King Lear: Facing the Consequences
Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear is a detailed description of the consequences of one man's decisions. This fictitious man is Lear, King of England, whose decisions greatly alter his life and the lives of those around him. As Lear bears the status of King, he is, as one expects, a man
of great power. But, sinfully, he surrenders all of this power to two of his daughters, as a reward for their demonstration of love towards him. This
untimely abdication of his throne results in a chain reaction of events that sends him on a journey toward Hell, in order to expiate his sin.
As the play opens one can almost immediately see that Lear begins to make mistakes that will eventually result in his downfall. The very first
words that Lear speaks in the play are:
Give me the map there. Know that we have divided/ In three our kingdom,
and 'tis our fast intent/ To shake all cares and business from our age, /
Conferring them on younger strengths while we/ Unburdened crawl to death. (I.i.38-41)
This gives the reader the first indication of Lear's intent to abdicate his throne. He goes on further to offer parcels of his kingdom to his daughters
as a form of reward for passing his test of their love:
Great rivals in our youngest daughter's love, / Long in our court have made
their amorous sojourn, / And here are to be answered. Tell me, my daughters/
(Since now we will divest us both of rule, / Interest of territory, cares of
state), / Which of you shall we say doth love us most? / That we our largest
bounty may extend/ where nature doth with merit challenge. (I.i.47-53)
The most significant of the many sins that Lear commits in this play is the relinquishment of his throne. By abdicating his throne to fuel his
ego, Lear disrupts the great chain of being, which states that the king must not challenge the position that God has given him. This undermining of
God's authority results in chaos that tears apart Lear's world, leaving him, in the end, with nothing.
Not only does Lear show a lack of solid judgment in deciding to abdicate, but also in rewarding his daughters according to their declarations of love for him. His egotistical demand for total love foreshadows his madness (Boyce 347). Lear is blind to the fact that the selfish Goneril and Regan, in their greed, tell him what he wants to hear, while his loving daughter, Cordelia, in her honesty, tells him only the truth. “I love your Majesty/ According to my bond, no more nor less” (I.i.97-98). The king mistakenly feels rejected by Cordelia and so disinherits her: “Here I disclaim all my paternal care, / Propinquity and property of blood, / And as a stranger to my heart and me/ Hold thee from this forever “ (I.i.120-123).
Following this misstep, Lear begins to banish those around him who genuinely...