Human Nature and Discontent in King Lear
Alex KP, Grade 11 English
The Elizabethans believed, or pretended to believe, that the natural world reflected a hierarchy that mirrored good government and stable monarchy. Even our scientific age talks about "laws of nature" and "good government through good laws." Shakespeare's era contrasted "nature" and art, just as one can consider an essential "human nature" contrasted with culture. As well, Shakespeare's era distinguished "natural" and "unnatural" behaviors; the latter would include mistreating family members, opposing cultural, political, religious, and social "norms", as well as presenting the eternal question of fate. King Lear identifies familial relationships and their flaws, questions whether human society is the product of nature or technology, and whether human nature is fundamentally selfish or generous. More than just a consistent theme in the play, this concept of "nature" in society and practice reveals the core of human nature. In King Lear, nature itself is also an object of controversy. Often used to identify things that are pure, true and peaceful, nature is known also as a device used for the cruel and explicit actions by all things evil or unfortunate. King Lear presents a dichotomy of good and evil, and Shakespeare hopes the reader will consider the harsher, two-faced qualities of nature in his tragedy.
The connection between human beings and the "natural world" is often neglected. Why? Perhaps the concept of a similarity between humans and brute nature repels "civility" or advance in society; this explains the extreme use of animal imagery as offense in the play. Thus, it is reasonable to ask, what constitutes this highly offensive and scorned "unnatural" behaviour? According to passages in King Lear, the most common fault of and insult to a human, is to ill-treat family, and more specifically, powerful and royal family. This is evident when a very offended Lear condemns his...
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