Justice in King Lear

Essay by Anonymous UserCollege, UndergraduateA-, April 1992

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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.