The Theme of Justice in King Lear

Powerful Essays
The Theme of Justice in King Lear

Justice is a balance of misfortune and good fortune; right and wrong

according to motives and circumstances of the individuals under

judgement. To be just we must consider why they did it and balance out

all the evidence and facts and decide on a punishment depending on

these. Types of justice that exist in society include criminal

justice, legal justice, vigilante justice, natural justice and divine


As King Lear is a brutal play, filled with human cruelty and many

awful disasters, the play's terrible events raise an obvious question

for the characters, namely whether there is any possibility of justice

in the world.

Various characters offer their opinions. Towards the end of the play

Gloucester says:

"As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; / they kill us for their


Here, he has realized it is foolish for humankind to assume that the

natural world works in parallel with social or moral justice because

ultimately, the gods will do with us what they will regardless of

whether or not it is just. Edgar, on the other hand, insists that:

"the gods are just," optimistically believing that individuals must

ultimately get what they deserve. However, in the end, we are left

with only a terrifying uncertainty; although the wicked die, the good

die along with them, leaving us with the awful image of Lear cradling

Cordelia's body in his arms unable to accept the fact that she has

suffered such an inexplicable injustice. There is goodness in theworld

of the play, but there is also madness, evil and death, and it is

difficult to tell which triumphs in the end. The purpose o...

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...n are clever-or at least clever enough to

flatter their father in the play's opening scene-and, early in the

play, their bad behaviour toward Lear seems matched by his own pride

and temper. But any sympathy that the audience can muster for them

evaporates quickly, first when they turn their father out into the

storm at the end of Act II. Goneril and Regan are, in a sense,

personifications of evil-they have no conscience, only appetite. It is

this greedy ambition that enables them to crush all opposition and

make themselves mistresses of Britain. Ultimately, however, this same

appetite brings about their undoing. Their desire for power is

satisfied, but both harbour desires for Edmund, which destroys their

alliance and eventually leads them to destroy each another. Evil, the

play suggests, inevitably turns in on itself.
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