Themes, Juxtaposition and Characters in 'King Lear'

Satisfactory Essays
From the many issues that you find William Shakespeare is asking his audience to wrestle with, select the two you find most significant. Comment on Shakespeare’s refusal to provide simple answers to life’s complex questions, and on the immediate relevance of these issues to those of our own day.
One of the many themes running through King Lear is that of greed and materialism, and the effects they have. They are present in the very first scene, when the King is dividing his kingdom and authority between his three daughters. One might think that the first example of greed is in his eldest two daughters, Goneril and Regan, as they sing their father’s praises in hopes of obtaining a large piece of land. This certainly is an example of it, but it’s not the first example. That dubious honor belongs to the king himself, who is not greedy for authority or land, but for affection—or at least, flattery. His standards for who inherits what are based entirely on who loves him most. This theme is thrown into sharp relief with the characters of Cordelia and Kent, who are both selfless in different senses. Cordelia is far too principled to play the game that Lear has set before her and her sisters, knowing to be a farce; and Kent wants what is best for the country, not best for one specific person. What is interesting is that the theme of greed and materialism complements another prevalent theme throughout King Lear: blindness. It’s ironic in a very Shakespearean way that the same play that is focused on the disparity between outward and inward appearances is full of characters that are blind to the real and take in only the seeming.
Greed is a big part of our modern society; at times it seems that the economy is based on it. Although it’s pres...

... middle of paper ... of the consequences of consistent blindness, but it also furthers the concept of an unjust world. It’s accurate to say that King Lear depicts a world where justice is warped and “bad things happen to good people” (not unlike our own reality); all one has to do is look at how Goneril and Regan are favored with authority, or the trials of Gloucester’s legitimate son, or Gloucester himself. Here is Cordelia, an opinionated, headstrong, and principled young woman who is killed largely out of spite—and her manner of death, strangulation, is also important, considering her outspoken character. The play would not be as much of a tragedy if she lived, because most of the other deaths (with the exception of perhaps the Fool) were just. Unfortunately for Cordelia, the world is not just, and that is a message Shakespeare has portrayed in a variety of manners several times.
Get Access