King Lear inspires many philosophical questions; chief among them is the existence of divine justice. This concept was particularly important during the Elizabethan era, because religion played such a significant role in everyday life. Religious leaders directed people to expect that they would have to answer to a higher authority, expressing some hope that good would triumph and be rewarded over evil. But throughout King Lear, good does not triumph without honorable characters suffering terrible loss. In fact, at the play's conclusion, many of the good characters lie dead on the stage--Lear, Gloucester, and Cordelia. In addition, the audience hears that Kent will soon die, and the Fool has earlier disappeared, presumably to die. Of course, the evil characters are also dead, but their punishment is to be expected according to the laws of divine justice. But how then does the audience account for the punishment and, finally, the death of the good characters in King Lear?
Lear makes several poor choices, most importantly in misjudging the sincerity of his daughters' words; but when he flees out into the open heath during a storm, his madness seems a painful and excessive punishment to witness.
Parallel to Lear's punishment is that which Gloucester suffers. The plucking of Gloucester's eyes can be perceived as another instance in which divine justice is lacking. Gloucester has made several errors in judgment, as has Lear; but the brutal nature of Gloucester's blinding--the plucking out of his eyes and the crushing of them under Cornwall's boots--is surely in excess of any errors he might have made.
Both Lear and Gloucester endure terrible physical and mental suffering as punishment for their misjudgment, but before dying, both men are reunited with the child each earlier rejected. This resolution of the child-parent conflict, which earlier tore apart both...