King Lear Essay, Research Paper
In King Lear, the unnatural elements seem to always dominate the natural elements throughout the play. There exists a reversal of order in the play where the evil prosper in the downfall of the good, and where man’s life is meaningless and arbitrary. King Lear, the tragic hero, dies in the end despite the torment and agony he had to endure to regenerate and repent. But it is the worthless destruction of countless other lives because of Lear’s own personal tragedy that supports the view of the brutality and the meaningless of man’s life in the play.
Life in Lear’s universe is brutal, and at times, merciless. All this has been brought about by the reign of evil in the play. The natural order of things has been reversed to such an extent that many of society’s cherished values have been neglected and confused. Evil characters such as Edmund is praised by Gloucester for exposing the “treachery” of Edgar, while Edgar is denounced for his “villany”. Love, based on selflessness and truth, is weighted in materialistic terms. A man’s life, then, can only be considered arbitrary and meaningless in the chaotic universe of King Lear.
The character of Lear and Gloucester die in a state of joy, but they nevertheless die in the end resulf. Both had immeasurable sufferings for their follies, and yet both had gained wisdom – patience, insight, love – from their experiences. Both were shown to have the capacity for comparison during their ordeals and both were courageous enough to triumph over their weaknesses. Yet, despite their regenation gained through suffering and pain, they are made to die in the end. Their deaths hardly seem just and proper if a man’s life were not meaningless. But in King Lear, a man’s life is meaningless indeed.
There were also many others who were not directly involved in Lear’s personal tragedy that died for it. Because of Lear’s follies and the subsequent reign of evil, the armies of France and Britain fought. That battle must have resulted in numberous death on both sides. The army of France, led by the King of France and Cordelia, had come in an attempt to overthrow the evil reign of Goneril and Regan, and to rescue King Lear. Cordelia was still bound by honour, duty, and obedience to Lear despite her banishment, and she at last, had come for her beloved father. Lear’s folly had caused both armies to fight for his redemption and regeneration. The many deaths of soldiers from both sides are too numberous and insignificant to take note of in this indifferent universe of King Lear.
Finally, if the deaths of Gloucester and Lear seemed unfair, then the death of Cordelia can be considered totally unjust. Cordelia embodies the virtues of selflessness and honesty completely, and she had enough love to help her father despite his total mistreatment of her in the beginning. Cordelia dies brutally in the end, murdered by a captain bribed by Edmund. Her brutal death is such a devastating shock that one can only claim that a man’s life is meaningless in King Lear. Cordelia, of all the characters, should not have died, and to die in such a brutal manner indicates the brutality of a man’s life in King Lear.
It can be argued that the destruction of good by evil is a tragic fact of life, and while that may be true, there were simply too many deaths to be accounted for in the play. Finally, in King Lear, Shakespeare presents a theme that it is possible for man to carve his own path in destiny. By choosing an evil path, one can be self – destructive. Following a path of goodness allows one to have spiritual hope and bonds with fellow man. It is a just universe that allows the freedom of choice to exist for the individual and that also carefully monitors the prevalence of goodness.
Therefore, in King Lear, Shakespeare does not present an indifferent universe. He also does not present that man’s life is meaningless. He does indicate, however, that there is justice in suffering, that evil proves to be futile, and that only through goodness is a sense of religious hope and spiritual bond possible. By illustrating these facts, Shakespeare wishes to indicate that not only is the universe ‘not indifferent’, but also that man’s nature is very pertinent to the maintenance of justice on earth.