"King Lear is really about power, property, and inheritance." Would you agree with this statement?I need to justify that answer and provide references to the text.

Expert Answers
Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Issues of power, property, and inheritance drive the plot in King Lear, but they do not encompass the play's greatest theme: the tragedy of the human condition. In Lear's downfall and destruction, Shakespeare shows human nature to be foolish, selfish, greedy, cunning, and despicable. However, the human heart in King Lear is also capable of forgiveness, courage, compassion, and nobility. The tragedy of Lear delves into the matter of spiritual redemption, a theme far more profound than one of power, property, and inheritance.

Before his fall, Lear is arrogant, believing that he can continue to rule his kingdom after giving up the responsibilities of the throne. He is selfish and vain, caught up in his own pride--hubris. When his daughter Cordelia refuses to flatter him, choosing instead to tell him the truth out of love, he coldly and cruelly banishes her: "Better thou [Cordelia] / Hadst not been born, than not t' have pleas'd me better."

Thereafter, when Lear is betrayed and abandoned by his two remaining daughters, his suffering assumes epic proportions as he descends into madness. When he has reached his most pitiful state, he is reunited with Cordelia, whom he does not recognize:

You [Cordelia] do me wrong to take me out o' th' grave,

Thou art a soul in bliss, but I am bound

Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears

Do scald, like molten lead.

Once Lear recognizes his daughter again, he realizes the depth of his betrayal of her and the truth of her love and loyalty--but all too late. With Cordelia's death, Lear's suffering and redemption are completed as he mourns her loss: "Cordelia, Cordelia, stay a little . . . Her voice was ever soft, / Gentle and low, an excellent thing in woman." Searching her face for some sign of life, Lear continues, "Thou'lt come no more, / Never, never, never, never, never." At this point, the King dies, holding Cordelia in his arms, still gazing at her lovely face. At the play's conclusion, Lear's self-awareness and his broken heart have nothing to do with power, property, or rights of inheritance. They relate instead to his basic humanity.




e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One specific aspect of power in the play relates to Lear's view of himself. He begins the play empowered by his position as king. He is so fully participant in this role that he internalizes this sense of power, feeling that even after he concedes the throne he will remain embued with royal power. 

This unnatural and false view of himself is part of what propels the drama of the play.