King Lear

The Rack of the World: Tragic Injustice in King Lear

In Leviathan from 1651, philosopher Thomas Hobbes reflects on "the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal... the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" ("Hobbes"). Even though Shakespeare's King Lear was most likely written a good half a century earlier, between 1604 and 1605, the beliefs in a brutish and nasty life, as described by Hobbes, are clearly reflected throughout the play, especially in the tragic final scene. In Act 5, Scene 3, Shakespeare portrays a scene of painstaking injustice, and thus illustrates a world where one's fate is not always related to one's integrity.

In King Lear's final scene, Shakespeare seems initially to set up the action in almost a commentary on morality; "the good end happily, and the bad unhappily," as Oscar Wilde quips centuries later. By now in the play, Cornwall is dead, Regan and Gonoril have killed one another, and Edgar has finally defeated Edmund- all that is left is for Albany's men to rescue Lear and Cordelia, and the righteous and honorable can live through the end of the play in harmony. However, the moment Lear "enters the...

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