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Nature and the Unnatural in King Lear
Transcript of Nature and the Unnatural in King Lear
Aspects and Meaning
Nature in Relation to Themes
Application to Elizabethan Society
"Natural" as Normal
Expected or normal
"Natural" for children to be born in wedlock
Edgar - natural son of Gloucester.
"Natural" as Wild
Another definition: reversion to the most organic and basic form, often associated with the wildness of the natural world
Natural represents wildness of one's actions and wildness of nature itself
"Unnatural": Being abnormal or unacceptable
Unnatural relations and actions towards family cause most of the conflict; actions disrupt the natural order
Unnatural characters seek justice for "wrongs" they have had
These characters get true justice in the end
Authority and Chaos
Authority is the natural state
Achieved through obedience and normal actions
Chaos results from unnatural occurrences
Disobedience and plotting creates problems in both familial and political terms
Believed that weather was connected to political stability
Bad weather and storms came from political unrest and perfidy
Omens & Superstiti on
The Great Chain of Being
Classical belief in "The Great Chain of Being," a hierarchical order of beings
If broken, all other links were affected
Natural justice comes to natural characters
Edgar & Cordelia
Reunion with parent
Omens often related to stars and planets
Often, personalities associated with birth and astrology
Superstition often related to events
If everything is natural, no superstitious worry
If 'twere born under the light of Saturn...
Application to Modern Society
There are fewer familial and relationship taboos
Such things are no longer unnatural
Some values still hold (patricide is frowned upon in most societies)
Science is improved
More knowledge about surrounding world and behavior
Nature is not as mysterious
Stars do not hold same meaning
Role and Characters in Play
Actions and words
Gloucester's words and actions make Edmund unnatural
Lear's daughters treat him unnaturally - begins his descent into madness
People Who Represent It
Natural: Cordelia & Edgar
Unnatural: Lear & Edmund
Slight parody on astrology
Your actions affect everyone else
The higher up one is, the more responsibility to be aware of others
"For you know, nuncle, the hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long, that it's had it head bit off by it young."
"Thou, Nature, art my goddess....Wherefore should I stand in plague of custom...?"
"My father compounded with my mother under the Dragon's tail, and my nativity was under Ursa Major, so that it follows I am rough and lecherous."
"..Seeing how loathly opposite I stood to his unnatural purpose...[he] lanced mine arm...[and] he fled."
This play has been stated to not be a morality play because even the good characters die; however, seeing as they get their own "justice" by making amends with those they love, does that suggest that there is an element of morality in that everyone was given what they deserved?
"How, my lord, I may be censured, that nature thus gives way to loyalty, something fears me to think of"
"O ruined piece of nature! This great world shall so wear out to naught."
"Allow not nature more than nature needs, man's life is as cheap as a beast's."
(Shakespeare 205, 117)
In the quote above, Gloucester indicates that the whole kingdom will suffer because of Lear's madness. At the bottom, Lear expresses that all things, even if not man, have equal value. The Great Chain of Being agrees more with Gloucester--which of these two ideas do you think is more strongly presented in the play?
Do we still believe in some ways that nature affects who people are? Consider psychological ideas such as "nature versus nurture." Do we have similar ideas to the Elizabethans about stars or circumstances of birth even though science tells us differently?
What do you think?