Notes on King Lear Themes

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King Lear Topic Tracking: The Natural Order

Topic Tracking: The Natural Order

Act 1, Scene 1

Nature 1: This is the introduction of Edmund, Gloucester's illegitimate son. The natural order states that Edmund will not inherit his father's estate; the property and goods will go to the legitimate son, Edgar. Edmund will see how his efforts to reverse the natural order do not pay off in the end. Yet Gloucester is at fault for blindly rejecting Edmund, who is still his son. (lines 7-33)

Act 1, Scene 2

Nature 2: Edmund begins to speak out against his illegitimacy, and calls on nature to stand by his efforts to get hold of what he believes is rightfully his. (lines 1-22)

Act 1, Scene 4

Nature 3: The Fool chastises the king for giving up his coronet, saying that the king reversed the natural order in the first place when he decided to give his kingdom to his daughters. Lear is unleashing a horrible calamity when he tries to reverse the natural order and retire at an earlier age. (lines 1-90)

Nature 4: Once Lear decides to abandon Goneril, too, he calls upon nature to make her sterile forever so she might never have children. He is asking nature to defend him with quite a cruel request. (lines 191-280)

Act 1, Scene 5

Nature 5: The king begins to crack here because he has abandoned two of his daughters, Goneril and Cordelia. The Fool, who is actually a wise man, tells the king that he grew old before he gained wisdom; again, a reversal of the natural order. The king calls upon heaven to support him. He is constantly trying to use nature to support his wrongful deeds.

Act 2, Scene 1

Nature 6: Edmund dupes Gloucester into thinking that Edgar, the legitimate son, is actually a villain. Gloucester is so impressed with Edgar's loyalty to the family honor that he reverses the natural order and declares Edmund the new heir to the kingdom. (lines 32-85)

Act 2, Scene 2

Nature 7: Kent calls upon Fortune to turn its wheel once more, this time in his favor. Many of the characters in the play often call upon Fortune (aka. fate, luck), to work in their favor. Here, Kent wants Fortune to free him from the stocks. (lines 40-169)

Act 3, Scene 1

Nature 8: Kent enters the scene and speaks of an oncoming apocalyptic storm, the kind no human could battle. This is nature's way of reacting to the story, and the many attempts at reversing the natural order.

Act 3, Scene 2

Nature 9: As Lear is beginning his downward spiral toward insanity, the wise Fool notes that England will suffer because of it. He says Fortune will turn against England.

Act 3, Scene 3

Nature 10: Gloucester complains to Edmund that Cornwall and Regan have suddenly assumed authority in his home, how it is a reversal of all that is natural. Edmund lies and pretends to agree with his father, but it is clear he is lying since he, too, wants to reverse all that is natural.

Act 3, Scene 4

Nature 11: Edgar, the original heir to the kingdom of Gloucester and son of the earl, comes out dressed like a mad beggar. His role as such is a complete reversal of the role he was given by birth. (lines 37-107)

Act 4, Scene 1

Nature 12: Gloucester is alone with the mad beggar in the woods, ignorant that the beggar is his son. He is certain that he will soon die, noting that Fortune's wheel is never standing still and could easily turn against him. Yet it is now that Edgar, dressed as the beggar, begins to take control and lead his father down the right path. He is now supporting his father who has become blinded and helpless.

Act 4, Scene 6

Nature 13: Edgar convinces Gloucester he is alive, after Gloucester believes he has fallen off a cliff and died. Edgar launches into a small speech, praising the gods for preserving Gloucester. Really, though, Gloucester never fell farther than two feet. (lines 1-80)

Nature 14: Lear refers to himself here as "the natural fool of Fortune," noting that he has led himself out of Fortune's favor. He recognizes the power of fate and the natural order. (lines 80-199)

Act 4, Scene 7

Nature 15: A caring Cordelia comes in to find her father sleeping. When she kisses him to wake him, he thinks nature has sent him to heaven. Once he realizes he is alive, he berates himself for being so foolish his whole life. (lines 44-97)

Act 5, Scene 1

Nature 16: Lear and Cordelia are taken hostage and Gloucester gets upset. Edgar reminds him, though, that there is nothing he can do--nothing can reverse Fortune's natural order. It is up to the gods to determine their fate.

Act 5, Scene 2

Nature 17: Cordelia is upset that Fortune has turned against her and her father when Edmund sends them to prison, but Lear is happy to go to jail. He thinks it will be peaceful for him. The possibility of death does not cross his mind, even though at this point it is likely. (lines 1-25)

Act 5, Scene 3

Nature 18: Edgar reveals himself from behind his beggar garb and becomes a hero. The natural order is again established when Edmund realizes he has been defeated. Fortune's wheel has come full circle, and cast him in a lesser role, as was his fate. (lines 155-222)

Nature 19: Lear is once again given absolute power, though his death soon follows. The natural order is restored. (lines 238-327)

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