King Lear is a tragedy about a man’s fall from Kingship to madness. King Lear mistreats his youngest daughter, Cordelia, and is then betrayed by his two other daughters, Goneril and Regan. Realizing his mistake too late, he agonizes over his folly until he becomes crazy.
After reconciling with Cordelia near the end of the play, he regains his sanity, but she is tragically killed soon afterwards. In one of the most heartrending scenes in the history of drama, Lear weeps over the dead body of Cordelia, crying, “Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, and thou no breath at all?” The animal imagery present in this lamentation is prevalent throughout the play. Shakespeare uses this motif to explore man’s animalistic nature.