King Lear: Journey To Expiate Sin


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 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 ma cause similar alterations in
one's life.