“Shakespeare’s presentation of Lear’s world challenges us to reconsider what is meant by the terms ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’.” How far do you agree with this view of King Lear and how has your reading of Oedipus Rex illuminated your ideas?

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Introduction:

  • Nature in King Lear is subverted from the very beginning
  • Different ideas of what 'nature' means structure the play and develop characters
  • Natural bonds, natural social order, nature itself are all subverted

Shakespeare presents us with a world in which the natural and social order are devalued and destroyed, even by those who mean to uphold it

  • Lear's division of the kingdom in Act one - subverts the social order expected of him
  • Would have been particularly shocking for a Jacobean audience as King James was a firm believer in the divine right of kings and a subversion of this was practically unheard of
  • It is Lear who subverts the social order and yet he still wishes to remain at the top of it and retain the power he had as king despite giving up this position
  • Kent's challenge to Lear would have been seen as a subversion of the chain of being, "I'll tell thee thou dost evil". Adds to the shocking nature of the disruption to the natural order
  • Edmond's ability to rise in power and status despite being a ******* 
  • In Elizabethan/Jacobean society *******s were worth very little and had no claim to lands or a title
  • "Meantime we shall express our darker purpose"
  • Fintan O'Toole suggests that "it hints that the world might be coming to an end in its daring and startling political content"
  • Jan Kott - "social order from the kingdom to the family will crumble into dust"
  • Oedipus - Social order is upheld, the gods are maintained in a position of power and as is the king, and yet it still descends into chaos - perhaps the social order is simply an illusion of control, it cannot prevent order from being destroyed

Natural family bonds, something we value greatly, are destroyed and devalued

  • Lear's creation of

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