broken, and ties among siblings are lost. This lack of love and understanding between near relatives, as well as their struggle for power and material possessions, makes them reveal the worst sides of their natures - cruelty, falsity, malice, and eventually leads to war, madness and multiple deaths. In both the play and the movie though there is a little ray of hope, when forsaken children are forgiven and their love is acknowledged. Differences between these two works of art include the pronounced motive of revenge in Ran and the choice of different genders of offsprings.
In the opening act of the Shakespeares play, King Lear announces his decision to divide his kingdom between his three daughters, depending on the degree of love each of them expresses for him. Why he acts in such a way is beyond understanding, for he has known his daughters their entire lives and has to be aware of their true nature and the love they have towards their father. However, Lear believes deceitful reassurances of his two oldest children, Goneril and Regan, when they skillfully describe their daughterly feelings in the most elevated words just to get their share of inheritance. Yet, he becomes infuriated when his most favorite daughter, Cordelia, fails to meet his expectations of excessive flattery, and expresses her love in a humble and unpretentious way, promising to divide her love equally between her father and her husband. He betrays his youngest daughter by throwing her penniless out of his heart and his kingdom, thus actuating the tragedy that follows.
In King Lear we observe another similar dysfunctional parent-child relationship between Gloucester and his two sons the illegitimate son Edmund and the legal son Edgar. In his attempts to acquire legitimacy and become his fathers heir, Edmund easily persuades the old man that his brother is plotting against him. Gloucester makes the same mistake as Lear - he acts as if he has not raised his children and does not know whose affection is sincere; and betrays the child who loves him most, having no sufficient proof of his eldest sons guilt other than Edmunds forged letter.
Lear is ignorant about the true nature of his children, and it is not until Goneril and Regan turn him out of their estates under the pouring rain, causing him to lose his mind from disappointment, that he realizes mistakes he made. In his inexpressible grief, Lear regrets rejecting his youngest daughter, feels very guilty for his hasty and emotional decision, and wants to redeem his fault. Whereas, the old mans crazed mind finally perceives the real ruthless and hateful nature of his two oldest daughters (tigers and serpents he calls them, for they are as vicious and bloodthirsty as wild animals). Gloucester, too, suffering deeply because of his younger sons betrayal, due to which he was blinded and deprived of all his possessions, believes he will gain his vision again if only he manages to encounter Edgar one more time to give his blessings and ask for forgiveness.
Only upon having felt expulsion and rejection on their own back, both fathers approximated to the understanding of injustice and suffering Cordelia and Edgar had to live through, one deprived of her roots and family she loved most, the other forced to live a life of a lunatic beggar, hiding from his fathers knights to keep his life.
When Cordelia realizes her father has become an outcast in his own kingdom, she rushes to help him with the support of her husbands army, thus proving her daughterly love through actions, not words. Reconciliation with his youngest daughter and her forgiveness lift the burden from Lears heart, even though it is too late and Cordelia is murdered, having become a victim to her sisters and Edmunds viciousness. King Lear does not react to Goneril and Regans deaths as they have no place in his heart anymore, but he is inconsolable when he is holding his beloved daughter Cordelias dead body. His heart is unable to stand his grief and remorse, and he dies. Gloucester, in the same manner, meets his death when Poor Tom, who helped and encouraged him after Edmunds betrayal, confesses he is his beloved son, Edgar. Even though the fathers are forgiven for their hasty and emotional rejections, the harm caused by them cannot be undone and leads to destruction of both patriarchal families.
Broken bonds between siblings also contributed to the tragedy of the play. Even though initially Goneril is supported by Regan in her confrontation with their father, later on she poisons her sister in a feat of jealousy as both young women, despite the fact that they are married, fall in love with the same man Edmund, thus proving that marital vows mean nothing to them. The confrontation between Gloucesters sons reaches its apogee when one brother, Edgar, kills the other one, Edmund, in a sword fight for justice. After Goneril finds out about her beloved mans death, she kills herself too.
Thus, life and death confrontation between members of the Lear clan, as well as between Gloucesters kinsfolk, end with almost complete annihilation of both families.
Despite some major differences between William Shakespeares play King Lear and the movie Ran by Kurosawa Akira, there are enough parallels between the two artistic works to suggest comparisons.
Just like King Lear, Ran portrays an aging head of the family, who wants to divide his dominion among his three offsprings. Hidetora, the head of the Ichimonji clan, unlike King Lear, has three sons (Taro, Jiro and Saburo), as the realities of medieval Japan did not allow to bequeath land to daughters. Hidetora does not need assurances of eternal love from his sons; instead he wants respect and complete agreement with his will. Taro and Jiro (who correspond to Lears daughters Goneril and Regan), both malicious and treacherous, concur to their father's demands and swear devotion to him and to one another. Saburo, however, as sincere and outspoken as Shakespeares Cordelia, opposes his fathers decision. He underlines that Hidetora shed blood like water to expand his kingdom, and that his sons imbibed competitiveness and chaos with their mother's milk, therefore it is absurd and reckless to expect filial devotion. In such a way, Saburo predicts disastrous consequences of his fathers transition of authority, where competition and even war between the three brothers is inevitable. Just like in King Lear the infuriated father sends his youngest offspring into exile, depriving him of his love and inheritance. Thus, the conflict in both the Shakespearean play and the Japanese movie revolves around the fact that two of the sovereigns children ultimately become hostile towards him, while the third child supports him. However, as compared to Goneril and Regan, Hidetoras sons are more aggressive and ruthless: in his pursuit of power Jiro orders to kill both his elder brother and his younger brother and is himself doomed to die on the battlefield.
In King Lear the characters appear as having no past, and no history. We do not know what happened to them before the play started. Yet, in Ran Hidetora is presented as a ferocious and merciless warrior, who, striving to expand and consolidate his empire, murdered his daughter-in-laws (Kaedes and Sues) families and blinded Sues brother, thus bringing upon himself all the misfortunes that were to follow: betrayal by his two older children, insanity, the loss of the only son who loved him, Saburo, and, finally, death.
The motive of blood feud in Ran is quite strong, while in King Lear it is scarcely indicated. Even though both of his daughter-in-laws show Hidetora due respect when he is in power, as soon as he delegates responsibility to his sons, Kaede takes her chance to repay the Ichimonji clan for all the pain and suffering she had to live through upon losing her parents and her castle. Thus, she urges her husband, Taro, to humiliate and banish his father. Later on, when Taro is murdered, Kaede seduces the second brother, Jiro. She does not want to be Jiros concubine; she wants power and status, she wants to be his lawful wife. And when she reaches this goal by ordering to kill Jiros first wife, lady Sue, as a true eminence grise, Kaede assumes a complete control of the entire family and brings it to devastation.
In William Shakespeares King Lear and Kurosawa Akiras Ran family appears to be a bundle of venomous snakes, where, in their chase for power and authority, children betray fathers, siblings turn against each other, and fathers either consciously or unconsciously forsake their offsprings. However, the motive of revenge, which seems to be one of the main motive forces in the Japanese movie, is not so prominent in the Shakespearean play.
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