Biblical Imagery in Lear
Had King Lear been exposed to Christian Scriptures, he may have learned the folly of his prideful demand that his daughters vocally profess their love. The Scriptures clearly state that "if any tried to by love with their wealth, contempt is all they would get." (Sg 8:7) Of course, had King Lear read and abided by the Scriptures, we would be wanting of a great work of literature.
Lear's situation closely fits the passage from the Song of Songs. In applying the passage to his story, we must analyze the argument presented in the passage. We see that the argument follows the Modus Ponens form, containing a premise and a conclusion that logically follows. The argument is valid due to its form. However, we must determine the truth of the premise and conclusion in order to determine whether the statement applies to Lear.
First, let us consider the premise: "if any tried to buy love with their wealth." Lear poses this question to his three daughters:
Which of you shall we say doth love us most
That we may our largest bounty extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge. (I,i, 56-58)
This question clearly links the profession of love, which Lear naively supposes to indicate actual love, with the reception of the "several dowers." (I,i, 47) This is further borne out in Lear's rash disinheritance of loyal, but silent, Cordelia. Lear continues to connect love with property as he warns Cordelia "nothing will come of nothing." (I,i, 99) When she persists in her speech, he further cautions her to "mend your speech a little / lest you may mar your fortunes." (I,i, 103-14) Lear's speech and behavior certainly ma...
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...yal characters, with the exception of Albany who was miles away in Scotland, are out in the storm while the wicked daughters, treacherous Edmund and their conspirators are safely dry within Gloucester's castle. Only those who pass through water and are touched by the spirit of love and right judgment are able to achieve happiness.
We now more fully see the rich imagery surrounding the love in King Lear. The passage from Song of Songs and the entire play of King Lear now combine to remind us of the enduring, free nature of true love and the dangers of relying on wealth to secure loyalty and affection. Shakespeare uses this theme elsewhere. Roderigo is unable to bribe Desdemona with his baubles. Neither is Duke Orsino able to woo the fair Countess Olivia with his prestige and wealth. Once again, we see that Shakespeare knew what he wrote.
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