King Lear commits several acts that are nearly unforgivable. Not only does he exile a trusted, loyal servant, he also banishes his own daughter. Cordelia, unable and unwilling to submit herself to the ridiculous game of her father, is sent off to France with his curses. His subsequent action - the division of the land between his two ungrateful daughters - is the final act, the final sin, and one that plunges the land into turmoil.
However, his actions do not excuse the responses they bring from his kin and kinsmen. The sins against him - the actions of his two daughters and the evilness of Edmund - are far greater than those he committed himself. While he may have started the series of events that eventually consumed the land in turmoil, it were those three who propagated the chaos. King Lear is definitely much more sinned against than sinning.
That King Lear sinned, there can be no doubt. Nevertheless, a sin does not exclude the possibility that there was a sufficient cause (in his mind) for the action. Examine, for instance, King Lear's decision to exile his own daughter, Cordelia.
The King is of an advanced age. Though he will not, can not, admit it, senility is advancing upon him, clouding his brain and influencing his judgement. Combined with his pride, age, and subconscious fear of encroaching mortality, Lear has a great desire for flattery, and more importantly, to have the love of his children reaffirmed before him. After the two first daughters inflate his ego, Cordelia is left in the unenviable position of trying to surpass them. She too will not, can not, bring herself to do so. Thi...
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...don him in his madness. Edmund, the main force of 'evil' in the play, not only comes near to destroying the country the Lear has worked so hard to maintain, he also gives the order for the death of the King and his youngest daughter. This, of course, leads directly to Lear's own self-induced death. Therefore, while king Lear's sins were horrible, and cannot be fully excused by his madness or his redemption, they still pale in comparison to those committed against him. While he wallowed in pettiness, they succumbed to greed, evil, and murder.
Kermode, Frank. "King Lear." The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G.B.Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974. 1249-54.
Muir, Kenneth, ed. King Lear. London: Methuen & Co, 1972
Partee, Morriss Henry. "Edgar and the Ending of King Lear." Studia Neophilologica 63 (1991): 175-180.
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