Essay on King Lear: Pessimistic or Optimistic?

Essay on King Lear: Pessimistic or Optimistic?

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King Lear - With a play as complex and multi - leveled as King Lear, it is very difficult to assess whether Shakespeare's view of life is either pessimistic or optimistic.  Without a doubt, there are many good arguments supporting both sides.  Because there are such an array of forces at work on the character in Lear, as well as so many separate and interrelated themes, one can not help but wonder whether it was even Shakespeare's intention to express a strictly pessimistic or optimistic view.  Perhaps Shakespeare was alluding to something which, although encompassing both opimism and pessimism, transcended them both.  He was explaining what it was to be human.  Through this perception of King Lear, we can say that the play is both bleak and hopeful, because it asserts that there is no meaning in life but puts man as the master of the world, instead of omnipotent justice dispensing 'higher powers'.

 

            King Lear gives the reader a bleak and lonely impression.  People suffer unjustly and are killed by heartbreak.  Albany points out that if left alone by the gods, "Humanity must perforce prey on itself / like monsters of the deep," expressing that justice and humanity do not house comfortably together.  And how can there be meaning or purpose in life if there is no justice?  Lear himself alludes poetically to this when upon Cordelia's death he asks, "Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life / And thou no breath at all?"  He also realizes that "I am a man more sinned against than sinning" when it is made obvious that the punishment for his mistake in scene one is harsher than it should be, making it unjust...


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..., man must make the best of his existence.  Nowhere in the play is there a stronger message of hope - amidst all of the suffering and chaos in the world, Lear and Cordelia will sing.  This is why, perhaps, Shakespeare wrote Lear's death the way he did - the fallen king dies thinking that maybe, just maybe, his beautiful daughter has life.

 

            King Lear shows us, rather than expressing a stauchly pessimistic or optimistic opinion of life, that man can order his life in any way he chooses, for better or for worse.  Since there are no guiding gods or prevailing justice in man's cruel existence, the only thing he can do is hope.  For if he realizes that hs is in control of his own destiny, perhaps he will be able to change his life for the better, and make it worth dying for.

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