‘Ripeness is all‘ is a King Lear quote that teases and torments us. It is one of those poetic phrases where its enigma or mystery is its strength. Leaving Cert students need to reflect on a King Lear quote like this one so as to develop a deeper understanding of the text. Exam success is not gained by citing a King Lear quote without showing intelligent understanding. Higher grades are attained by those who learn to think for themselves. What follows in an example of how to reflect on the possible meanings of this enigmatic King Lear quote.
The full context for the quote is the final battle when Edgar finds shelter for Gloucester under a tree. Edgar leaves his father alone, and invites him to contemplate the following:
Ripeness is all.
But what does this King Lear quote suggest about Edgar’s thinking? A student may offer their personal reflection on this within the terms of an answer. Let’s pretend the overall task of a Leaving Cert Single Text question centres on the theme of redemption. The following reflection provides a broad understanding that might influence how a student would use this King Lear quote in an answer. Of course, you would never insert this into an answer; rather draw from it in your own voice.
Birth, ‘coming hither‘, and death, ‘going hence‘ are the most lonesome and painful passages that we humans must undergo. There is no choice; they must be endured. The nine-month journey in the womb brings the emerging baby to a stage of ‘ripeness‘ for the trial of birth, and an exit from its pre-existing state as an unborn. The decades long journey of life moulds a human character for that final moment of ‘going hence‘, that is departing from life to that mysterious void beyond death.
Through the tribulations of life-reference the harrowing experiences of Gloucester and Lear in the drama- the soul matures, and consciousness develops. ‘Ripeness‘ is a spiritual state reached through physical and emotional suffering. Gloucester had to undergo physical blindness and lose all status to attain ripeness. His journey is a mirror for Lear’s progression through abdication, abandonment and mental torture to reconciliation with Cordelia and with himself. ‘Ripeness‘ marks an idealised state of closure of a life, the final ‘human sleep‘ that Robert Frost speaks about in ‘After Apple Picking‘.
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