King Lear is a Christian Play About a Pagan World

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King Lear is a Christian Play About a Pagan World

It is evident that King Lear contains references to both the Christian

and Pagan doctrine. However, they seem to be expressed in entirely

different styles. King Lear is purposefully set in a pre Christian era

with numerous references to classical Gods but conversely there

appears to be a striking resonance of Christian theology throughout

the play. These echoes appear in various forms including the idea of

Edgar being a Christ-like figure and also the presence of a supposed

divine justice. Therefore there is truth in the view that although

King Lear has a pagan setting, its significance is ultimately relating

to Christianity.

Perhaps the most obvious way in which Shakespeare creates the pagan

setting is through the specific mentions of non-Christian gods. When

looking at the first scene it is apparent Shakespeare has deliberately

seasoned it with pagan references, an example being Lear's response to

Cordelia's unwillingness to speak,

'by the sacred radiance of the sun,

The mysteries of Hecate and the night'.

Shortly after this, Lear's rage is aimed at Kent for his defence of

the king's supposedly wicked daughter, when he swears, 'by Apollo' and

'by Jupiter'. Another instance that shows Lear appealing to deities

rather than the Christian belief of a singular being occurs during his

exposure to the storm on the heath,

'Let the great Gods,

That keep this dreadful pudder o'er our heads,

Find out their enemies now.'

All these quotes therefore demonstrate that King Lear is deliberately

set in a pre-Christian era.

However, this is not conclusive evidence that...

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attempted suicide and the implication of Kent's without arousing shock

and disapproval from the paying audience, as it was believed that such

behaviour prevailed in this 'unnatural' era.

In conclusion, the view that King Lear is 'a Christian play about a

pagan world' is entirely plausible. The characters openly speak to and

appeal to non-Christian gods and they doubt divine justice, suggesting

that, 'They kill us for their sport.' This therefore creates a pagan

setting for the play. However, there are definite Christian ideas

running throughout the play which manifest themselves mainly in Edgar

and Lear. Therefore, there is an inclination to agree with J C

Maxwell, as despite the setting of the King Lear being Christian, its

morals and concepts of atonement and redemption, lean towards

Christian theology.
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