The Battle Between Materialism and Spirituality in Shakespeare's King Lear

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The centuries-old dilemma between materialism and spiritualism has embedded itself in the Western conscience as the defining question of reality and manifests itself in works of literature throughout the ages. The relationship between materialism and spiritualism is ambiguous in and of itself. The philosophy of materialism postulates that development and change in society is centered around the interactions between material objects, whereas spiritualists envision a predominantly immaterial world that dictates all material interactions. However, asking this dichotomous question is analogous to asking which came first, the chicken or the egg? Logically it seems that both philosophies make a justifiable point, however, if we closely examine the numerous intricacies embedded in the fabric of nature, the answer becomes evident, just as it becomes evident, after biological experimentation, that the egg came first. History has repeatedly emphasized the veracity of spirituality, that an idea, a spark of innovation is the “egg” that influences the development of material possessions. This radical world view is most clearly seen in Shakespeare’s classic play, King Lear, in which Shakespeare parodies man’s futile attempt to center his life around material objects. Throughout the plot of King Lear, Lear attempts to justify his love for his daughters by granting them material possessions. He uses his vast jurisdiction and wealth to his favor in gaining his daughter’s love, essentially adopting a materialistic point of view. However, Shakespeare, not inconspicuously, repeatedly shows how these ideals continually backfire on Lear. Lear believes, as do most foolhardy materialists, that man’s greatest source of happiness are his material poss... ... middle of paper ... ...d the worst”(5.3). She sacrifices everything for King Lear in the end, as is shown when she kisses him to “repair those violent harms that my two sisters have in thy reverence made”(4.7) and eventually dies for him. After viewing the text of King Lear in this perspective, the continual battle between materialistic ideals and spiritualistic ideals throughout the plot becomes evident. A collective analysis of this work and many others would reveal the contemporary faith in spiritualistic ideals as opposed to materialistic ideals. However, as one takes into consideration works of antiquity, the transition of philosophical ideals over the passage of time becomes evident. The broad spectrum of gradual change from spiritualism to materialism becomes more than conspicuous. Works such as King Lear continually raise the age-old dilemma of materialism and spirituality.

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