Representations of Nature in King Lear

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We are lucky, today, that the majority of the world’s nations are democracies. This has only been the case in very recent times. For the greater part of human history, society has subscribed to the belief that birth is the most important determinant of one’s future. In Elizabethan England, this was especially true. Those born into the nobility enjoyed a lifetime of privilege, while those born outside of their ranks mainly existed to serve them. A century later, the British encountered an even stricter form of this belief when they conquered India. The Hindu caste system, which dictated one’s future based on birth just as British society did, was deemed even by the English to be excessively restrictive. After gaining control of the Subcontinent, the conquerors attempted to supplant the caste system with the semblance of a meritocracy. The new subjects of the Empire, instead of embracing this imposition of a foreign culture’s values, responded with general unrest and discontent, showing that no society, no matter how unfair or prejudiced, tolerates interference well. Shakespeare’s King Lear demonstrates the same concept: that any violation of society’s conception of the natural order brings chaos, and that the only way to restore harmony is to conform to the expectations of that society.

It is important to distinguish the concept of nature present in King Lear from the imagery it invokes in modern culture of picturesque forests teeming with every sort of adorable squirrel and chipmunk imaginable. As Sarah Doncaster puts it in her essay “Representations of Nature in Shakespeare’s King Lear,” nature in Shakespeare’s hands, “is a social construct, which is utilized in order to legitimise the existing social order.” The notion that a...

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...e mock trial for his unfaithful daughters. He only regains a modicum of sanity when he is rescued by Cordelia, who treats him as he deserves, giving him fresh garments and restorative medicine. When Lear wakes in her presence, he is not entirely lucid, not knowing his whereabouts and surroundings, but the doctor declares that “The great rage you see is killed in him” (IV. vii. 90-91). Once Lear is restored to his former majesty, his madness is quelled. The imbalance of nature is rectified, and consequently, the mind of nature’s king is healed.

Works Cited

Doncaster, Sarah. Representations of Nature in King Lear. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. 6 Jan. 2014. .

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of King Lear. Ed. Louis B. Wright and Virginia L. Freund. New York: Washington Square, 1957. Print.
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