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The political and social aspects and themes in william shakespeares king lear

Social Paradigms Within King Lear Introduction "Kiernan Ryan's argument that King Lear endorses neither feudal nor bourgeois worldviews but instead looks forward to a utopian condition beyond both," is to a degree acceptable in my opinion. I vehemently concur that the play does indeed look beyond both the feudal and bourgeois ideologies and strives towards a more utopian condition, but I do not agree that King Lear endorses neither feudal nor bourgeois paradigms.

The understanding that I have assimilated from this play is that Shakespeare favours feudal worldviews over bourgeois worldviews, and thus, esoterically endorses the worldviews of the feudal system. Shakespeare is subversively invective and polemical towards the ideologies of the bourgeoisie; he tenaciously excoriates their sense of self-preserving individualism and their avaricious nature, but he never astringently attacks the ideologies of feudalism, he sedulously highlights the flaws of its fabric without being vitriolic or seditious Shakespeare uses Lear as a figural antithesis to James I, so that he could probably avoid being ostracised and demonised by him.

Shakespeare surreptitiously acknowledges and highlights the flaws within the feudalistic system, but he also accentuates a personal belief in that system, a belief that suggests the system would work more equitably and justly if the powers that be within the system acknowledge their responsibilities to their subjects, and acknowledge their needs and afflictions more punctiliously and more humanely.

The fact that Shakespeare was less acerbic in his criticism of the feudal system than his criticism of the bourgeois system indicates that he favoured the former over the latter. Shakespeare wrote King Lear in It was a time of discord and pernicious poverty, a time when the hapless souls of the impoverished were being exploited and demeaned by the nefarious forces of capitalism. There was a radical transformation in industry, farming and land owning.

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The old feudal order and its aged method's of production were being replaced by capitalist relations characteristic of the period of primary accumulation.

The hiring of labour took place, replacing serfdom, as it was more profitable in a rising capitalist society to do so. The wool industry and its export market blossomed, as did the demand for pasture- land. The cultivated land that belonged to the landlords became converted into sheep-walks.

This transition meant that the peasantry had no land to cultivate; and since there was only an immense supply of free agricultural labour available, to keep from starvation, the peasantry had to work for a pittance.

King Lear Contents

This became the prerequisite for the development of capitalist industry, i. Due to the unquenchable demand for land, the land that was confiscated during the reformation around was sold on for a pittance to the bourgeoisie, who also purchased land from the old feudal lords, land which was ravished during the war of the roses Due to these transactions, a bond of unity came into fruition between the old land -owners and the bourgeoisie, since the former began to apply capitalist methods to agriculture.

As a result a new social group was formed, and these were known as the bourgeois landed gentry. Conversely, the so-called yeomanry or the class of wealthy peasant farmers were dispelled from their land from the new landowners drawn from the bourgeoisie and the nobility, and were forced to accept the status of tenant. The old feudal nobility was capitulating rapidly due mainly to the the political and social aspects and themes in william shakespeares king lear of the roses and became known as the ex-feudal landowners aristocracywhich were more acquisitive and bourgeois in nature.

During the reign of Elizabethabsolutism reached its climax, but near the winter- time of her rule, it began to collapse. Mainly the middle and petty nobility supported this English absolutism, and it primarily served the interests of these classes, not those of the bourgeoisie. This was due mainly to the fact that industrial and trade privileges and monopoly rights were only afforded to those with the strata of nobility.

Near the beginning of the seventeenth century the bourgeoisie outgrew this system, which was abused by Elizabeth during the last decade of her reign, and later by James The political and social aspects and themes in william shakespeares king lear and Charles Iin carrying out their policy of feudal reaction.

This brought about the idyllic friendship between the new bourgeois nobility, the gentry, and the court nobility which were the integral directing centres of political life. Toward the end of Elizabeth's reign, Puritanism, which was the religious screen for the class-consciousness of the bourgeoisie in its struggle against feudalism and absolutism, gained ground.

This group, which called itself Presbyterian, had the main primary objective of confiscating the property of the Church of England, and also the abolition of all privileges, which obstructed bourgeoisie development. Shakespeare's King Lear incorporates and imbues all the heterogeneous elements of his time that contributed to human misery, social unrest and social division.

He prodigiously emphasizes the shortcomings of the main the two opposing classes of his time i. In King Lear, Shakespeare offsets the old feudal class and the new emerging bourgeoisie class against each other and denigrates upon their shortcomings to highlight that the suffering and state of destitute that existed in his time, was endemic and endogenous within these two class systems; and that non of them can be exculpated from blame.

Swinburne's assertions that Lear voices a "fiery protest against the social iniquities and legal atrocities of civilized mankind" and that the play is a "cry on behalf of the outcast of the world", reinforces the sense of social criticism that exists within the play. In act one, scene one, the eponymous character, the aging King Lear who is the play's protagonist relinquishes himself from the responsibilities of government.

Lear represents the ideologies of the old, antiquated feudal system, which entails a political, gendered and familial hierarchy; to which Lear has divine and absolute authority to rule over.

Lear's abdication in essence, has a destabilising effect over the society to which he rules, as he is subverting the traditions of the political hierarchy system. Lear is wilfully antagonistic; he chooses not to act in accordance to societal expectations, that a king should only be relieved of his divine duties due to the intervention of death.

  • He was the Queen's Physician and was only half Jew;
  • Edmund manages to persuade Gloucester that Edgar is plotting against him, whilst favouring himself, and Edmund is also instrumental in the blinding of Gloucester, when Edmund betrays Gloucester to Cornwall as a traitor;
  • This change is a dramatic device used to change the atmosphere and mood of the scene.

Lear's decisions to divide his kingdom are purely insular and self motivated. He fatuously eschews from his divine duty of king, one that asseverates that he must consider himself as an extenuation of his subjects, that they collectively, have to be integrated into any decisions he makes, and that these decisions should be for their advantage, not just his.

Lear fashions a love test between his three daughters, to find out which of them loves him the most, so that he can distribute his kingdom in a manner fitting to their affectionate avowals, "which of you shall we say doth love us the most?

Lear's daughter's, Goneril and Regan embody this new emerging force. They assiduously modify their lexicon with a verbose amount of flattery to win their fathers affections. Regan and Goneril's philosophy is based on individual ambition. The benign and resplendid Cordelia rebuts her sisters false obsequiousness, and refuses plainly, to participate in her fathers pretentious charade.

Cordelia's verisimilitude and veracious nature, symbolises a new changing aristocracy, one that imbues fealty, honesty, and courage. Cordelia refuses to resort to competition in order to project her true love of her father, hence her morals are unimpeachable they are beyond material gain. Cordelia expresses her love in formal, feudal terms "Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth.

I love your majesty according to my bond; no more nor less. Lear in a blind and vengeful rage disowns Cordelia and banishes her from his kingdom, and then divides his kingdom between equally between his two daughters Goneril and Regan. He is blind towards the virtues of his true daughter, and is more favourable and rewarding towards his malignant, Machiavellian daughters, all because he foolishly wants to believe their worm-tongued, sycophantic assertions.

When Lear disinherits Cordelia he steps "between the dragon and his wrath," urging Lear to reconsider his actions, to acknowledged that his other daughters have flattered him with false declarations of love.

Kent is vitriolic in his protestation because of the love and respect he possesses for Lear. Kent acknowledges that the king he reveres has impetuously and foolishly created a fissure within his kingdom, that will have a cataclysmic and tragic effect on both Lear and his subjects. Lear undergoes great traumatic suffering as a result of his foolhardy decisions.

In seeking love and affection, he is treated with distain and filial ingratitude by his daughters Goneril and Regan throughout act two.

They ridicule his frail mind and body, question his sanity and sardonically taunt him about his powerlessness and uselessness, now that the is striped from the eminency of king, trappings that he imprudently thought would be still at his disposal after his renunciation.

Due to the heinous torment that he endures, Lear begins to loose the faculties of his mind, his sanity dissipitates. Lear becomes vulnerable to a wider reality when he puts himself at the mercy of his daughters and finds himself suddenly homeless and stripped of retinue and privileges.

Through the process of misery, Lear achieves a degree of spiritual apprehension, self-knowledge and insight, which he never approached in the days of his prosperity. After he has borne humiliation and felt the fury of the elements, he becomes increasingly aware of his own faults and limitations and the need of others. In scene three acts two and three, he is solicitous for the fool, and urges Kent and the fool to go into the protecting hovel first. In act four scene six, Lear begins to understand the corrupting influence of power such as he himself has wielded: He recognises his past blindness to flattery and exhibits a touching new humility as he openly acknowledges his guilt in meeting with Cordelia.

Shakespeare uses this period of regeneration to illustrate how that one can find a better plain of existence if one was to stand outside of himself and his own needs and recognise the and acknowledge the needs of others.

Shakespeare innovatively uses Kent in order to humanize Lear, making him a human being who has a strong capacity for love, a person who is merely suffering as a result of his erroneous decisions. Kent conditions our opinion of Lear; he is a constant witness throughout the play of Lear's great worth. Kent is used by Shakespeare to evoke all the qualities that are instilled within the old feudal system, like fealty, integrity, courage, fortitude and graciousness.

Shakespeare contrasts the difference between the valiant and honourable Kent against the cowardly and self-interested Oswald. Phyllis Rackin best sums up Oswald by stating that his "faults throughought has been that he is completely the creature of the social and political hierarchy, unaware of any values beyond worldly status or any code beyond manners.

In act 1, scene 1, we are also introduced to the subplot, involving Gloucester, Edgar and Edmund. The subplot mirrors the main plot; it entails the same follies and misjudgements, and compounds how these flaws can lead to abominable circumstances in the end.

Shakespeare uses the subplot to accentuate how Lear's actions affect not only himself, but also the families of the people within his kingdom. Edmund is the pernicious, conniving, amoral "illegitimate" son of Gloucester, who was a product of his father's licentious ways.

  1. He wrote with a febrile sense of morality; which was based on the free will of man, on the voice of man's conscience, on his sense of responsibility towards himself and the world. It was thought that unity was easily displaced because disorder in any part of the universe causes disorder in its corresponding part.
  2. This brought about the idyllic friendship between the new bourgeois nobility, the gentry, and the court nobility which were the integral directing centres of political life. The hiring of labour took place, replacing serfdom, as it was more profitable in a rising capitalist society to do so.
  3. In both Julius Caesar and Macbeth there are descriptions of the universe being thrown into chaos because of the actual or planned assassination of a ruler. Cordelia refuses to resort to competition in order to project her true love of her father, hence her morals are unimpeachable they are beyond material gain.
  4. Due to the unquenchable demand for land, the land that was confiscated during the reformation around 1535 was sold on for a pittance to the bourgeoisie, who also purchased land from the old feudal lords, land which was ravished during the war of the roses 1455-1485. An Anthology of Criticism.

He represents the new emerging society. He is determined to usurp and outsell his father in order to get his hands on "that which my father looses. Edmund negates all the most heavenly ecstasies, and all the feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. In act 1, scene two, we are first introduced to his tyrannical intentions in his soliloquy. With his attack on the "plague of custom," this quotation embodies Edmunds resentment of the old feudal social order of the world and his accompanying craving for respect and power.

Edmund slanders the forthright and sincere Edgar who embodies the same traits of feudalism that Kent embodies and so secures the disinheritance of his brother. Then he malevolently betrays his father's commendable selflessness, as he informs Regan about Gloucester's kind assistance towards the rejected Lear. Gloucester's act of selflessness exemplifies again, the virtuous and rewarding aspects of feudalism. Edmund's betrayal results in Gloucester being repugnantly mutilated in act three scene seven.

Shakespeare contrasts this with Gloucester's suffering, to demonstrate that the merciful and compassionate can suffer at the hands of the new emerging social class whose sole aim is primary accumulation. The only negative flaw that we can attach to Lear and Gloucester is that they both lack sound judgement at the start of the play, and their prudish, autocratic, substandard behaviour is the cause for this.

Gloucester in his blindness, ironically starts to see the error of his ways, and again like Lear under goes a period of regeneration in act four, scene one. He cries to the heavenly powers to " let the superfluous and lust-dieted man Feel your power quickly And each man have enough. This however leads to tragedy, as in act five, scene six they are the political and social aspects and themes in william shakespeares king lear stricken off this mortal coil as a result of this lust fuelled competitiveness, as Regan is poisoned and subsequently murdered by her sister, and then Goneril meets her end through self-inflicted suicide.

The gruesome nature of the sisters deaths, for their causes of desire, illustrates that Shakespeare believes the carnivorous, cannibalistic nature of the materialist and power hungry bourgeoisies system will force it to implode, to turn in on itself and to eat away at it's reprehensible super-structure.

Edgar's purification of these scabrous wretches clearly indicates that Shakespeare supports and endorses some of the ideals of feudalism and is against the ideals of the more capitalistically driven bourgeoisie. In the final act, act five, scene three Shakespeare also depicts the tragic scene of Lear immerging with his dead daughter in his arms as that of the Pieta, by drawing comparisons to the holy mother with her son in her arms and Lear the father with his daughter in his arms, whom he looked upon for divine qualities.

By portraying this heart wrenching scene and the scene of the death of Lear dying in anguish in a divine manner, Shakespeare further illustrates how the good and the pure individuals of society i.

At the very end of the play Edgar and Kent regain their power and titles back from Albany. Albany invites them to rule with him. Kent feeling himself near death refuses, but Edgar seems to accept. Edgar's survival over the forces of adversity capitalismand his appointment of high office suggests that there is a better hope for the future, one that expels self-motivated ideals like the acquisition of land, wealth and power, one that exuberates fealty, courage, valour, honour and a sense of duty, all the qualities that can be found in feudalism, once it becomes more aware of selfless acts and the needs of the lower classes within society.

He wrote with a febrile sense of morality; which was based on the free will of man, on the voice of man's conscience, on his sense of responsibility towards himself and the world.

He strove toads a utopian society with precocious utopian ideals, he accepted that there were flaws within his society, but believed that they could be eradicated if the head of state became more personable and affectionate towards the subjects he governed. He believed that there within existed within mankind the inherent capability to do what is just, not just for himself, but also for mankind as a whole.

He believed in individualism, the most salient characteristic of the Renaissance.