King Lear: Pessimistic Or Optimistic? Essay

1052 words - 4 pages

King Lear - With a play as complex and multi - leveled as King Lear, it is very difficult to assess whether Shakespeare's view of life is either pessimistic or optimistic.  Without a doubt, there are many good arguments supporting both sides.  Because there are such an array of forces at work on the character in Lear, as well as so many separate and interrelated themes, one can not help but wonder whether it was even Shakespeare's intention to express a strictly pessimistic or optimistic view.  Perhaps Shakespeare was alluding to something which, although encompassing both opimism and pessimism, transcended them both.  He was explaining what it was to be human.  Through this perception of King Lear, we can say that the play is both bleak and hopeful, because it asserts that there is no meaning in life but puts man as the master of the world, instead of omnipotent justice dispensing 'higher powers'.

 

            King Lear gives the reader a bleak and lonely impression.  People suffer unjustly and are killed by heartbreak.  Albany points out that if left alone by the gods, "Humanity must perforce prey on itself / like monsters of the deep," expressing that justice and humanity do not house comfortably together.  And how can there be meaning or purpose in life if there is no justice?  Lear himself alludes poetically to this when upon Cordelia's death he asks, "Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life / And thou no breath at all?"  He also realizes that "I am a man more sinned against than sinning" when it is made obvious that the punishment for his mistake in scene one is harsher than it should be, making it unjust.

 

            There seems no end to unjust punishment - Lear is cast out into he storm and made to witness the death of Cordelia, Gloucester's eyes are put out by guests in his own castle.  Where are the gods or omnipotent forces during all of this?  Gloucester states, in a flash of brilliance that, "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods / They kill us for their sport," showing us that even if there were higher powers than man, they do not act justly, making them as susceptible to evil as humanity.  In King Lear, there is no guiding force which the characters must follow, no justice (except perhaps for the slaying of Edmund by Edgar) and until after the storm has passed, very little hope.

 

            This seems to prove that Shakespeare was being quite pessimistic in writing his play.  But as before stated, King Lear is a complex and intricately woven work.  To say simply 'the play is pessimistic' is in itself an injustice.  Through all of the suffering endured by Lear, Gloucester and Edgar, there is a strain of hope - the horrible events in King...

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