An exploration of the way Shakespeare presents the various forms of nature in 'King Lear'

Essay by lou_c_m January 2003

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In 'King Lear' the theme of nature plays an important part. The play consists of a main plot and a sub plot and each plot is tied up in family relationships. The natural and unnatural behaviour of characters influences and determines events within both families and are paralleled in each of the plots. Nature is an important thread throughout the play and has several meanings which includes the innate qualities of individual characters, the external violence of nature and its consequences, and the inherent impulses of individuals which determines their actions. There is also the nature of animals which shows how evil can place men below animals. These different forms of nature play an important role in the play and can be associated with the Elizabethan "Chain of being". I will show how the various aspects of nature are responsible for the overall shift of power and the events that lead to the tragic demise of King Lear.

The tragedy of King Lear stems from Lear's decision to split the crown between his daughters. From this action 'natural' and 'unnaturalness' appears in different characters. Looking at moral factors within a family unit, it could be said that to love your parents is 'natural' and therefore it is 'unnatural' to be disloyal to a parent. Lear is fooled by Goneril and Regan's false 'natural' behaviour towards him when they give their long speeches on how much they love him. He believes that their love for him is true. Cordelia, the more loyal of the sisters, does not give a long speech on her love, instead she speaks of "nothing" exclaiming "I cannot heave my heart into my mouth". Lear mistakes this true natural, loyal behaviour as unnatural and disobedient. He curses Cordelia exiling her outside society disclaiming "propinquity and property of...