JUSTICE IN KING LEAR/OEDIPUS

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JUSTICE IN KING LEAR

(DIVINE JUSTICE, ABUSE OF EARTHLY JUSTICE, COMPLEX JUSTICE) 

1) Shakespeare explores divine justice which prompts debate about the role of the gods (religion) and freewill in society. 

  1. Gloucester believes that the gods are very much in control of one's fate, and therefore believes in divine justice over earthly justice.  
  • "the sun and moon portend no good to us" - he believes that a more powerful force is in control of ones fate as he finds a supernatural reason for his sons betrayal instead of his own doing.
  • A04: reason in stars was a medieval belief, and, as stated in political scientist MACHIAVELLI - that people could indeed believe that forces like God, Fate or the stars controlled their lives. 
  • "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods. / They kill us for their sport." - Structurally, his belief in higher forces being in control is mirrored. 
  • Alternatively, in this he blames this lack of justice on the gods -  this moment of anagnorisis questions if there is any divine justice at all in this world - his punishment of blinding is seen as unreasonable and outweighed by the injustice he committed.
  • CRITIC A.M.COLMAN: "In such a world, where the gods are absent, Gloucester's suffering must inspire pity" - therefore highlighting the lack of divine justice and catharsis for the audience. 
  • 2. Similarly, Lear initially calls for divine justice 
  • Banishes Cordelia "by apollo" (ironically the god of truth and wisdom) because she said "nothing" in order to get his justice. "By Jupiter, this shall not be revoked"
  • However his language changes from commanding to pleading, using conditional "if" expressing his eventual lack of belief in divine justice, and that justice is the responsibility of humans alone
  • "The gods defend her" (A) moments before Cordelia's body is bought back on stage (proxemics), highlighting the lack of divine justice as Shakespeare subjects the 'good' characters to the worst injustices.
  • A04: The 'Act to Restrain Abuses of Players' (1606) introduced fines for plays which used the names of god, however some members of the Jacobean audience could have seen SP's suggestion of the pagan gods representing the Christian god, the -ve portrayal contradicting to their own ideas. - "The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices/ Make instruments to plague us" (Edgar) - divine justice is cruel, even when partly deserved (Gloucester's blinding).
  • NIHILISTIC CRITIC JAN KOTT: "there is nothing, except the cruel earth, where man goes on his journey from the cradle to the grave" - bleak, existential view that the deaths at the end of the play evoke the reading that fate will punish all, good and evil - "All's cheerless, dark and deadly". - no hope left for the audience, no divine justice, gods never answer/not present.  
  • OEDIPUS: Contrastingly, the gods are central to the Greek tradgedy, illuminating lack of gods in Lear - Jocasta initially believes the gods are "mumbo jumbo" - reflecting Edmonds "excellent foppery of the world" - yet is

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