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 untime 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 insanity. 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