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King Lear Disruption of Elizabethan World Order

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Anthony Jarvis

on 11 May 2014

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Transcript of King Lear Disruption of Elizabethan World Order

KING LEAR
Chaos

VS
Order

Nakedness vs. Clothing
Cordelia, the honest daughter, says “Love and be silent” (1.1.64), stating that her actions prove her love, and she should not have to express in words the affection she demonstrates through her actions. Cordelia also says “I love your Majesty / According to my bond, no more nor less” (1.1.94-95). She is exemplifying the patriarchal principle of the time, to divide your devotion between your husband and your father.
Cordelia
Wrongfully convicted, Edgar has everything he has known taken from him and is forced to the lowest social position. Despite all this, Edgar remains loyal to his father after he is blinded. He becomes his guide and cares for him. He defends him when Oswald attempts to slay Gloucester. Although he is loyal to his father, he also agrees with his father's punishment. "The gods are just and of our pleasant vices / make instruments to plague us," Edgar tells Edmund. "The dark and vicious place where thee he got / cost him his eyes" (5.3.169-171). Edgar claims that because Gloucester committed adultery, producing Edmund, his punishment was his loss of sight.
Edgar/Poor Tom
In Shakespeare's time of the Elizabethan Era, a heavy emphasis was placed on societal structure. Every person played a key role in society based on their place in the hierarchy, and were expected to complete the tasks required of them for that status. Today, I'll be speaking about the order of society at that time, how it was disrupted throughout the play itself, and of characters who maintained this order throughout the play.
"The weight of this sad time we must obey,
speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most; we that are young Shall never see so much, nor live so long"
5.3.388-391
This is a quote by Edgar and he is talking to Kent. This happens at the very end of the play and it shows how we do need both authority and chaos within our lives. Life is too short to keep any emotions hidden within. We should speak what we feel and be truthful when doing so. We should make every day of our lives count for something, because we never know when it could come to a crashing end.
Q
U
E
S
T
I
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ISCUSSION
D
How do you think the outcome of the play would have been altered if Cordelia had chosen to confess her love for her father at the start?
Characters of nobility are happier once they have lost everything than when they had everything they could ask for. The Fool is the first to point out this unnaturalness, saying "Winter's not gone yet, if the wild geese fly that way. Fathers that wear rags Do make their children blind, But fathers that bear bags Shall see their children kind. Fortune, that arrant whore, Ne'er turns the key to th' poor. But for all this, thou shalt have as many dolors for thy daughters as thou canst tell in year" (2.4.45-55). Once King Lear loses possession of everything (his land, his title, his wealth, and two of his daughters), he realizes how good he had it and how he had not given Cordelia the respect she deserved.
Do you agree with the order of society in this time period? What changes would you make to it?
Why is Kent's loyalty as a servant towards King Lear admirable, and what is it's significance?
What factors do you think prevented Regan and Goneril from fulfilling their gender roles?
The Disruption of Elizabethan World Order
Who is the most interesting character in the play to you and why?
The Elizabethan Worldview
The main concept of order in this time period was that everything in the universe had it's place in society fixed solely by God. This is loosely based on Aristotle's concept of the universe. It was the belief that the Earth was the centre of the universe and the stars moved around it because of this. The Church was the central institution, governing political, social and spiritual affairs of the time period.
“I have a journey, sir, shortly to go. My master calls me; I must not say no. ” (5.3.390)
This is said by Kent to Edgar after Albany offers him to rule the kingdom. This is in act 5 scene 3, so in this scene Kent comes looking for King Lear who was later found, when Lear is grieving over Cordelia Kent tries to explain him his disguise and how he followed him faithfully the whole time but unfortunately Lear does not listen and further Lear dies. After Lear dies Albany offers Kent the chance to rule the kingdom but Kent refuses and showing the authority that he is going to follow Lear in to death.
The Stars Align
It was a popular belief that the heavens affected the fortunes of everything and everyone. Zodiac signs began in this age. What star you were born under determined what kind of person you would be and what type of life you could expect to lead. These similar beliefs still exist in modern times.
“I have a journey, sir, shortly to go. My master calls me; I must not say no. ” (5.3.390)
This is said by Kent to Edgar after Albany offers him to rule the kingdom. This is in act 5 scene 3, so in this scene Kent comes looking for King Lear who was later found, when Lear is grieving over Cordelia Kent tries to explain him his disguise and how he followed him faithfully the whole time but unfortunately Lear does not listen and further Lear dies. After Lear dies Albany offers Kent the chance to rule the kingdom but Kent refuses and showing the authority that he is going to follow Lear in to death.
Fate
Fate is the development of events beyond a person's control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power. In Shakespeare's day it was a belief that life was predestined. Whatever happened in your life was already decided before you came into existence, as long as they were random events. For example, you cannot commit treason or murder and blame fate for your actions. This is where free will comes into play, fate's polar opposite.
“I have a journey, sir, shortly to go. My master calls me; I must not say no. ” (5.3.390)
This is said by Kent to Edgar after Albany offers him to rule the kingdom. This is in act 5 scene 3, so in this scene Kent comes looking for King Lear who was later found, when Lear is grieving over Cordelia Kent tries to explain him his disguise and how he followed him faithfully the whole time but unfortunately Lear does not listen and further Lear dies. After Lear dies Albany offers Kent the chance to rule the kingdom but Kent refuses and showing the authority that he is going to follow Lear in to death.
The Great Chain of Being
The Great Chain of Being is a concept derived from Aristotle. It is based on preserving the views of the church. Its purpose is to keep the hierarchy of social structure in tact. This ensures that everyone and everything has an internal place in society and the societal power/order is never put into question.

GodAngelsKings/QueensArchbishopsDukes/DuchessesBishopsMarquises/MarchionessesEarls/CountessesViscounts/ViscountessesBarons/BaronessesAbbots/DeaconsKnights/Local OfficialsLadies-in-WaitingPriests/MonksSquiresPagesMessengersMerchants/ShopkeepersTradesmenYeomen FarmersSoldiers/Town WatchHousehold ServantsTennant FarmersShepherds/HerdersBeggarsActorsThieves/PiratesGypsiesAnimalsBirdsWormsPlants
Rocks

The Divine Right of Kings
The King was God's chosen representative on Earth, and upheld order throughout the land. If his position was altered or violated in any way, the perfect order of the universe would be destroyed and chaos would be brought to the world. Any act of treason against the King was considered to be a mortal sin against God. Some forms of treason could be theft, regicide, or an attempt at dethronement.
“I have a journey, sir, shortly to go. My master calls me; I must not say no. ” (5.3.390)
This is said by Kent to Edgar after Albany offers him to rule the kingdom. This is in act 5 scene 3, so in this scene Kent comes looking for King Lear who was later found, when Lear is grieving over Cordelia Kent tries to explain him his disguise and how he followed him faithfully the whole time but unfortunately Lear does not listen and further Lear dies. After Lear dies Albany offers Kent the chance to rule the kingdom but Kent refuses and showing the authority that he is going to follow Lear in to death.
Kent/Caius
Kent is King Lear's servant. He is banished by Lear for an attempt at persuading King Lear to reverse Cordelia's banishment. He assumes the alias of Caius after he is banished and continues to serve his master in Lear. This is significant because Kent continues to serve even though King Lear is no longer in power. The Fool ridicules Kent for his loyalty, saying "Sirrah, take my coxcomb" (1.4.86). He implies that Kent is the real fool for serving somebody with absolutely no power.
“I have a journey, sir, shortly to go. My master calls me; I must not say no. ” (5.3.390)
Kent says this to Edgar after Albany offers him the position of king. Kent tries to explain to Lear his disguise and how he has been faithfully with him, but Lear unfortunately does not listen and passes of grief. Kent refuses Albany's offer at King, instead replying that his sole purpose in life was to serve King Lear. Since Lear is dead, his destiny has been fulfilled.
Early Retirement

"Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge... "
(1.1.52-54)


King Lear says this as somewhat of a test to his daughters---one final task before he hands them the keys to thing kingdom. He asks for each of them to state their love for him, so that the largest shares would go to the most deserving.
King Lear’s role in society is a prime example of how order is reversed in the play. Kings hold the divine right to rule over everyone and make decisions without being questioned. A King, under normal circumstances, would never relinquish his power before death, unless he is overthrown. However, Lear openly gives his daughters his throne in order to take an early retirement. He wants to reap the benefits of King without holding the title. It is also ironic due to the fact that during that time period, kingship was believed to be the duties of a male. It would be handed to the eldest son, or the King's wife if no sons were present. He has gone from being the ultimate ruler to a man that must be submissive to his children as his children were to him. He has essentially reversed family roles with his daughters, making them the parents and him the child. He is a king with no power.
At the beginning of the play, Gloucester naturally considers Edgar as his legitimate son. He calls him “a son by order of law” (1.1). Because Edgar is a legitimate son whereas Edmund is a son born out of wedlock, natural family order determines that Edgar not only has a right to the inheritance of his father’s property and possessions, but also to his father’s respect and love. Edmund, on the other hand, is ridiculed and less respected by his father, because he is considered an “unnatural” son without rights. Shakespeare challenges these conventional notions of natural family order. When Edmund schemes against his brother and father, the natural family order becomes reversed, and Gloucester is quick to dismiss Edgar’s natural birthright saying, “O villain, villain! His very opinion in the letter! Abhorred villain! Unnatural, detested, brutish villain! worse than brutish!”. (1.2) Gloucester disinherits Edgar and raises the “bastard” son in his esteem instead.
Edmund's Plot
Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law
My services are bound. Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me,
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?

Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land.
Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund
As to the legitimate. Fine word—“legitimate”!
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper.
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!
(1.2.1-10,16-22)
Edmund begins his soliloquy, foreshadowing his deception of Gloucester and Edmund. This quotation presents a key conflict with Edgar and Gloucester because his title of a "bastard son" gets in the way with his desire for wealth and power.
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