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King Lear: Consequences Of One Man’s Decisions Essay, Research Paper

King Lear: Consequences of One Man’s Decisions

Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear is a detailed description of the

consequences of one man’s decisions. This fictitious man is Lear, King of

England, who’s decisions greatly alter his life and the lives of those around

him. As Lear bears the status of King he is, as one expects, a man of great

power but sinfully he surrenders all of this power to his daughters as a reward

for their demonstration of love towards him. This untimely abdication of his

throne results in a chain reaction of events that send him through a journey of

hell. King Lear is a metaphorical description of one man’s journey through hell

in order to expiate his sin.

As the play opens one can almost immediately see that Lear begins to make

mistakes that will eventually result in his downfall. The very first words that

he speaks in the play are :-

“…Give me the map there. Know that we have divided

In three our kingdom, and ’tis our fast intent

To shake all cares and business from our age,

Conferring them on younger strengths while we

Unburdened crawl to death…”

(Act I, Sc i, Ln 38-41)

This gives the reader the first indication of Lear’s intent to abdicate his

throne. He goes on further to offer pieces of his kingdom 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 amorous sojourn,

And here are to be answered. Tell me, my daughters

(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 extend

where nature doth with merit challenge.”

(Act I, Sc i, Ln 47-53)

This is the first and most significant of the many sins that he makes in this

play. By abdicating his throne to fuel his ego he is disrupts the great chain

of being which states that the King must not challenge the position that God has

given him. This undermining of God’s authority results in chaos that tears

apart Lear’s world. Leaving him, in the end, with nothing. Following this Lear

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 attack. This is precisely what happens and it

is through this that he discovers his wrongs and amends them.

Following the committing of his sins, Lear becomes abandoned and estranged

from his kingdom which causes him to loose his sanity. While lost in his grief

and self-pity the fool is introduced to guide Lear back to the sane world and to

help find the lear that was ounce lost behind a hundred Knights but now is out

in the open and scared like a little child. The fact that Lear has now been

pushed out from behind his Knights is dramatically represented by him actually

being out on the lawns of his castle. The terrified little child that is now

unsheltered is dramatically portrayed by Lear’s sudden insanity and his rage and

anger is seen through the thunderous weather that is being experienced. All of

this contributes to the suffering of Lear due to the gross sins that he has

committed.

The pinnacle of this hell that is experienced be Lear in order to repay his

sins is at the end of the play when Cordelia is killed. Lear says this before

he himself dies as he cannot live without his daughter.

“Howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones.

Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them so

That heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gone for 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 the stone,

Why, then she lives.”

(Act V, Sc iii, Ln 306-312)

All of this pain that Lear suffered is traced back to the single most

important error that he made. The choice to give up his throne. This one sin

has proven to have massive repercussions upon Lear and the lives of those around

him eventually killing almost all of those who were involved. And one is left

to ask one’s self if a single wrong turn can do this to Lear then what difficult

corner lies ahead that may cause similar alterations in one’s life.

362


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