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- In Act IV of King Lear, Shakespeare shows that men are. . playthings to the cruel, wanton gods.
O Gods! Who is’t can say, “I am at the worst”?
I am worse than e’er I was.
And worse I may be yet: the worst is not
So long as we can say, “This is the worst.”
- The degree of suffering is relative to our own experience, and, therefore, we can never say “This is the worst.” He illustrates two Christian Theological terms:
- deus absconditus: (the Hidden God): man, in his fallen condition, cannot understand God through reason--only through suffering
- theodicy: the evil in the world does not conflict with the goodness of God
- In scene 2, Albany is certain that if the heavens do not show their powers soon to vindicate the good and punish the evil in the kingdom, chaos will be the result.
It will come
Humanity must perforce prey on itself,
Like monsters of the deep.
- In scene 3, Kent focuses on fate and "the stars" in his effort to understand how Lear could have fathered the virtuous and loyal Cordelia and her self-seeking sisters as well.
- In scene 4, we do not hear from Lear, but his healing has begun. Symbolically, Cordelia’s tears are called upon to water the rare herbs that will aid the King in his “repose.” If rest is, indeed, the cure for her father’s illness, her tears, symbolic of her love, will be a remedy for his distress, allowing him to rest peacefully.
- In scene 5, Goneril, Regan, and Edmund have all aimed their vicious cruelty at their own fathers, making their wickedness seem more atrocious than that of the other evil characters in the play.
- In scene 6, it is Edgar who observes that Lear reaches “Reason in madness.” Lear reasons that even “a dog’s obey’d in office.” He has learned profound truths through his suffering. “Robes and furr’d gowns hide all. (Plate sin) with gold,” but if that same sin is found on one wearing rags, he will be quickly punished by the law. He has learned the difference between appearance and reality. Ironically, Gloucester must lose his sight before he learns to see.
- Later in scene 6, we see stages of Lear's awakening:
(1) from the grave
(2) in hell
(3) alive & abused
(4) self-test by pain
(5) old man (exact age) in imperfect mind
(6) dawning recognition of Cordelia & Kent
(7) no "short-term memory"
(8) Cordelia's wet tears (touched by Lear) = sign of her reality & caring
- In scene 7, through suffering, Lear has cast off that illusory world, and he has a new capacity to feel. Like Gloucester, he now sees the world “feelingly.” When he first sees Cordelia, he no longer makes demands on her.
I know you do not love me, for your sisters
Have (as I do remember) done me wrong:
You have some cause, they have not
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