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King Lear Passage Analysis

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From the beginning of the play, King Lear is depicted as a figure of authority who dispenses justice. However, he has no idea as to what justice truly is. It is only when he talks to Gloucester, a blind beggar, does he realize the meaning of justice. Through irony and symbolism in this pivotal moment, King Lear's understanding of true justice emerges.

Shakespeare uses irony to convey King Lear's statement on justice. Lear states to Gloucester, "Your eyes are in a heavy case, your purse in a light, yet you see how this world goes." This is ironic because Gloucester is blind and a beggar, yet he is able to understand the world. Because of his conditions, Gloucester is supposed to be ignorant, especially when compared to King Lear, who is not blind and is rich. In turn, as a ruler, King Lear is supposed to understand how the world goes and know how to correctly dispense justice. During King Lear's speech to Gloucester, he says, "Through tattered clothes great vices do appear; Robes and furred gowns hide all." This line demonstrates Lear's clear understanding that he has been hiding his problems behind his luxuries. It is easy to see a beggar's vices because a beggar cannot hide anything. However, if rich, it is easy to conceal vices behind money, power, and clothing. A beggar is out in the open while people with money, who are supposed to fairly dispense justice, can hide behind "rich clothing" or manipulate the system because they have power to do so. King Lear begins to understand that people shouldn't dispense justice if they do not know what it means and, rather, are corrupt of it.

In addition to irony, Shakespeare uses symbolism to convey King Lear's statement on justice. Lear says, "Thou hast seen a farmer's dog bark at a beggar?" Through this statement, the readers see a clear picture of a dog holding power over a beggar, who is still a human being. This leads to the question of how can a dog have a higher authority than a beggar to bark at the beggar for him to leave the farmer's land. The question demonstrates King Lear's newfound understanding of the true meaning of justice. Shakespeare symbolizes Lear as a dog because dogs obey their masters. Instead of being a great ruler, Lear followed the whims of everyone else, being manipulated like a dog. He was in a position of office; however, he did not show his own authority. Dogs need to be pet and given treats to know that they are appreciated, which is similar to how Lear's daughters treated him to inherit their separate parts of the kingdom. Symbolism is further used when Lear says, "And the strong lance of justice hurtles breaks; Arm it in rags, a pigmy's straw does pierce it." In literal terms, the strong lance of justice is King Lear as well as people who have authority. In reality, the people with authority do not see justice, and if the power is taken away,



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