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Analyzing Shakespeare´S Account Of Human Nature In King Lear In Comparison With Other Authors

1697 words - 7 pages

Human nature is a concept that has interested scholars throughout history. Many have debated over what human nature is – that is, the distinguishing characteristics that are unique to humans by nature – while others have mulled over the fact that the answer to the question “what is human nature?” may be unattainable or simply not worth pursuing. Shakespeare explores the issue of human nature in his tragedy King Lear. In his play, he attempts to portray that human nature is either entirely good or entirely evil. He seems to suggest, however, that it is not impossible for one to move from one end of the spectrum of human nature to the other, as multiple characters go through somewhat of a metamorphosis where their nature is changed. In this paper I analyze and present Shakespeare’s account of human nature in King Lear in comparison with other authors that we have read throughout our year in the Aquinas program.
Let us begin by looking at the role of human nature in King Lear more closely. It is clear from the beginning of King Lear that Cordelia has an entirely good nature, she remains constant throughout the play, never wavering in her morals. The play begins with Lear deciding that he will have his daughters compete for their divisions of his kingdoms based on which of them can impress him the most with their proclamations of love. Cordelia, however, cannot express her love for her father in words, and refuses to deceive him by doing otherwise, stating that she is “sure [her] love's more richer than [her] tongue” (1.1.78-80). She realizes that by holding her tongue she is infuriating her father, but her nature cannot allow her to do otherwise. When King Lear asks her what she has to say, she states “Nothing, my lord” (1.1.86). As would be expected, this angers Lear because Cordelia is not playing his game by flattering him. When he demands an explanation, Cordelia states “I cannot heave my heart into my mouth. I love your majesty / According to my bond; nor more nor less” (1.1.90-92). He then accuses her heart of being untender, to which she simply replies that her heart is “true”. As a result, Lear banishes his daughter Cordelia for refusing to publicly profess her love for him. This decision is clearly a rash and unjust one, yet Cordelia does not harbor feelings of ire for her father nor does she betray him, in fact she remains respectful and is sympathetic to her father throughout the misfortunes that befall him later on in the play. Cordelia’s actions provide us with a clear demonstration of a character whose nature rests on the side of entirely good.
As a foil to Cordelia, Shakespeare presents us with the entirely evil character Edmund. During the play, Edmund launches into a scheme with the aim of discrediting his brother Edgar in front of their father. Interestingly enough, much like Cordelia, Edmund is self-aware of his entirely evil nature, stating: “This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune, often...

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