Category Archives: Shakespeare

Notes on Hamlet, MacBeth, Othello and King Lear.

Lear’s journey

Lear’s journey?

Sample question: “In the play, King Lear moves from a position of centrality to one of loneliness and isolation” – Discuss.

Here are somes notes and ideas – you’ll note this is NOT A COHERENT ESSAY – it’s just some ideas that would need to be formulated into coherent paragraphs before it would constitute anything even vaguely resembling a coherent essay.

Sample intro:

The play King Lear centres around its protagonist’s movement from a king used to total dominance, to a frail man. Lear does indeed move from a position of centrality to one of loneliness and isolation yet ultimately he moves beyond his isolation back to a position of some power.

Some ideas:

Lear asserts his control through threatening language at the beginning “mend your speech a little, lest you may mar your fortunes”. When he faces opposition, he will not tolerate it, and flies into a rage.

Despite his actions, Cordelia and Kent remain loyal to him.

Once his other daughters begin to mistreat him, his state of mind illustrates how lonely he feels “does any here know me? This is not Lear” He is but a shadow of his former self.

The stocks act as a symbol of his powerlessness. He has nothing and is nothing without his kingship. Beginning to realise this when he sees how his messenger is treated. He goes out into the storm proclaiming “fool I shall go mad”. The storm symbolises the tempest in his mind. “a poor infirm weak and despised old man”.

Lear’s isolation may be a result of not coming to terms with what he had done “I am a man more sinned against than sinning”. Loses his sanity & in the mock trial, begins to imagine that even his own dogs are barking at him.

Reconciliation scene with Cordelia marks the end of his isolation. Lear recognises his own faults “I am a very foolish fond old man”. By the end, he just wants to be a father and spend time with his daughter.


He starts off at the top of the wheel of fortune.

He is King. He is surrounded by seemingly loyal servants and seemingly loving daughters. Sitting on a throne, he is King and ultimate ruler.

He gives it away, and so begins his slow yet interminable descent.
Losing status all the way down – he gives away his land, he gives away his power, he loses his daughters one by one, he loses his retinue, his knights are taken away from him until the point of “what need one?”, he begins to lose his sanity,

Realisation that he is no better than the poor naked wretch that Tom is.

As he moves towards madness, he achieves valuable insights – he sees the corruption, the falsity and the flattery that he couldn’t see when he was in power “a dog’s obeyed in office”. He sees the huge inequalities in society and develops an empathy and understanding for others. When he strips himself of clothes he leaves behind his pride and former life. He is now at the level of the poorest of his subjects.

Almost at rock bottom. Descent into madness – mock trial.

Himself, a fool, a madman, and one loyal friend in disguise.

What does Lear lose?


Is Lear completely responsible for what happens to him? Or can we blame other factors too?

Is the character of Lear more sinned against than sinning?
Look at it from both sides of the fence, but take a firm stance.


1. Irresponsibility – divinely appointed King resigning his position because he’s tired of the responsibility that comes with it. Also, the idea of splitting up his Kingdom without due thought or consideration of the implications of this decision?
Needs a strong unified leadership. Fair game for an invading force or infighting.

2. Vanity and love of flattery – love test. Easily deceived when he’s told what he wants to hear. Cannot see the wisdom & truth of Cordelia’s statement because he is so accustomed to fawning yes men.

3. Anger – he reacts impetuously, rashly. He is vengeful and has no understanding of the potential repercussions of his actions. Curses Cordelia and Kent and banishes them.

4. Blindness – blind to the fact that all of his powers have now been reduced to nothing. Has unwittingly created a new position for himself but cannot see it.

Points we can make in his defence? =

1. Was once a good king – he is also old. Upward of four-score years. Reasonable to presume that if he wasn’t deposed or murdered during this long reign he must have once been a good king who was well liked by his subjects. Cordelia and Kent remain loyal – they can obviously see something in him worth defending. Same is true of Gloucester, and eventually Albany.

2. His daughters exploit and torment him – his daughters are deliberately trying to force him to admit that he is now subject to their rules and authority. The fool doesn’t soften the blow for Lear either, instead bluntly forcing Lear to acknowledge his own foolishness and powerlessness.

3. Learns from his mistakes (too late) – the more he learns of his mistakes, the more cruelly he is treated. Does he deserve the extent of the punishment meted out to him?

4. The storm scene/enlightenment – storm can be seen as a response by nature to the wrongs that he is suffering. Deepest sympathies lie with the aged King at this point. Begins to see clearly… “expose thyself to feel what wretches feel”

5. Loss of Cordelia – he has come full circle, and has overcome his anger, vanity, blindness and pride only to lose the one person who has remained loyal and true to the very end. His heart is broken. He has nothing left to live for.

6. Transformation @ end – he has now become a King and a man whom we can admire. Frail man who is more sinned against than sinning.

Greatest mistake = desire to rest his weary bones as he is old AND errors of judgement that come from being in a position of authority for too long. Mistakes he makes in going about his retirement were deeply flawed, but his punishments are certainly disproportionate to the crimes he committed.

Some themes in Lear…

Shakespeare’s vision of the world is essentially pessimistic

Is this true? Ultimately does the play exhibit a lack of confidence in hopeful outcomes? Does evil prevail over good? And what position does the play adopt with regard to cosmic justice?

God/Gods/Divine & Cosmic Justice

We often hear characters hopefully appealing for God’s/the Gods’ protection & support but this is juxtaposed with the defeat of these hopes & bleakly negative outcomes. For example, in the final scene, Albany cries out “the Gods defend her” – then Lear comes in with the dead Cordelia in his arms i.e. the Gods fail to answer their pleas/prayers. So this is an essentially pessimistic outlook alright.

Gloucester has no such faith in divine intervention to protect the virtuous, instead evoking cruel Gods who delight in human suffering and reward people who are corrupt. He bleakly observes: “As flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods, they kill us for their sport”. He feels there is no divine justice, but at this point it is no wonder that he gives way to despair – he’s had his eyes plucked out and is suffering the loss of his beloved child Edgar. Interestingly, by the end of the play, he has changed his view and prays to the ever gentle Gods… so the person who had the least faith at the beginning of the play has the most at the end.

Other characters, such as Edgar, believe that the Gods reward good and punish evil: “the Gods are just, and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us”  “think that the clearest Gods … have preserved thee

Suffering in the play:

Another way to think about the level of pessimism Shakespeare’s play exhibits is to consider the extent and extremity of the suffering and pain the characters endure (lots of pain; lots of suffering!) and to ask whether or not this suffering is completely out of proportion to their flaws and failings (abso-bloody-loutely-yes!). Life is so awful for Lear that Kent sees death as a blessed release for him: “He hates him, that would upon the rack of this tough world stretch him out longer”

However, it’s important to remember that whilst their suffering is extreme, Shakespeare frequently and repeatedly points to the redemptive effects that stem from these experiences of suffering – compassion, pity and consideration for others. Through their suffering, Lear and Gloucester become better men!

So while his vision of the world is frequently pessimistic, it is not exclusively or unrelentlingly so.

What about the question of whether or not good conquers evil?

Good v’s Evil

Does the decency and selflessness of characters such as Cordelia and Cornwall’s servant (who tries to prevent them from plucking out G’s eyes) outweigh the horrific inhumanity of characters such as Edmund and Goneril?

Can we argue that all efforts to be GOOD ultimately fail?
eg Edmund tries to save Cordelia but fails
eg Lear decides to help the poor but it is too late, he is no longer powerful

Clearly, we can. And it has to be said that the concluding scene is hideously grim as Kent declares “All’s cheerless, dark and deadly”

Nonetheless, evil is defeated – it is shown to be self-destructive (Edmund, Goneril, Regan) and Edgar and Albany remain to restore social and moral order in the future.

So what can we conclude about Shakespeare’s vision? Well, ultimately this is a tragedy. The final lesson Lear learns is ultimate grief. He reaches a nadir of absolute nothingness, complete and total despair. Nothing can dislodge the haunting image of a distraught father holding the lifeless body of his daughter from our minds.

Theme of blindness:
Lear is emotionally blind: he cannot see Cordelia’s true love for him & banishes her.
Through his madness he gets perfect vision, realises Goneril and Regan’s wickedness and Cordelia’s loyalty but it is too late. Lear’s blindness ends up costing Cordelia her life and consequently Lear’s own.

Gloucester exhibits a less wilful blindness: after all, he was tricked. He was too willing to believe Edmund without even speaking to Edgar – he behaved rashly and jumped to conclusions.
As Gloucester’s eyes are plucked out, he learns to see. It is not until he loses his physical sight that he realises how blind he has been to the truth. Although blind, by the end of the play he has achieved a clearer vision of the world.

Ultimately “Eyes aren’t the source of sight in the play, it is knowledge that leads to sight and further insight in the play” (I’m not sure where this quote comes from and google ain’t telling me – perhaps those wonderful notes Patrick Murray used to write on each of the Shakespearean plays)

Who else is blind?
Albany to a certain extent, is blinded by his love for Goneril. It takes him quite a while to see her for what she really is. Her unfaithfulness, discovered in a love letter to Edmund where they plot to kill Albany, makes him stand up against her authority.

There’s a gradual dawning realisation that those who see don’t necessarily see things clearly. And somehow this is seen as a general reflection of the state of the nation and the corruption inherent in this society. As Gloucester wryly observes “Tis the times plague when madmen lead the blind”.

Nonetheless, the more BLIND Glouester becomes physically, the less blind he becomes emotionally and psychologically – initially he’s betrayed by Edmund. He’s a poor judge of character. He sees people not for their inner qualities but for their outward show. But he embarks on a journey into self-knowledge.

Lear is the same. He’s blind to the truth at the beginning. He demands obedience and immediate gratification from everyone. He’s rash, he doesn’t like people questioning him and going against his wishes. But like Gloucester, he embarks on a journey into self-knowledge.

Traumatised, both endure great hardship. As a result, both become better people. They have grown morally, and recognise their failings and mistakes. Ultimately they become patient and compassionate human beings.

Transformative power of suffering:

Can suffering make us better people? This is one of the central questions Shakespeare tries to answer in this play. So what’s Lear like at the beginning?

He’s King- he has absolute power and authority. He’s been flattered and obeyed all his life. People told him what he wanted to hear. He has no true concept of how to judge a person’s love for him – he must learn that “actions speak louder than words” but he doesn’t understand this at the beginning. He’s arrogant, intolerant, rash and unreasonable.

Lear is easily insulted and used to getting his own way. Anyone who goes against him becomes a victim of his violent rage, curses and threats and his cruel, unjust punishments – for example he disinherits Cordelia. His immaturity is profoundly evident – he measures love by grand speeches not kind acts.
“Come not between the dragon and his wrath”
Ironically, as he has given away his kingdom, he still measures his own value by looking at the number of followers in his retinue, and by what he owns and possesses.
His punishment of Goneril is out of all proportion to her crime – he curses her with infertility, a big deal for a woman who has a kingdom to pass on to her heirs!

ONCE HE GOES OUT INTO THE STORM – he goes mad, loses his sanity – this change from respected King to beggar is too much for him to bear. Through his suffering and experience, the major changes occur.

He learns not to judge people by what they possess, because he himself has been stripped of everything. He realises that everyone sins, that he himself has made mistakes but he still feels he didn’t deserve the treatment he got from his daughters.

When he sees that the fool is cold, this is a significant turning point: he now notices the needs of others “Poor fool and knave, I have one part in my heart that’s sorry yet for thee” act 3 scene 2.

Similarly, when he meets Poor Tom/Edgar he feels sorry for him. The reality of what man is without possessions and flattery is shown to him “Is man no more than this?” and he is shocked! He is turning away from focusing on his own needs, and finally realising the needs of others, of the basest beggar…he realises that as King he had a unique opportunity to ease their suffering but failed to do so “I have ta’en too little care of this!” He now cares about his subjects “Poor naked wretches…that bide the pelting of this pitiless storm” – but sadly, it’s too late.

By the end of the storm, wild and mad, yet wiser than he has ever been before, he realises how prone to flattery and lies he once was: “they are not men of their words. They told me I was everything, tis a lie

The extent of the change in his outlook and personality is most evident in that fact that he is able to accept defeat and the humiliation of imprisonment with a positive joy. His priorities are now straight – he wants to spend time with his beloved daughter and beg for her forgiveness “we two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage and ask of thee forgiveness”

He now knows who to trust and how to love and from this is able to acknowledge his own errors – “I am old and foolish”.

Sadly this change comes too late, which elevates Lear to the status of tragic hero and which deepens the pervasive sense of tragedy which permeates the final moments of the play.

Theme of family:

The play revolves around the destruction of Lear and Gloucester’s families.
Both banish loyal children and reward the wicked ones with their inheritance.

Parental anxiety about their children’s love permeates the outlook of both men and they are both wracked with doubt, convinced they cannot rely upon the natural bond between them and their children.

The calamitous consequences for the kingdom of familial collapse are everywhere evident in the play. Families are not caring, supportive institututions. Brother pitted against brother, sister against sister. Mistrust, dishonesty and opportunism seem to dominate.

Other themes and sub-themes in King Lear

  • Inheritance & Greed
  • Family values
  • Kingship – responsibility, authority, power, privilege
  • Mental breakdown & madness – actual tempest, external & internal

King Lear – Plot Chronology

King Lear – chronology

I found this quite extensive plot summary on an old memory stick today.

You can click on the link above for a pdf file which outlines the chronology of events in  King Lear – or you can click on each of the images below.

Lear is one of my all time favourite Shakespearean plays but it’s quite complex in the way it weaves two disparate plots together – perhaps this will help you to see the mirroring of the plots more clearly and to trace it through the play as each Act unfolds.


Lear screengrab 1ACT 2

Lear screengrab 2


Lear screengrab 3


Lear screengrab 4


Lear screengrab 5




King Lear quotes (in translation!)


Right lads, time for me to retire – sure I’m bound to pop me clogs any day now!Tis our fast intent/ To shake all cares and business from our age, Conferring them on younger strengths/ While we unburthen’d crawl towards death

Why am I sortin out me Kingdom? So ye’re not fightin over who rules the universe when I do die…That future strife may be prevented now

Who loves the Daddy?Which of you shall we say doth love us most?

I ain’t givin you nuttin til you tell me how great I am!Nothing will come of nothing, speak again

We are done bitch!My sometime daughter

Stuck up cow, let’s see her try to find a hubby now!Let pride which she calls plainness marry her

Feck this lads, I’m givin up the day job but I ain’t givin up the glory!We shall retain /The name and all th’ addition to a king

What sort of yoke is she at all?A wretch whom Nature is asham’d/ Almost t’acknowledge hers


I do NOT feel like a King anymoreDoes any here know me?…. Who is it that can tell me who I am?

Hold on, yer wan I treated like crap might help me?Yet have I left a daughter

Hideous evil ungrateful bitches those daughters of mine “Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend/ More hideous when thou shows’t thee in a child”

Feck it, I’m an awful eejitO Lear, Lear, Lear. Beat at this gate, that let thy folly in And thy dear judgement out”

Jaysis there’s nothing worse than havin kids who don’t appreciate what you’ve done for themHow sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is/ To have a thankless child”

Cop on and don’t be cryin like a baby – I’d rather poke me own eyes outOld fond eyes, Beweep this cause again, I’ll pluck ye out

Feck this lads, I’m gettin me old job back – and the feckers won’t even see me comin!Thou shalt find /That I’ll resume the shape which thou dost think /I have cast off forever”

LEAR’S REGRET (Act 1, scene 5)

Shite anywaysI did her wrong

I’m losing me shit hereO let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven!


Lassies, have ye no respect for yere oul Dad?Tis worse than murder,/ To do upon respect such violent outrage

Jaysis, I’m havin some kinda panic attack or somethinO how this mother swells up toward my heart! Hysterica passio, down, thou climbing sorrow”

Fuckin bitchesI gave you all

It’s not much but it’s better than what your sister’s offerinThy fifty yet doth double five-and-twenty/ And thou art twice her love

Christ, do I have to justify how many sheets of toilet paper I use to wipe me arse?

“O reason not the need! Our basest beggars/ Are in the poorest thing superfluous/
Allow not nature more than nature needs, Man’s life is cheap as beast’s”

I can’t feckin cope with this shite at all!O Fool, I shall go mad”


Feck you wind, give it your worst!Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!…”

Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ th’ world,
Crack nature’s molds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!”

Poor meA poor, infirm, weak and despis’d old man

Things can only get better…No, I will be the pattern of all patience/I will say nothing

I don’t deserve this shiteI am a man more sinned against than sinning

I am definitely losing it now!My wits begin to turn

Poor fecker out in this weather with meI have one part in my heart that’s sorry yet for thee


Dunno which is worse – the weather or my bitchy daughtersThis tempest in my mind/ Doth from my senses take all feeling else/ Save what beats there – filial ingratitude

Stop thinking that way now or it’ll drive me mentalO that way madness lies: let me shun that”

Feck, I never realised how hard up some people were until I was down in the shite with themPoor naked wretches, That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm…O I have ta’en /Too little care of this

Yer man looks like he’s in the same boat as me…Didst thou give all to thy daughters? And art thou come to this?(to Edgar disguised as Poor Tom)

Maybe I feckin deserve it, sure I fathered the bitchesJudicious punishment! ‘Twas this flesh begot / Those pelican daughters”

Take everything away from me and I’m nothing but an animal “Thou art the thing itself! Unaccomodated man is no more but such a poor, bare forked animal as thou art” (he tears off his clothes)

LEAR’S DISBELIEF (Act 3, scene 6)

Jaysis how can anyone be this cruel?Is there any cause in nature that make these hard hearts?

LEAR’S DAWNING WISDOM (Act 4, scene 6)

Bitches lied, said nothing could hurt me but I got chills They told me I was every thing/ Tis a lie: I am not ague proof

Better wipe me hand – it smells like deathLet me wipe it first; it smells of mortality”

Yes men everywhere – until you’re no longer in powerBehold the great image of authority: a dog’s obeyed in office”

No wonder we’re born squealin; the world’s full of eejitsWhen we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools”


Feck it, just let me dieYou do me wrong to take me out o’ the grave

I’m an awful eejitI am a very foolish fond old man

If you feel like killin me, fair enoughIf you have poison for me, I will drink it. I know you do not love me, for your sisters / Have, as I remember, done me wrong / You have some cause, they have not”

Can you forgive me for being a stupid oul gobsite?Pray you now, forget and forgive. I am old and foolish”


Prison is nothin as long as we’re togetherWe too alone will sing like birds I’ the cage

She’s dead? No, she can’t be! Is she breathing at all?She’s gone forever. Lend me a looking glass; If that her breath will mist or stain the stone, Why then she lives!
It’s all my faultI might have saved her! Now she’s gone forever!
Life fucking stinksWhy should a dog, a horse, a rat have life, And thou no breath at all?

Justice in King Lear – how to construct an answer…

I’m just digging up notes from a few years back and stumbled upon this – some of you might find it helpful…

King Lear

Justice and corruption are central themes in the play King Lear

How do you go about constructing an answer?

  • Look at the words in the question.
  • Underline the important ones.
  • These are the concepts you must respond to and weave throughout your answer – but that does not mean simply repeating the words superficially at the end of each paragraph. You need to demonstrate that you’ve thought about and gotten to grips with the meat and substance of the theme, issue or character you’re discussing.

Ask yourself:
WHO do these words apply to in the play? (each person could form the basis for a paragraph)
HOW / WHY does this character deal with this issue?
Do they CHANGE over the course of the play?
Are there any SCENES which deal with this issue specifically?
What are our FINAL IMPRESSIONS of this issue?

This is just ONE WAY TO APPROACH formulating an answer to this question – there is no right way to do it, just many different options, but I find this a useful set of questions to ask myself when planning an answer, regardless of the theme I’m exploring.

INTRODUCTION: first you must directly address the question. Use the words from the question but don’t simply repeat them word for word, add your own opinion:

Shakespeare’s “King Lear” dramatically explores the concept of justice & presents a frightening vision of what happens in a society when those who control the justice system are cruel & corrupt.

You may wish to define the words used in the question, but you don’t have to:

The word ‘justice’ refers to the idea that we are fair and reasonable in our dealings with others. As a society we expect those who commit crimes to be punished because we value the idea of justice. In fact, many of our religious beliefs are based on the idea of divine justice – that God will reward good and punish evil.

Continuing your introduction, you must then tell the audience what aspects of the play you intend to discuss:

In this play, first Lear & then Regan & Goneril control the country & therefore the justice system. Their corruption seeps into every crevice of this society through the extreme and arbitrary punishments they mete out to those they feel have wronged them. Edmund also gains power & so he too becomes involved in handing out justice in this play.

Put it all together and here’s what your introduction looks like:


Shakespeare’s “King Lear” dramatically explores the concept of justice & presents a frightening vision of what happens in a society when those who control the justice system are cruel & corrupt. The word ‘justice’ refers to the idea that we are fair and reasonable in our dealings with others. As a society we expect those who commit crimes to be punished because we value the idea of justice. In fact, many of our religious beliefs are based on the idea of divine justice – that God will reward good and punish evil. In this play, first Lear & then Regan & Goneril control the country & therefore the justice system. Their corruption seeps into every crevice of this society through the extreme and arbitrary punishments they mete out to those they feel have wronged them. Edmund also gains power & so he too becomes involved in handing out justice in this play.

PARAGRAPH 1: Show how this issue is revealed at the beginning of the play. DO NOT TELL THE STORY, you can assume the examiner knows the plot.

Lear, as King, begins the play completely in charge of handing out justice to his citizens. He is tired of this responsibility and intends to “shake all cares and business from our age conferring them on younger strengths”. However he wishes to “retain the name and all the addition to a king”. The very idea seems to challenge our concept of justice and fairness – why should he have the status and privilege of being King if he is not also going to do the hard work?

PARAGRAPH 2: continue discussion of LEAR. DO NOT TELL THE STORY.

In the process of handing over his kingdom to his daughters, a serious miscarriage of justice occurs. Lear banishes his daughter Cordelia because she “cannot heave [her] heart into [her] mouth” and then banishes his loyal servant Kent for daring to challenge the wisdom of this decision (“come not between the dragon and his wrath”). Kent refuses to back down because he can see that their justice system is completely corrupt if a person can be banished (without trial) for speaking the truth. Similarly, Gloucester declares Edgar guilty of plotting to murder him without offering his son a fair hearing and thus a second miscarriage of justice occurs.

PARAGRAPH 3: move on to discuss other characters that personify this issue. DO NOT TELL THE STORY.

Once Goneril & Regan gain power, they destroy any remaining semblance of justice or fairness in this society. They put Kent in the stocks, strip Lear of his knights (“what need one?”) and shut him out in the storm (“lock up your doors”) all because he requested a little luxury in his old age (“allow not nature more than nature needs, man’s life’s as cheap as beasts”). Here we see that they are disregarding one of the most basic concepts of justice – that the punishment should fit the crime. Many of us find our parents annoying at times but we don’t strip them of their final penny & throw them out onto the streets.

Lear himself refers to this idea later in the play when he recognises his mistakes but claims he is “a man more sinned against than sinning”. He later realises and regrets that as King he neglected his duty to provide social justice for the poor in his kingdom “poor naked wretches that bide the pelting of the pitiless storm. Oh I have taken too little care of this”. He also accepts that he has failed to administer justice fairly saying of Cordelia “I did her wrong”. Thus we see his concept of justice maturing and developing over the course of the play and the vanity and corruption which defined him in the early stages of the play giving way to a nobility of character, gained through suffering.

PARAGRAPH 4: Now move onto another character who is significant in discussing this issue. DO NOT TELL THE STORY.

Edmund is also central to any discussion of justice in the play. He feels that the society and the law discriminates against illegitimate children “why brand they us with base? with baseness? Bastardy?” particularly in the area of inheritance. If he does nothing, he will be left with nothing “legitimate Edgar I must have your land” and so he comes up with a plan to get ’justice’ of a kind for himself. Although we feel a certain measure of sympathy and admiration for him we cannot support his version of ’justice’ because it is not true justice – it involves destroying innocent people in order to get what he wants.

PARAGRAPH 5: Is there any particular scene where this issue is explored? DO NOT TELL THE STORY

During the play two key ‘trials’ occur which dramatically explore the theme of justice. Firstly, Lear holds a mock trial of his eldest daughters asking “is there any cause in nature that make these hard hearts?”. He appoints Poor Tom and the Fool as the judges, thus mocking the idea of justice by suggesting that fools and madmen control the justice system. Secondly Gloucester is put on trial after Edmund reveals to Goneril & Regan that his father has been assisting Lear and that a French army led by Cordelia is going to invade in an attempt to restore Lear to power. Enraged, they declare him guilty of consorting with the enemy and as punishment for being a ‘traitor’ they “pluck out his eyes”. At this point it is graphically clear that if those in power are corrupt, they can completely destroy any notion of true justice in a society.

PARAGRAPH 6: What final impression are we left with of this issue? DO NOT TELL THE STORY.

At the end of the play we are left with the sense that justice has completely failed in this society. Lear and Cordelia are captured, imprisoned and then Cordelia is killed on Edmund’s orders. Even though he makes a deathbed attempt to save her (“some good I mean to do in spite of mine own nature”), his gesture comes too late. We do feel it is right and just that Edgar is the one to fatally wound Edmund, but this is revenge not true justice and Edgar must then endure the pain of watching his father die. Goneril and Regan both die, but it is important to note that Goneril kills her sister in a fit of jealousy and then kills herself. Neither is ever brought to justice, to face up to and account for their crimes.

PARAGRAPH 7: Still discussing our final impressions.

Is it possible then to argue that divine justice succeeds where societal justice fails? In the play some of the good characters reveal a belief that God will punish wicked deeds and reward decent ones – Edgar at one point in the play proclaims that “the God’s are just and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us, the dark and vicious place where thee he got has cost him his eyes”. He suggests that Gloucester needs to be punished because he committed adultery and fathered an illegitimate child. However, if this were true then we would also expect the good characters to be protected by God and Albany reveals this very belief when he says of Cordelia “the Gods defend her” but almost immediately after he utters these words Lear appears howling with grief, holding the dead Cordelia in his arms. Surely Shakespeare is making a mockery of the idea of a just God. We find ourselves more inclined to side with Gloucester’s view that there is no such thing as divine mercy or justice when he proclaims “as flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods / they kill us for their sport”.

Conclusion: Sum up your main points but try not to repeat the same phrasing.

Thus we see that justice and corruption are central themes in the play King Lear. Sadly those characters who believe in societal and divine justice endure the most suffering and hardship in the play. Although they achieve a measure of redemption, by the time Lear and Gloucester realise the importance of offering a just and fair trial to those accused of wrongdoing, their society is being run by their corrupt and evil children who do not believe in justice.. Despite their religious faith, the Gods do not intervene to save Cordelia and ultimately our final impression is that justice has failed and that we are left with a  “cheerless, dark and deadly” society where pervasive corruption can be tackled but never fully destroyed.

NOTE:Essays are built from paragraphs. Paragraphs are built around concepts and ideas.

It’s possible to sum up the core concepts from which this essay is built very briefly (mostly summed up in the final line of each paragraph) – see below:

Paragraph 1 / Concept 1: Lear is tired of being responsible for ensuring his kingdom is fair and just – but why should Lear have the status and privilege of being King if he is not also going to do the hard work? Surley it’s an injustice if others do the work and you get the rewards?

Paragraph 2 / Concept 2: Early in the play, 2 serious miscarriages of justice occur: Kent is banished for speaking the truth, Edgar is declared guilty of plotting murder with no evidence and no trial.

Paragraph 3 / Concept 3: Goneril & Regan’s punishments are far in excess of the ‘crimes’ committed – once Lear is at the receiving end of such injustice, he begins to realise that he could have been a better King, ensuring social justice for the poor.

Paragraph 4 / Concept 4: Edmund wants justice for his mistreatment but he doesn’t care who he hurts to get what he wants – this is not justice but the worst kind of Machiavellian scheming.

Paragraph 5 / Concept 5: 2 trials occur, both mockeries of true justice, both proving that true justice cannot exist in a society as corrupt as this.

Paragraph 6 / Concept 6: At the end of the play, as all of the corrupt characters die, but it is revenge, not justice, which dominates in these final scenes.

Paragraph 7 / Concept 7: Even divine justice fails – so if we’re waiting around for God to reward the good and punish the wicked, we’ll we waiting a very long time indeed!!!


Whenever you have to build an essay from scratch, ask yourself what core concepts each paragraph will contain – once you’re figured this out, the rest is a whole lot easier.

You can also do this if you’re reading notes or sample essays – extract, and in your own words outline what the core concept at the heart of each paragraph is. Doing this is an intelligent way of studying. Trying to learn off entire essays is plagiarism – it’s a waste of your brain power – it won’t deepen your understanding – and it won’t be rewarded because you have to adapt whatever knowledge you have to answer the question asked.

Hope that all makes sense!