The character King Lear represents an allegorical shift from the illiterate, Medieval Age to the literate, Renaissance Age. To illustrate this argument, King Lear needs to be read as a Renaissance play that occurred in a previous “imagined pagan time.” (Lawrence, Gods, 156) As a pagan king, Lear is seen in the realm of the Roman gods and their shame culture. The role of gods in Lear’s decision making are interwoven throughout the play as Lear tries to reconcile his humanity in relation to himself and the other characters, especially Cordelia. Specific to Lear, this reconciliation is an attempt to justify his actions and sense of his “nature” or humanity. While struggling with the vacuous ness of his beliefs, Lear progresses from a shame culture character at the beginning to a guilt culture character at the end of the play, ultimately finding his true nature in death.The play opens with Lear dividing his kingdom between his daughters. Once Cordelia has offered her version of her love for her father, Lear begins invoking the Roman gods to rebuke her:“Let it be so; thy truth, then, be thy dower:For, by the sacred radiance of the sun,The mysteries of Hecate, and the night;By all the operation of the orbsFrom whom we do exist, and cease to be” (Lr., 1.1.105-09)
In the article “’Gods that We Adore’: The Divine in King Lear,” Sean Lawrence argues Lear is still “worshipping” ancient gods. He continues to invoke Roman gods in Act 1:“Lear: Now, by Apollo-Kent: Now, by Apollo, King, Thou swear’st thy gods in vain. (Lr., 1.1.158-60)
A little later in the scene, Lear orders Kent “Away! By Jupiter.” (Lr., 1.1.178)Lear, by appealing to the gods, is acknowledging his faith in an outdated, “shame culture” system of beli…
…nciple male character” in a tragedy. (AHD, def.) I prefer the upper case reading of the play.
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Lawrence, Sean. “’Gods that we Adore’: the Devine in King Lear.” Renascence 56.3 (Spring 2004): 143- 159.
Lawrence, Sean. “The Difficulty of Dying in King Lear.” ESC 31.4 (December 2005): 35-52.
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Skura, Meredith. “Dragon Fathers and Unnatural Children: Warring Generations in King Lear and Its Sources.” Comparative Drama 42.2 (Summer 2008): 121-148.