From the many issues that you find William Shakespeare is asking his audience to wrestle with, select the two you find most significant. Comment on Shakespeare’s refusal to provide simple answers to life’s complex questions, and on the immediate relevance of these issues to those of our own day.
One of the many themes running through King Lear is that of greed and materialism, and the effects they have. They are present in the very first scene, when the King is dividing his kingdom and authority between his three daughters. One might think that the first example of greed is in his eldest two daughters, Goneril and Regan, as they sing their father’s praises in hopes of obtaining a large piece of land. This certainly is an example of it, but it’s not the first example. That dubious honor belongs to the king himself, who is not greedy for authority or land, but for affection—or at least, flattery. His standards for who inherits what are based entirely on who loves him most. This theme is thrown into sharp relief with the characters of Cordelia and Kent, who are both selfless in different senses. Cordelia is far too principled to play the game that Lear has set before her and her sisters, knowing to be a farce; and Kent wants what is best for the country, not best for one specific person. What is interesting is that the theme of greed and materialism complements another prevalent theme throughout King Lear: blindness. It’s ironic in a very Shakespearean way that the same play that is focused on the disparity between outward and inward appearances is full of characters that are blind to the real and take in only the seeming.
Greed is a big part of our modern society; at times it seems that the economy is based on it. Although it’s presented in a “traditional” form in King Lear, it has evolved into heightened consumerism. As is apparent from a brief perusal of a newspaper, sellers base their strategies around exploiting the human tendency to want everything. The line between frugality and greed is becoming harder and harder to define.
Another prevalent theme is that of loyalty. It appears several times in several different fashions throughout the play: Cordelia and Edgar are loyal to their fathers, despite the trials they had to contend with due to the disloyalty of their siblings; Albany becomes disloyal to his wife when he sees the horrible things she plots (and both Regan and Goneril are unfaithful to their husbands); and Edmund’s loyalties vary depending on the current situation. This is an important theme because it sets the stage for reconciliation further along in the story. If Cordelia and Edgar were not loyal, they would have had no reason to search for and help their fathers, and the play would have a very different overall message. Again, this is hardly a simple theme, because of the many levels of loyalty there are. When should one remain loyal in the face of hard circumstances and likely physical harm? For example, Cordelia might have...