King Lear: Critique between Power, Trespass and Forgiveness

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Shakespeare’s story, King Lear, begins with the King handing over his kingdom and the responsibilities that comes with his title to his daughters. However, before he spreads his wealth to them, they must proclaim just how much they love and adore him as a father. The youngest daughter, Cordelia, does not follow her sisters in this game with King Lear and tells him the truth that she acts and feels as a daughter should. She illustrates this by saying, “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth.

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I love your majesty according to my bond, no more no less (Shakespeare, 8).” Then, King Lear banishes Cordelia as he believes this demonstrates a betrayal of loyalty and love towards him. This is the beginning of a fight for power, and many wrongs made. There is forgiveness as well, but should forgiveness come with a price of tragedy and loss?

In the essay by Alan Lopez titled, “Trespass and Forgiveness” in this story, gives an example of this concept with Cordelia and the Army of France intruding Edmund’s castle in order to help Lear retrieve his rightful place in the kingdom with his, so called, crown (Lopez, 121). However, I see the intrusion happening at the beginning of the story when King Lear decided to bring harm onto Cordelia by banishing her from her home. He could not predict how she would survive in the world, nor did he seem to be concerned with it. Cordelia apparently was able to move passed this wrong doing brought onto her as she swept in to help the King even without his approval. Lear seemed to want his cake and it too as he barged in on his older daughters along with his many one hundred knights. For instance, when he came back from hunting, he entered Goneril’s home with all his knights and was violent towards her trusted servant, Oswald. Goneril tries to reason with Lear by coming up with a solution of reducing the size of his knights. She even lets him rant a bit. This shows a process of redirecting power onto her, but also trying to move past his intrusiveness. He feels threatened and storms out, but while feeling a bit guilty as he states, “I did her wrong (Shakespeare, 80).” I believe this to be a sign of forgiveness. Although in the end, the older daughters became vengeful monsters. I believe this view is discussed very well with the following quote by John Hughes, “Hence there will be no treatment of the debated portrayal of the gods in Lear, or of the “problem” of the ending. Rather we are simply suggesting that some of the aporias in the play’s ideological dialectic and its implicit treatment of certain key themes can be read as pointing towards a vision of forgiveness that is illuminating to current debates within Christian theology (Hughes, 262).” Lear sees the love received from Cordelia as he asks for her forgiveness while captured by Edmund. He speaks up by saying, “Come, let’s away to prison. We two alone will sing like birds I’ th’ cage. When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down and ask of thee forgiveness (Shakespeare, 278).”

Edmund, Gloucester’s illegitimate son, is wronged by Gloucester when he makes fun of having an affair with his mother out of wedlock in public including in front of King Lear’s servant, Kent, and how he must recognize him as a son. This seems to me a trespass to Edmund’s private life and should not be on display like it was. He even specifies his feelings of the situation as Edmund asks, “Why bastard?” Wherefore “base.?” “When my dimensions are as well compact, my mind as generous and my shape as true as honest madam’s issue (Shakespeare, 28)?” This causes Edmund to go after his Edgar’s land by making up a story that Edgar has betrayed their father. Edmund receives much power and uses it to cause harm towards his brother, Edgar, and Gloucester. Edmund’s consequence is fatal but receives forgiveness from his brother and tries to make good with Cordelia before his last breath, but it is too late. It is tragic that their story had to end in violence and sorrow before being able to let go of there resentfulness toward each other. This is expressed in the following from Edgar, “Let’s exchange charity. I am no less in blood than thou art, Edmund. If more, the more thou’st wronged me. My name is Edgar, and thy father’s son (Shakespeare, 294).’ I think Hughes said it best in his essay, The Politics of Forgiveness, “To present forgiveness as a solution to the social and political deadlock of the conservatives and radicals in Lear, offers an attempt to indicate how forgiveness can and should be understood as a social and political option. Such a conclusion, however, runs counter to the arguments of many, both theologians and secular moral or political theorists, who have insisted that forgiveness can serve at most as an interiorized psychological event, but can have no possible place within the social and political realm (Hughes, 271).”

Kent is probably the most loyal to Lear and yet the King banishes him as well for being blunt in letting Lear know how unjustly he was being toward Cordelia. Kent was also trying to reason with him in keeping his position as King. The King’s behavior did not change Kent’s loyalty and showed his willingness to move past it by disguising himself as a beggar and wished to serve Lear in disguise. His mission was to protect the King at all cost which ended him reviling himself and kindly acknowledged by Lear at the end.

King Lear is a story that seems to need to go through a process of violence, ridicule, and unjust in order to get to a resolution of peace. This is the case where people of power and no concern of others space in physical or emotional state must endure the cycle, they have placed upon themselves, so that order can be restored again. In this story, as you can see, Edgar, Cordelia, and Kent are the victims of distrust while Gloucester, Lear, Edmund, Regan, and Goneril are the sinners. It is because the sinners held such power that they did not think about the consequences of their actions. And, so it had to end in tragedy to be free of their wrongs. I leave my writings with a quote from an essay on another related topic that I feel goes well with this. “We take a cautionary position, emphasizing the sufferings of those who freely forgive others who may not deserve it. Account of forgiveness as an act that interrupts the damages of wrong actions, we suggest that forgiveness for sorts of evils that Arendt did not consider comes with too many costs (Norlock and Rumsey, 100).”

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King Lear: Critique Between Power, Trespass and Forgiveness. (2019, May 05). Retrieved from