Theological Consequences In King Lear Essay Research

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Theological Consequences In King Lear Essay, Research Paper Theological Consequences in King Lear Shakespeare’s King Lear is not primarily a theological text. It contains no direct references to Christ, and its characters are not overtly religious, except perhaps in a strictly pagan sense. King Lear is, however, a play that seeks out the “meaning” of life, a play that attempts to come to terms with life’s pain; or, rather, plummets the reader into such a storm of chaos and meaninglessness that any preconceived meaningful assumptions must necessarily be challenged. At the time in which Shakespeare wrote, amidst the recent activity of the Reformation, the assumptions the general public took into a theater were varied, but, more often than not, within some context of

Christian thought. As Shakespeare was undoubtedly aware, interpretation of the play would necessarily be set in Christian context. (Even anti-Christian interpretation would be considered to be a Christian context in that it is reactionary.) The question arises as to whether or not Shakespeare, intentionally or not, has emphasized one strain of Christian thought while denouncing another? Or, in this play without any obvious redemption, has Shakespeare denounced Christianity altogether? I do not think he has gone to this extreme, but has instead challenged Christian interpretation as a whole. As we shall see, the distinction between Christianity and Christian interpretation is crucial. For my premise that Shakespeare and his audience were in some way effected by the Christian

thought of the day, I am indebted to Stephen Lynch, who has researched the evidence for this position in a chapter from his Shakespearean Intertextualities entitled “English Reformations in King Leir and King Lear.” Within the chapter, Lynch explores possibilities in theological interpretations of the play in light of its predecessor King Leir. It is Lynch’s contention that Shakespeare’s Lear is reactionary to certain Calvinistic implications communicated in Leir. Shakespeare’s negation of Leir’s theological values are not, however, a necessary affirmation of a different theological stance. It might be the foundation of a new theological view, or it could be an utter negation from which, to quote the King himself, “Nothing can come of nothing”(1.82). The question

of what truly follows from “nothing” is at the heart of King Lear. Can any good issue from the apparently needless suffering that a character like Lear is forced to endure? Lynch, in the end, seems unsure: ” if the play moves toward redemption, it is not the absolute and certain redemption of the old play, but an incremental, unsteady, and indeterminate redemption”(56). If there is any redemptive value to be found in the play, according to Lynch, it comes about only through the very internalized purgatorial suffering of its characters. In the original Leir play, though, redemption was always regained through grace and divine acts of providence. Hence, ready-made acts of religious piety were honored instead of any transformative experience of religious suffering. Even if

Shakespeare’s version is not truly redemptive, it serves as at least an indictment against the earlier view that largely ignored the harsh reality of suffering. The reality of the actual experience of suffering is also given great importance in a 1986 article by James L. Calderwood entitled “Creative Uncreation in King Lear.” Rarely in his essay does Calderwood directly confront the different theological analyses of the play, but then it is more effective that he does not. The point that Calderwood does make has immediate implications upon theology. Also, an excess of discussion would belabor the point he makes, for, in a sense, an excess of discussion is what he is rallying against. The pain and suffering of the play, Calderwood argues, is caused by a confusion in the