Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear is a detailed description ofthe consequences of one man’s decisions. This fictitious man isLear, King of England, who’s decisions greatly alter his life andthe lives of those around him. As Lear bears the status of King heis, as one expects, a man of great power but sinfully he surrendersall of this power to his daughters as a reward for theirdemonstration of love towards him. This untimely abdication of histhrone results in a chain reaction of events that send him througha journey of hell.
King Lear is a metaphorical description of oneman’s journey through hell in order to expiate his sin. As the play opens one can almost immediately see that Learbegins to make mistakes that will eventually result in hisdownfall. The very first words that he speaks in the play are :-“. . .
Give me the map there. Know that we havedividedIn three our kingdom, and ’tis our fast intentTo shake all cares and business from our age,Conferring them on younger strengths while weUnburdened crawl to death. . .
“(Act I, Sc i, Ln 38-41)This gives the reader the first indication of Lear’s intent toabdicate his throne. He goes on further to offer pieces of hiskingdom to his daughters as a form of reward to his test of love. “Great rivals in our youngest daughter’s love,Long in our court have made their amoroussojourn,And here are to be answered. Tell me, mydaughters(Since now we will divest us both of rule,Interest of territory, cares of state),Which of you shall we say doth love us most?That we our largest bounty may extendwhere nature doth with merit challenge.
“(Act I, Sc i, Ln 47-53)This is the first and most significant of the many sins that hemakes in this play. By abdicating his throne to fuel his ego he isdisrupts the great chain of being which states that the King mustnot challenge the position that God has given him. Thisundermining of God’s authority results in chaos that tears apartLear’s world. Leaving him, in the end, with nothing. Followingthis Lear begins to banish those around him that genuinely care forhim as at this stage he cannot see beyond the mask that the evilwear.
He banishes Kent, a loyal servant to Lear, and his youngestand previously most loved daughter Cordelia. This results in Learsurrounding himself with people who only wish to use him whichleaves him very vulnerable attack. This is precisely what happensand it is through this that he discovers his wrongs and amendsthem. Following the committing of his sins, Lear becomes abandonedand estranged from his kingdom which causes him to loose insanity. While lost in his grief and self-pity the fool is introduced toguide Lear back to the sane world and to help find the lear thatwas ounce lost behind a hundred Knights but now is out in the openand scared like a little child.
The fact that Lear has now beenpushed out from behind his Knights is dramatically represented byhim actually being out on the lawns of his castle. The terrifiedlittle child that is now unsheltered is dramatically portrayed byLear’s sudden insanity and his rage and anger is seen through thethunderous weather that is being experienced. All of thiscontributes to the suffering of Lear due to the gross sins that hehas committed. The pinnacle of this hell that is experienced be Lear in orderto repay his sins is at the end of the play when Cordelia iskilled. Lear says this before he himself dies as he cannot livewithout his daughter. “Howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones.
Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them soThat heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gonefor ever!I know when one is dead, and when one lives. She’s dead as earth. Lend me a looking glass.
If that her breath will mist or stain thestone,Why, then she lives. “(Act V, Sc iii, Ln 306-312)All of this pain that Lear suffered is traced back to thesingle most important error that he made. The choice to give uphis throne. This one sin has proven to have massive repercussionsupon Lear and the lives of those around him eventually killingalmost all of those who were involved.
And one is left to askone’s self if a single wrong