The Nature Of King Lear Essay

1071 words - 4 pages

The most prevailing images in King Lear are the images (metaphoric and actual) of nature. The concept of nature seems to consume the dialogue, monologues, and setting.

It might be useful to view nature as `the natural order of the world' (and, perhaps, the universe). When one goes against the natural order, chaos will follow. Shakespeare has made this point clear in "Troilus and Cressida" where Ulysses predicts that once "the specialty of rule hath been neglected disaster will follow, for take but degree away, untune that string, and hark what discord follows" (I.iii). But what are the natural orders that were upset in King Lear? First, and foremost, King Lear divided his kingdom and stepped down from the throne. A king of divine right is king until he dies; by disinheriting the throne and relinquishing it in parcels to daughters, Lear upset the natural order of his kingdom. According to essayist Sarah Doncaster, "It was impossible for Lear to stop being a king, because that was his rightful position by divine ordination..." (Doncaster, p.3).

Lear continues to disrupt nature by not recognizing the natural bond of love between father and daughter. When Lear asks Cordelia how much she loves him (an unnatural question to beg upon a daughter), she responds by saying, "I love your majesty according to my bond" (I.i. 91-92). Cordelia, the only `true' daughter of Lear, is saying that her love for him is based upon the laws of nature and not unnatural trappings of `love words'. Lear's blindness and lack of wisdom regarding the true nature of his daughters is seen throughout the text with references to nature. Lear says to Regan, "Thy tender-hafted nature shall not give thee o'er to harshness" (II.iv. 69-70). In his conversation with Burgundy about Cordelia he describes her (Cordelia) as "a wretch whom nature is ashamed" (I.i. 215).

As Regan and Goneril show their disdain and, thereby, expose their `natural' selves to Lear, his recognition of them and the wrong he did to Cordelia are also expressed with the language of nature; of Cordelia he says, "O most small fault, how ugly dids't thou in Cordelia show! That, like an engine, wrenched my frame of nature from the fixed place" (I.iv. 262-265). And when Lear realizes that both Regan and Goneril have deceived him, he calls them "unnatural hags" (II.iv. 276).

Lear's actions of distributing his kingdom to his daughters (which in a patriarchal society such as Lear's is against natural law) and his rashness of expelling Cordelia and wrongly rewarding Regan and Goneril, were a violation and misreading of true nature which, from that point on, lead to the destruction and death of Lear and his family.

The subplot in King Lear is of Gloucester and his sons Edmund and Edgar. Edmund, the illegitimate, bastard son, can be seen as somehow unnatural according to the laws of society at that time. Gloucester himself says to Kent, regarding Edgar, "But I have, sir, a son by order of law..."...

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