Essay-style Questions: King Lear

1. 'Is Lear "more sinned against than sinning"?'. For each example, try to examine the motives for each character's behaviour and judge who is the victim of each situation. This question is closely linked to the theme of justice:


The 'Love-Test' in Act I, scene I:

Lear shows many vices in this scene: He is self-indulgent, proud, egoistic,
vain, rash, impatient, foolish and blind. He tries to strike his loyal subject,
Kent, and he banishes virtuous Cordelia for speaking the truth.

Lear uses his power in a negative way and therefore perhaps deserves
to suffer as a punishment. However, at the end of the scene it becomes
clear that Gonerill and Regan are plotting to overthrow their father.
Yet they justify themselves by claiming that they intend to act against
him because he has shown "poor judgement" and has been "rash"
in banishing Cordelia - they fear the same unfair treatment and therefore
are acting in their defence.

Lear's unruly followers in Act I, scene IV:

Gonerill complains about Lear's riotous knights, saying that they
are "so disordered, so debauched and bold". She wants to reduce
the number of his attendants in order to decrease his power, but Lear becomes
distressed at her words and leaves for Regan's castle. Lear is powerless
- he is teased and insulted by the Fool and Oswald. He violently curses
Gonerill's cruelty and fears that her "ingratitude" will
drive him to madness.
Lear finds Kent in the stocks, Act II scene IV:

Lear is outraged to find his own servant in the stocks. He complains to
Regan about Gonerill but finds himself opposed when Regan is impatient with
him and reduces his attendants. In hysterics, Lear rushes out into the storm
and Regan insists that the doors are locked behind him.
Lear in the storm, Act III scene II:

Lear has descended into madness, illustrated by the violent storm. He
is suffering physically and mentally, and claims to be the victim of the
hollowness of human justice. He can not see his faults and does not understand
that he is being punished.
Cordelia dies, Act V scene III:

Lear is reconciled with Cordelia, but she is hanged shortly afterwards
and Lear dies of grief. Cordelia's death is so horrific that the audience
is forced to consider why it happened. Is it Lear's final punishment
for his initial folly? If so, does the punishment fit the crime?