The centuries-old dilemma between materialism and spiritualism has embedded itself in the Western conscience as the defining question of reality and manifests itself in works of literature throughout the ages. The relationship between materialism and spiritualism is ambiguous in and of itself. The philosophy of materialism postulates that development and change in society is centered around the interactions between material objects, whereas spiritualists envision a predominantly immaterial world that dictates all material interactions. However, asking this dichotomous question is analogous to asking which came first, the chicken or the egg? Logically it seems that both philosophies make a justifiable point, however, if we closely examine the numerous intricacies embedded in the fabric of nature, the answer becomes evident, just as it becomes evident, after biological experimentation, that the egg came first. History has repeatedly emphasized the veracity of spirituality, that an idea, a spark of innovation is the “egg” that influences the development of material possessions. This radical world view is most clearly seen in Shakespeare’s classic play, King Lear, in which Shakespeare parodies man’s futile attempt to center his life around material objects.
Throughout the plot of King Lear, Lear attempts to justify his love for his daughters by granting them material possessions. He uses his vast jurisdiction and wealth to his favor in gaining his daughter’s love, essentially adopting a materialistic point of view. However, Shakespeare, not inconspicuously, repeatedly shows how these ideals continually backfire on Lear. Lear believes, as do most foolhardy materialists, that man’s greatest source of happiness are his material possessions. Following this ardent belief, he believed that the greatest gift he could leave his daughters after his death was his kingdom, his life’s work and pride. King Lear’s materialistic view of the world is most clearly justified by his role in society as a member of the nobility. Because Lear possesses a large amount of wealth, he subconsciously attributes material objects as the supreme force of the universe, however, as Lear soon discovers, material objects cannot be equated with love, as can be seen when Lear is stripped of his knights by Goneril and Regan because he “has no need of them”(2.4).
O, reason not the need: our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous:
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life’s as cheap as beast’s: thou art a lady;
If only to go warm were gorgeous,
Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear’st,
Which scarcely keeps thee warm. But, for true need, (2.4)
Lear attempts to display his love for Goneril and Regan by presenting them with material gifts, and in return his daughters mistreat and ruin him. On the other hand, Cordelia, who was given no such materialistic compensation, ends up loving Lear the most.