The Theme of Justice in King Lear
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 wou…
…the universal conflict that members of
society have always had in understanding their fate in this world.
Works Cited and Consulted
Bradley, A.C. “King Lear.” 20Lh Century Interpretations of King Lear. Ed. Jane Adelman. New Jersev; Prentice-Hall, 1978.
Colie, Rosalie. Some Faces of King Lear. Ed. R. Colie & F.T. Flahiff. UniversitV of Toronto Press, 1994.
Curry, Walter. Shakespeare s Philosophical Patterns. London: Mass Peter Smith, 1968.
Hunter, Robert G. Criticism on Shakespeare s Tragedies.. University of Georgia Press, 1996.
Matthews, Richard. “Edmund’s Redemption in King Lear”. Shakespeare Quarterly. Winter, 19q5. pps. 25-29.
Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Canada Inc. Toronto. 1990.
Snyder, Susan. “King Lear and the Prodigal Son.” Shakespeare Quarterly. Autumn 1966. pps. 361-369.