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A Man More Sinned Against Than Sinning

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"A man more sinned against than sinning"

How far do you agree with this statement?

King Lear is one of Shakespeare's more complex plays and within it many different themes are addressed and explored. King Lear is the somewhat unfortunate vehicle that Shakespeare uses to explore many of these themes creating a complex character including the roles of a father, king, friend and adversary.

As Lear is not a simple character he cannot simply be classed as all good or bad; it can be argued he is a bad father and king but does that make Lear a bad man? Does he deserve the suffering he endures? Also, when Lear talks of sin who is he addressing? As sin is generally defined as a violation of religious or moral law so is Lear talking to God in this speech, or is he thinking in terms of his tormentors and victims on earth?

Lear's sins as a father are quite unique and therefore difficult to analyse. First he asks his three daughters to announce their great love for him so he can reward them with shares of his kingdom, Cordellia is brutally honest with her reply and states "[I love you] according to my bond; no more no less." Lear subsequently banishes Cordellia, and so starts Lear's suffering. He then splits his kingdom between Regan and Goneril which in itself was a foolish thing to do as the responsibility and power suddenly given to these two sisters could easily corrupt them. Next he arrives at his daughter's houses with a large group of unruly knights only to be sent away. In his anger he launches a stinging assault upon Goneril; "Create her child of spleen, that it may live and be a thwart disnatured torment to her", which would be terrible for any child to receive from their father.

As a father Lear did sin against his children but were they bad enough to merit the suffering he also received as a father? Lear took great punishment from his children and eventually from guilt of his actions. Goneril and Regan betrayed their father and even plot his murder. They bring shame and misery upon him that is a large cause for his madness. As for Lear's sins against Cordellia, not only does he pay for these in his guilt and insanity but also redeems himself in the later stages of the play and undergoes even more suffering at her death; "And my poor fool [Cordelia] is hanged. No, no, life! Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life and thou no breath at all."

Goneril and Regan are terrible children for any father, they plot their fathers murder, take all his pride power and land, and are happy to watch him descend into a state of tormented insanity. I feel these two sisters sin more against just Lear than he does to everyone put together. The two sisters also never show remorse for what they have done, never repent and are never forgiven. Shakespeare has used these characters to show contrast between Lear and his eventual redemption.

I feel in this case Lear pays for his sins as a father, especially as this title is taken from him at the death of all three of his daughters, which is the ultimate suffering for a father.

Lear's sins as a king are more complex and difficult to understand as understanding requires knowledge of the standards and expectations of a king in the 17th century;

Kings of the 17th century were believed to be 'divinely appointed', so they were thought to be in power because God wants them to be there. Therefore a king dividing his kingdom amongst others is going against God's will, so when Lear did this it would have been considered a significant sin.

Leonard Tennenhouse thought that "Lear has violated the most important prohibition of his culture". He feels that Lear did not break a law of the land but a fundamental law of nature itself. This theme of nature and going against it flows throughout the play and it could be argued that this river of unnaturalness has been released by Lear when he breaks down the primary structure and laws of his country. By drastically defying the principle's of primogeniture that were such a key feature to monarchy and the country, and dismantling and separating the kings power into unmanageable pieces it is almost certain that chaos and conflict would ensue. We can say that at the start of the play Lear is guilty of a tyrannical egotism, pride and blindness to his own actions.

So in the first scene of the play Lear makes a terrible mistake but can we fully blame him? No loving father would think their children capable of such immorality that is shown in Goneril and Regan. He also expected to remain as a figurehead of nationalism but alas this was also impeded by his daughters.

So as a king Lear succeeds in destroying the whole hierarchy at the core of every monarchy and cripples the undisputed power of a king into a useless, soul corrupting command; "This last surrender of his will but offend us".

Lear as a king commits a few more minor sins that at the time may have been more scandalous than now. These include letting his fool say more or less anything he wants, which many would see as a sign of weakness and lack of authority as a lowly fool should not judge his kings actions. However the fool is the only character who will offer his judgments to Lear. He is surrounded by 'yes men', especially as he banished Kent, so the Fool, even though he may have spoken out of line, filled a role that is vital for any monarchy. Also much that the fool said was entirely necessary and accurate;

Lear: Dost thou call me fool, boy?

Fool: All thy other titles thou hast given away; that thou wast born with. 1.4.141-143

The fool speaks with honesty yet often clouds his words with humour to soften the criticism and make his speech acceptable. In letting the fool speak as he does, Lear is filling a much needed gap in his band of followers of someone who will question and challenge Lear. The only misdeed maybe is that no-one else did so.

As a King Lear also suffered greatly; he was humiliated by his children refusing to accommodate him, he is defied by so many and as a king obedience is one of the key rights. When Lear split his kingdom he wished



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