King Lear

The Existential Comfort in Reconciling the Gods' Mysterious Workings

The characters in Shakespeare's play King Lear endure immense physical, psychological, and emotional torment before meeting their demises. Shakespeare's exploration of their pain underlines two existential quandaries. First, the play's violence begs the question of whether we, as readers, are consoled by our abilities to make sense of the plot developments, whether through catharsis or other means, or whether we feel the final bloodbath was for naught. Another significant question that the play poses regards the role of the gods. Shakespeare's characters universally accept their roles and often allude to them, but those who experience suffering and hardship often question the gods' function as preservers of human justice.

To develop these questions of the existence of divine retribution, Shakespeare juxtaposes Gloucester's and Edgar's interpretations of the gods' treatment of human lives. Edgar references the system of individual divine justice, for example, when he explains, "The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices/ Make instruments to plague us" (5.3.172-3). His attitude starkly opposes Gloucester's earlier declaration that "As flies to wonton boys are we to th'...

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