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An analysis of the theme of justice in 'King Lear'.

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Introduction

An analysis of the theme of justice in 'King Lear'. By Alex Piper. Justice is a balance of misfortune and good fortune; right and wrong according to motives and circumstances of the individuals under judgement. To be just we must consider why they did it and balance out all the evidence and facts and decide on a punishment depending on these. Types of justice that exist in society include criminal justice, legal justice, vigilante justice, natural justice and divine justice. As King Lear is a brutal play, filled with human cruelty and many awful disasters, the play's terrible events raise an obvious question for the characters, namely whether there is any possibility of justice in the world. Various characters offer their opinions. Towards the end of the play Gloucester says: "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; / they kill us for their sport," Here, he has realized it is foolish for humankind to assume that the natural world works in parallel with social or moral justice because ultimately, the gods will do with us what they will regardless of whether or not it is just. Edgar, on the other hand, insists that: "the gods are just," optimistically believing that individuals must ultimately get what they deserve. However, in the end, we are left with only a terrifying uncertainty; although the wicked die, the good die along with them, leaving us with the awful image of Lear cradling Cordelia's body in his arms unable to accept the fact that she has suffered such an inexplicable injustice. ...read more.

Middle

This undermining of God's authority results in the chaos that tears apart Lear's world, leaving him, in the end, with nothing. Following this, Lear, in a foolish and arrogant rage, begins to banish those around him that genuinely care for him, as at this stage he cannot see beyond the mask that the evil wear. He banishes Kent, a loyal servant to Lear, and his youngest and previously most loved daughter, Cordelia. This results in Lear surrounding himself with people who only wish to use him, which leaves him very vulnerable to attack. Having given away his crown and therefore all his power, this is precisely what happens and it is through this that Lear discovers his wrongs and amends them. Gloucester was another example of a character who suffered from an awful case of blindness. Gloucester's blindness denied him of the ability to see the goodness of Edgar and the evil of Edmund. Although Edgar was the good and loving son, Gloucester all but disowned him. He wanted to kill the son that would later save his life. Gloucester's blindness began when Edmund convinced him by the means of a forged letter that Edgar was plotting to kill him. Gloucester's lack of sight caused him to believe Edmund was the good son and prevented him from pondering the idea of Edmund being after his earldom. ...read more.

Conclusion

Edmund - Of all of the play's villains, Edmund is the most complex and sympathetic. He is a character eager to seize any opportunity and willing to do anything to achieve his goals. However, his ambition is interesting insofar as it reflects not only a thirst for land and power but also a desire for the recognition denied to him by his status as a bastard. His serial treachery is not merely self-interested; it is a conscious rebellion against the social order that has denied him the same status as Gloucester's legitimate son, Edgar. Goneril and Regan - There is little good to be said for Lear's older daughters, who are largely indistinguishable in their villainy and spite. Goneril and Regan are clever-or at least clever enough to flatter their father in the play's opening scene-and, early in the play, their bad behaviour toward Lear seems matched by his own pride and temper. But any sympathy that the audience can muster for them evaporates quickly, first when they turn their father out into the storm at the end of Act II. Goneril and Regan are, in a sense, personifications of evil-they have no conscience, only appetite. It is this greedy ambition that enables them to crush all opposition and make themselves mistresses of Britain. Ultimately, however, this same appetite brings about their undoing. Their desire for power is satisfied, but both harbour desires for Edmund, which destroys their alliance and eventually leads them to destroy each another. Evil, the play suggests, inevitably turns in on itself. ...read more.

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