‘Mankind is as it were deliberately or comically tormented by the gods. He is not even allowed to die tragically’. – Wilson Knight Evaluate this view by exploring the role of the gods in ‘King Lear’. In
, Shakespeare cast off the Christian setting of one of his main sources, The True
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, and chose the pre-Christian environment of primitive Britain. This allowed for the play to strip away any sense of formalized religion, which would remove constraints upon the essential questions the characters in the play ask, as well as limiting them to overarching and important questions about life rather than allow attention to be drawn by the masses of complexities a formal religion entails. What are we to make of this world? How can we find any satisfactory meaning in it? What, if anything, governs the world we live in? These addresses are something of a phenomenon in the play. The religious references in King Lear occur more frequently than in the other tragedies; there are, in fact, more than forty such addresses in the form of adoration, thanks, request, oath, or curse.
In their struggle to understand the world, most of the characters translate these questions into an ongoing series of invocations made to ultimate powers embodied as gods and forces of nature, but more importantly, as figures of divine justice. Curiously, the ‘evil’ characters hardly address the gods at all. Regan's single address to them: "O the blest gods! So will you wish on me, when the rash mood is on", in response to Lear's curse of Goneril, is not an act of authentic belief in the supernatural but an act of ridicule of her father. Specifically referring to the ‘rash’ mood of anger conveys her belief that the gods are no more than petty imitations of insults the good use when they allow their temper to get away with them. Each Cornwall, Goneril, and Oswald do not mention the gods. The one exception is Edmund's dramatic invocation of the higher powers...
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