Delineation of Justice in William Shakespeare’s King Lear
Justice in William Shakespeare’s arena of King Lear implies only punishment. Good or bad suffer alike and there is no mercy on either case. Ultimately justice in the play is presented in the grimmest colours where the excessive cruelty and portrayal of human suffering make the world seem terribly unjust. Gloucester for example muses: “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;
They kill us for their sport”
From this we could realize that the natural world works in parallel with the socially or morally conventional notions of justice. The succession of terrible events raises an obvious question whether there is any possibility of justice in the world. Let’s analyze the four attempted acts of justice, specially four trial scenes i.e., Lear’s trial of his daughters’ love in Act I, scene i; Lear’s imaginery trial of Goneril and Regan in Act III, scene vi; the impromptu trial of Gloucester for treason in Act III, scene vii; the trial by combat between Edmund and Edgar in Act V, scene iii. King Lear is framed by two grand public scenes, filled with rituals and ceremonies that call attention to the conventional aspects of political justice as normally practiced. In Act I, scene i, Lear tries to go beyond the limits of conventional justice, while still maintaining the cover of ritual and ceremony to implement his plan. With years of practice under his belt, Lear masterfully plays the role of king until Cordelia disrupts the proceedings. Everyone in court seems willing to play their conventional roles as obedient daughters, loyal subjects, ardent suitors and so on. Lear is aware of the fact of passing the crown to the eldest of his children Goneril and is smart enough to foresee the problems if the former becomes the sole successor. Ensuring ‘that future strife’ Lear apparently planned the unconventional love test and to spend the rest of his life in the ‘kind nursery’ of Cordelia. But Lear evidently...
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