In King Lear Human Justice Is Slow And Erratic Essay

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In King Lear Human Justice is Slow and Erratic, and Divine Justice is an Illusion

Minas Savvas’ pessimistic interpretation of justice in ‘The Tragedy of King Lear’ is that, ‘there is no justice among men and there is no justice in the universe.’ Though this can certainly be seen in many of the plays darkest moments it can be argued that whilst divine justice appears to be an illusion there is some restoration to the natural and moral order at the ending of the play. However, the God’s have an ambiguous presence as, though they are alluded to throughout the play (‘Jupiter,’ ‘Apollo’) it is natural justice in this pagan setting that seems to underpin divine justice’s presence, with the idea of ‘the wheel of fortune’ controlling the outcome of events rather than divine powers. Secondly, human justice, though perhaps slow and erratic, is evident in the play. Shakespeare’s focus on humanism results in the tragic ending of the play, demonstrating the lack of ‘happy endings’ in reality. However, he does incorporate some court processes into the tragedy and many trials and punishments are served. Therefore there is some sort of agenda in terms of justice but it's not pushed by any higher power, more so by this idea of the wheel of fortune and human individualists self-administration of trials and punishment.

Shakespeare’s presentation of human justice is aligned with the idea of positions of power. Throughout the play, those in power are able to control the administration of justice as they see fit and this arguably, leads to the erratic nature of human justice. Although the play has a pagan setting, we do see the king as having absolute power over his subjects. However, there are allusions to court processes where the law is tested and justice is served in the form of trial and punishment though these do seem to be controlled by ‘the unknown and unpredictable traits of the human condition’ (Corlalie). At the beginning of the play Lear ‘is justice and wields that power by the virtue of his kingship,’ (C.J.Sisson) demonstrating the idea that human justice is selective to those in power and with the king having absolute control the justice of the universe of the play is in his hands. His decision to exercise his ‘sword of justice’ through a trial of merit, ‘which of you doth love me most’ demonstrates the fragility of human justice due to its ability to be blinded by human error. This is seen through his unwarranted banishment of Cordelia, ‘Here I disclaim all my paternal care,’ using the building of tension to alert the audience of the significance of this action. It is from this moment that justice in the play metamorphoses into something ugly and corrupt and the chain of trials and punishments, which result from the opening scene, reflect a new form of self-administrative human justice where wrath and vengeance take precedence over sensibility and morality.

One of Shakespeare’s main dramatic intentions for the play was to create a humanistic view of the world. This was a contemporary theory that followed on from Protagorus, a rediscovered Greek philosopher who said there were no gods and man was just an animal ("is man no more than this?") This idea is reflected in Lear’s enlightenment in the storm scene where he questions ‘Is man no more than this?’ and cries, ‘Unaccomodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal.’ Here, Lear is recognising the injustice of the world and the image Shakespeare creates of the King of England stripping off his clothes (‘Off, off you lendings!’) would have been shocking to a Jacobean audience and still resonates with a contemporary audience. It suggests an ‘ironic conclusion’ concerning Lear’s downfall as he strips down to ‘nothing’ (‘nothing comes of nothing’) in this ‘strange world of nothingness.’ Perhaps an argument can be made here for ‘nothing’ symbolising Lear’s recognition of the lack of justice entirely in this Pre-Christian environment. But it also gives illusions to the