William Shakespeare's King Lear Essay

William Shakespeare's King Lear Essay

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William Shakespeare's King Lear "A man more sinned against than sinning"


King Lear is one of Shakespeare's more complex plays and within it many different themes are addressed and explored. King Lear is the somewhat unfortunate vehicle that Shakespeare uses to explore many of these themes creating a complex character including the roles of a father, king, friend and adversary.
As Lear is not a simple character he cannot simply be classed as all good or bad; it can be argued he is a bad father and king but does that make Lear a bad man? Does he deserve the suffering he endures? Also, when Lear talks of sin who is he addressing? As sin is generally defined as a violation of religious or moral law so is Lear talking to God in this speech, or is he thinking in terms of his tormentors and victims on earth?
Lear's sins as a father are quite unique and therefore difficult to analyse. First he asks his three daughters to announce their great love for him so he can reward them with shares of his kingdom, Cordellia is brutally honest with her reply and states "[I love you] according to my bond; no more no less." Lear subsequently banishes Cordellia, and so starts Lear's suffering. He then splits his kingdom between Regan and Goneril which in itself was a foolish thing to do as the responsibility and power suddenly given to these two sisters could easily corrupt them. Next he arrives at his daughter's houses with a large group of unruly k...


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...inst than sinning but this is still a hard concept to judge. What I feel is clear though is that the sins that Lear did commit he has paid for through not only suffering but through redemption. This is far more significant than a simple count of who sinned against whom, but more a measure of Lear's soul and his will to make right his wrongs. Lear's journey is complete, from a king to a man, from sinful to pure, artifice to nature. The one thing that links all of the various journeys is that they all end in death but as Lear dies, what audience could expect him to now be in hell? I think that there is little doubt that Lear will ascend to heaven, that he has paid for any sins he committed and has been redeemed.

Leonard Tennenhouse, The Theatre of Punishment 1986
R. B. Sewall, The Vision of Tragedy 1959
Arnold Kettle, Literature and Liberation: Selected Essays 1988

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