King Lear: Justice


Humans, like all creatures on the earth, have the privilege of the
freedom of choice. There are two broad ranges of factors that affect the
decisions a person makes. The first factor that affects decision making is
internal and includes a person's character and intellect. The second
factor is external such as environment and interaction with other people.
Naturally, each decision a person makes results in a repercussion of some
degree, usually either helpful or hindering, and rarely inconsequential.
The concept of justice is based on the fact that decisions are always
followed by consequences. It strictly adheres to the rewarding of good
deeds and the punishment of evil. King Lear, a play by William
Shakespeare, is a grave tragedy that is a prime example of the Elizabethan
conception of justice. Lear's kingdom turns to chaos because of a break in
the "Great Chain of Being" and restores to order when justice prevails.
Its tragic labelling stems from the prevalence of death the just punishment
for many of its characters. The deaths of Lear, Goneril, and Edmund are
prime examples of justice prevailing for evil, and in Lear's case
unnatural, acts.

Lear's ultimate fate is death. His early demise is a direct result of
breaching the "Great Chain of Being" which states that no mortal will
abandon his position in the hierarchy of ranking set by God. Lear's
intention of abdicating his throne is apparent from the outset and is seen
in the following speech spoken during the opening scene of the play:

. . . 'tis our fast intent
To shake all cares and business from our age,
Conferring them on younger strengths while we
Unburdened crawl toward death. . .1

Evidently the splitting of Lear's kingdom and abdication of his throne
is not an act of necessity, but an act toward easing the remainder of his
life. Lear's disruption of the "Great Chain of Being" is in an unnatural
fashion because the abdication of his kingship is without dire or mortal
cause. The method of passing down his land to his heirs is also unnatural,
as seen in the following excerpts:


. . . Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom. . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
We have this hour a constant will to publish
Our daughters' several dowers. . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Which of you [three daughters] shall we say doth love us most?
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge. . . .2

Lear does not bestow his kingdom upon his eldest son, nor is he even
going to bestow the largest portion of the divided kingdom upon his eldest
son. He expresses his intent to split his kingdom and grant the pieces as
his daughters' dowers, the largest piece being granted to whichever of the
three professes to love him most. This is a violation of the natural order
of commonly accepted hierarchy that states a father's estate be endowed
upon his eldest son. An error in judgement and untempered release of anger
are also factors contributing to Lear's downfall. Lear listens to flattery
from Goneril, "I love you more than word can wield the/matter;"3 and Regan,
"I find she [Goneril] names my very deed of love,/Only she comes too short.
. ."4 in their bidding to profess they love Lear the most among the three
daughters, but Cordelia does not compete with their flattery:

Cor. Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your Majesty [Lear]
According to my bond [filial], no more nor less.5

Cordelia cannot flatter Lear with praise and states that she merely
loves him as a daughter should love her father, with respect and obedience.
Lear is so heartbroken by his youngest, and until then his most beloved,
daughter's refusal to praise him with her love that a rage ensues:

Lear. Let it be so! thy truth then be they dower!
For, by the sacred radiance of the sun,
The mysteries of Hecate and the night;
By all the operation of the orbs [stars]
From whom we do exist and cease to be;
Here I disclaim all my paternal care,
Propinquity and property of blood,
And as a stranger to my heart and me
Hold