Essay Divine Justice in Shakespeare's King Lear

Essay Divine Justice in Shakespeare's King Lear

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Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit—“nothing comes from nothing”. In the pre-Christian world of King Lear, this principle is a way of life. Character’s actions prove futile as tragedy befalls them; Lear loses his kingdom and his family, Gloucester his sight, and Cordelia her life. Through this, Shakespeare’s King Lear portrays human cruelty in its most extreme, base degree—thus contributing to the view of an unjust world. By depicting a breakdown in the social hierarchy and a fruitless relationship between man and the gods, William Shakespeare, in his play King Lear, establishes the absence of divine justice in human life, suggesting a minimal, even nonexistent involvement of the gods in human affairs.
Shakespeare overturns the social order in order to demonstrate the lack of justice in the world; traditional concepts of right and wrong and the consequences of each are shown to be wholly obsolete. This disruption of the natural order plays a key role in the characterization of an unresponsive heavens. Near the beginning of the play, Gloucester catalogues the disorder that has arisen, mentioning how “love cools, friendship falls off”, the “bond cracked ‘twixt son and father” and that there are “in cities, mutinies; in countries, discord” (Shakespeare I.ii.111-119). As Gloucester’s remarks signify the discord that has emerged after Cordelia’s disownment, his dismal diction works to evidence the breakdown of established order in the land—all while implying that without order, there cannot be any justice. According to Gloucester, Lear suffers because he has “fallen from what is natural” by banishing Cordelia (Hermesmann 2). Even from the first act of the play, Shakespeare reveals the darker aspect of Lear’s universe: traditions can be defied and ru...


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... that the breakdown of social order in the play is testament to the growing instability due to human actions. This article supports my claim that the overturning of the social order in King Lear plays a key role in establishing the absence of higher powers in the world.
Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York, NY: Washington Square, 1993. Print.
Shakespeare’s play explores the tale of an old king who descends into madness after bequeathing his kingdom to two of his three daughters based on their flattery, resulting in tragedy for all. He illustrates the difficulty of obtaining justice and the importance of family relationships through the course of the play. The play is central to my argument; the very content of the work itself is essential to my claim that King Lear rejects the idea of any established, divine justice

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