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King Learis 'a Christian play about a pagan world'. Discuss

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Introduction

King Lear is 'a Christian play about a pagan world'. Discuss It is evident that King Lear contains references to both the Christian and Pagan doctrine. However, they seem to be expressed in entirely different styles. King Lear is purposefully set in a pre Christian era with numerous references to classical Gods but conversely there appears to be a striking resonance of Christian theology throughout the play. These echoes appear in various forms including the idea of Edgar being a Christ-like figure and also the presence of a supposed divine justice. Therefore there is truth in the view that although King Lear has a pagan setting, its significance is ultimately relating to Christianity. Perhaps the most obvious way in which Shakespeare creates the pagan setting is through the specific mentions of non-Christian gods. When looking at the first scene it is apparent Shakespeare has deliberately seasoned it with pagan references, an example being Lear's response to Cordelia's unwillingness to speak, 'by the sacred radiance of the sun, The mysteries of Hecate and the night'. Shortly after this, Lear's rage is aimed at Kent for his defence of the king's supposedly wicked daughter, when he swears, 'by Apollo' and 'by Jupiter'. ...read more.

Middle

Gloucester is another excellent example of this punishment for sin as Edgar uses in his conversation with the dying Edmund as an instance of God's justice, 'The Gods are just, and of our pleasant vices Make instruments to plague us; The dark and vicious place where thee he got Cost him his eyes' This therefore highlights a Christian moralistic trend running through the play, as sinning is punished where no repentance is shown. However, there is one case which does not fit the pattern of suffering due to sinful behaviour; that of Cordelia. She endures much in the play, ranging from expulsion and rejection from her father to her own execution. She is portrayed as the purest character of all and is even given semi divine status when the Gentleman describes, 'The holy water from her heavenly eyes' Ironically, she makes the point that we should not expect the good to be rewarded and that often they suffer the worst, 'We are not the first Who, with best meaning, have incurr'd the worst' The fact that her death is pointless leads us away from the assumption of the play being entirely Christian. ...read more.

Conclusion

Therefore, it is almost impossible to think that King Lear could be completely pagan and not abide by the basic rules of Christianity. It is also feasible that Shakespeare would not have realised the essentially Christian elements of his play as religion was ever-present and pervaded almost every aspect of life in Jacobean England. A plausible reason for Shakespeare setting the play in a pre-Christian time is in order to include things such as Gloucester's attempted suicide and the implication of Kent's without arousing shock and disapproval from the paying audience, as it was believed that such behaviour prevailed in this 'unnatural' era. In conclusion, the view that King Lear is 'a Christian play about a pagan world' is entirely plausible. The characters openly speak to and appeal to non-Christian gods and they doubt divine justice, suggesting that, 'They kill us for their sport.' This therefore creates a pagan setting for the play. However, there are definite Christian ideas running throughout the play which manifest themselves mainly in Edgar and Lear. Therefore, there is an inclination to agree with J C Maxwell, as despite the setting of the King Lear being Christian, its morals and concepts of atonement and redemption, lean towards Christian theology. CLAIRE BOWER ...read more.

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