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Justice In King Lear Essay

1434 words - 6 pages

Many themes are evident in King Lear, but perhaps one of themost prevalent relates to the theme of justice. Shakespeare hasdeveloped a tragedy that allows us to see man's decent intochaos. Although Lear is perceived as 'a man more sinned againstthan sinning' (p.62), the treatment of the main charactersencourages the reader to reflect on the presence or lack ofjustice in this world. The characters also vary in theirinclination to view the world from either a fatalistic ormoralistic point of view, depending on their beliefs about thepresence or absence of a higher power. The theme of justice inrelation to higher powers can be illustrated from the perspectiveof King Lear, Gloucester, and Edgar.When reading King Lear, it is helpful to understand theElizabethan 'Chain of Being' in which nature is viewed as order.Rosenblatt (1984) states that there was a belief in anestablished hierarchy within the universe. Everything had itsown relative position beginning with Heaven, the Divine Being,and the stars and planets which are all above. On earth the kingis next, then the nobles, on down to the peasantry. Holding thelowest position were the beggars and lunatics and finally, theanimals. Interrupting this order is unnatural.King Lear's sin was that he disrupted this chain of being byrelinquishing his throne. By allowing his daughters and theirhusbands to rule the kingdom, the natural order of things wasdisturbed. His notion that he can still be in control afterdividing the kingdom is a delusion. According to Elizabethanphilosophy, it would seem that this is the beginning of hismistakes and is also the cause of much of the misfortune thatoccurs later on in the play. Chaos rules the unnatural.As well, King Lear makes another devastating mistake whichaffects his relationship with his daughters by asking them totell him how much they love him in order that he may divide hiskingdom according to the strength of their love. Cordelia, theyoungest daughter, states that she loves her father 'according toher bond' (p.4). She is saying that she loves him as much as anychild could love a father. On the other hand, Goneril and Reaganeasily speak the words that their father wants to hear, ratherthan the truth.Because Lear is not satisfied with Cordelia's response, heturns his back on Cordelia and on her love. By doing this he isdestroying the natural family unit and lacks the insight to knowthis. He unjustly punishes Cordelia by banishing her from thekingdom. He casts out his daughter in an unfatherly fashion, yetis gravely upset by the ingratitude of his other two daughters,Goneril and Reagan.Once again, due to Lear's lack of wisdom, he fails to recognizethe sincerity of Cordelia's words. Thus, he puts hisrelationship with his daughters in jeopardy which results in aconstant source of grief for King Lear.King Lear holds firm to his belief that the world isgoverned by the gods and in justice. Therefore he does notquestion the will of the gods in letting him suffer from...

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