Essay about King Lear: Themes

1611 Words Sep 23rd, 1999 7 Pages
King Lear: Themes

Many themes are evident in King Lear, but perhaps one of the most prevalent relates to the theme of justice. Shakespeare has developed a tragedy that allows us to see man's decent into chaos. Although Lear is perceived as "a man more sinned against than sinning" (p.62), the treatment of the main characters encourages the reader to reflect on the presence or lack of justice in this world. The characters also vary in their inclination to view the world from either a fatalistic or moralistic point of view, depending on their beliefs about the presence or absence of a higher power. The theme of justice in relation to higher powers can be illustrated from the perspective of King Lear,
Gloucester, and Edgar.
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Although it may seem as though he is an atheist, Frye believes otherwise:

Gloucester is not atheist: he postulates gods, divine personalities, and if he replaces them with a mechanism of fate or destiny he couldn't ascribe malice to it. What he feels is that there is some mystery in the horror of what's happened to him that goes beyond the tangible human causes" (p.111).

It is true that Gloucester has been lustful and has fathered an illegitimate son as the consequences. Since this, too, is an unnatural act, it seems justice must be served to restore order. However, to what degree is
Gloucester responsible for Edmund's evil behaviour? And was it just that
Gloucester's eyes were poked out by Goneril and Reagan? This leaves one wondering whether or not justice was served as Gloucester dies at the end of the play. The punishment would seem to exceed the crime. Edgar is Gloucester's legitimate son who is in danger of losing his right to his inheritance. At first, he is the good and dutiful one. At times he is gullible and naive when responding to his illegitimate brother Edmund, who tries to take his birth-right. Edgar is the moralist in this play. When he reflects on his own undeserved troubles and the suffering of others, there is a religious tone. He has faith in the gods and their justice, and is quick to give the "higher powers" the credit for what happens to men. Thus, he says to Gloucester, who believes he has fallen from the

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