Biblical Influences In King Lear

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorHigh School, 12th grade February 2008

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On the surface, King Lear is a pagan play, as it is set in pre-Christian England. But it has, for all that, no shortage of appeals to deity and interesting speculation. This is, after all, a play set on the brink of eternity and it must make us wonder on the universe in relationship to the characters and ourselves. However, I believe that, although set in pre-Christian times, Shakespeare's King Lear provided myriad allusions to Christian themes, parables, and characters such as the enduring of suffering by the innocent, the motif of Lear as the Prodigal Son, and the representation of Cordelia as a Christ-like figure.

In King Lear Shakespeare found a story resembling in its broad outlines that of the Prodigal Son. The title character starts by rejecting the one who loves him most then embarks on a reckless course which brings him eventually to suffering and want. Paradoxically, it also brings him to the self-knowledge he lacked before and, finally, is received and forgiven by the rejected one.

The two main features that were connected with the Prodigal Son are family relationships and the premature granting of portions. The Prodigal Son parallels reinforce Lear as a child. His Prodigal is an old man who has lived to a great age without ever reaching maturity. Although the allusion to the Prodigal Son is ubiquitous in King Lear, there is only one place in the play where Shakespeare might have explicitly referred to it when Cordelia speaks to her father: "And wast thou fain, poor father to hovel thee with swine and rogues forlorn, in short and musty straw?" (IV.vii.38-40) As the Prodigal in Christ's parable sank to his lowest state, feeding with the pigs, which he has been employed to keep, his moment of enlightenment came: "Even my father's...