Many themes are evident in King Lear, but perhaps one of the
most prevalent relates to the theme of justice. Shakespeare has
developed a tragedy that allows us to see man's decent into
chaos. Although Lear is perceived as 'a man more sinned against
than sinning' (p.62), the treatment of the main characters
encourages the reader to reflect on the presence or lack of
justice in this world. The characters also vary in their
inclination to view the world from either a fatalistic or
moralistic point of view, depending on their beliefs about the
presence or absence of a higher power. The theme of justice in
relation to higher powers can be illustrated from the perspective
of King Lear, Gloucester, and Edgar.
When reading King Lear, it is helpful to understand the
Elizabethan 'Chain of Being' in which nature is viewed as order.
Rosenblatt (1984) states that there was a belief in an
established hierarchy within the universe.
Everything had its
own relative position beginning with Heaven, the Divine Being,
and the stars and planets which are all above. On earth the king
is next, then the nobles, on down to the peasantry. Holding the
lowest position were the beggars and lunatics and finally, the
animals. Interrupting this order is unnatural.
King Lear's sin was that he disrupted this chain of being by
relinquishing his throne. By allowing his daughters and their
husbands to rule the kingdom, the natural order of things was
disturbed. His notion that he can still be in control after
dividing the kingdom is a delusion. According to Elizabethan
philosophy, it would seem that this is the beginning of his
mistakes and is also the cause of much of the misfortune that
occurs later on in the play. Chaos rules the unnatural.