Human Nature in King Lear

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Nilüfer Esenlilioğlu

Assist.Prof. Dr. Gillian Mary Elizabeth ALBAN

ING 523 Shakespeare Studies

14 December 2013


One of the most moving and painful Shakespeare’s plays King Lear explores the human nature and condition through the portrayal of characters by depicting the good sides and evil sides of human nature as well as affirming personal transformation through the protagonist of the play, King Lear. The good in human nature is represented by means of characters such as Cordelia, Edgar, Albany whereas the evil in human nature is projected on the reader through the characters such as Edmund, Goneril, Regan, Cornwall and Oswald.

At the beginning of the play, Lear, the King of Britain, who decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters depending on how much love they would proclaim for him, is the embodiment of the weakness of human nature.  He asks each to tell him how much she loves him in Act I, Scene I: “Which of you shall we say doth love us most? (1.1.49). These lines suggest that he is vain just like other humans in real life because he is measuring his daughters’ love for him with land. His two daughters whose evil characters are revealed later in the play express their love which is completely flattering not real love. Goneril answers: “A love that makes ….speech unable/ Beyond all manner of so much I love you” (1.1.59). Her sister Regan does not differ from her in the way she tells her love as she says under false pretences “I find she names my very deed of love: Only she comes too short” (1.1.70). Unlike her sisters, Cordelia, who is in fact King Lear’s favorite daughter, says she cannot “heave her heart into her mouth” and rejects flattering, but rather she is so filial that she says she loves him in the way a daughter should love her father: “ I love you majesty . According to my bond; no more or less” (1.1.90-91).  Lear is so vain that he does not realize the truth and rejecting Cordelia, divides his kingdom among his two sisters, Goneril and Regan. In this scene, the weakness of human nature is portrayed as Lear gives importance to show off and flattery more than real love which is his tragic flaw in the play.

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Another significant relevancy of the play to the human nature is the subplot of Edmund’s betrayal of his father and brother. His betrayal of his father and his plans about his brother bring to light just how evil his character is; however, at the beginning of the play we see that he is not ultimately driven by his ambition for power or wealth, but instead his principal goal is to be respected and accepted by society as he says “Now gods, stand up for bastards” (1.2.22) because he is even mocked and insulted by his father for being illegitimate and ...

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