Mercy, an act of kindness, clemency and compassion is essential to all civilized human life. Throughout William Shakespeare’s play, King Lear, a clear demonstration that the absence of mercy leads to the downfall of kingdoms and of relationships is apparent through the following: firstly, insufficient mercy leads to disparaging relationships and the downfall of kingdoms; secondly, Cordelia shows mercy towards her father, King Lear after Lear casts her out of the kingdom when she does not heed to his ego thus demonstrating the restoration of their relationship; nd lastly, Edgar’s critical act of mercy which led to Gloucester’s epiphany regarding his trust in Edmund All three matters explored within Shakespeare’s King Lear demonstrate that mercy is a critical aspect to humanity and without the experience of both giving and receiving mercy; humans would lack the insight to establish justice within society. First, Edmund helps us understand that a lack of mercy leads to deceit and the destruction of relationships and kingdoms.
Edmund: | |“Some blood drawn on me would beget opinion. | | |Of my more fierce endeavor. | |(cuts his own arm) | | |????? I have seen drunkards | | |Do more than this in sport. —Father, father! — | | |Stop, stop! —No help? ” | (Act II scene i lines 35-40) In this passage Edmund cuts his own arm making his father Gloucester believe that Edgar, his other son has struck him with his sword. This is part of Edmunds plan to cast his brother out of his father’s life to gain position in his father’s kingdom.
Furthermore, in the following passage Edmund convinces his father that Edgar was attempting to conspire to kill him. “Persuade me to the murder of your lordship, But that I told him the revenging gods ‘Gainst parricides did all the thunder bend, Spoke with how manifold and strong a bond The child was bound to th’ father. Sir, in fine, Seeing how loathly opposite I stood To his unnatural purpose” (Act II scene i lines 48-54) Edmund’s lack of mercy towards both his father Gloucester and his brother Edgar lead to the complete disillusion of the relationship between Gloucester and Edgar.
This compels Edgar to flee and Gloucester to choose to order the execution of Edgar if he is found. Second, the mercy that Cordelia voluntarily shows and seeks with her father King Lear restores the relationship between them: Cordelia: “(kisses LEAR) O my dear father, restoration hang Thy medicine on my lips, and let this kiss Repair those violent harms that my two sisters Have in thy reverence made! ” (Act IV scene vii lines 24-27) Cordelia: “Had you not been their father, these white flakes Did challenge pity of them.
Was this a face To be opposed against the warring winds? To stand against the deep dread-bolted thunder In the most terrible and nimble stroke Of quick cross lightning? To watch—poor perdu! — With this thin helm? Mine enemy’s meanest dog, Though he had bit me, should have stood that night Against my fire. And wast thou fain, poor father, To hovel thee with swine and rogues forlorn In short and musty straw? Alack, alack! ‘Tis wonder that thy life and wits at once Had not concluded all. —He wakes. Speak to him. ” Act IV scene vii lines 28-40) In these two passages Cordelia finds herself feeling compassion for her father. As she reflects on her sister’s cruel decisions, she takes mercy on Lear, forgiving him for his past actions. Cordelia’s acts of mercy towards her father impact Lear, bringing him to the realization that he has been a fool and has mistreated his daughter Cordelia. As shown in the following passage, Lear, now compassionate towards Cordelia demonstrates mercy by asking his daughter for forgiveness: Lear: “Be your tears wet?
Yes, faith. I pray, weep not. If you have poison for me, I will drink it. I know you do not love me, for your sisters Have, as I do remember, done me wrong. You have some cause; they have not. ” (Act IV scene vii lines 70-74) With the mercy of his daughter, Lear is able to separate himself from his actions and begins to have some self-awareness. He reconciles towards mercy to solve his problems in the past with Cordelia, instead of extending his rage towards her he seeks forgiveness and their relationship begins to restore.
Lastly, the significance of mercy in society is further reiterated by Shakespeare through the character of Edgar. Edgar, who has been cast out of his father’s kingdom because of the deceit of his brother, is merciful towards his father Gloucester even after his father wishes him dead. This is demonstrated through the following passage where Edgar risks his own life protects his father from Oswald. Edgar: Good gentleman, go your gait, and let poor volk pass. An ‘chud ha’ bin zwaggered out of my life, ’twould not ha’ bin zo long as ’tis by a vortnight.
Nay, come not near th’ old man. Keep out, che vor’ ye, or I’se try whether your costard or my ballow be the harder. ‘Chill be plain with you. (Act IV scene vi lines 228-234) Mercy truly is the fundamental characteristic to civilized human life that can facilitate resolution, re-establish relationships and provide necessary framework in forming a justice system. As demonstrate throughout Shakespeare’s King Lear the absence of mercy creates chaos and insanity regardless of the rules of justice that are attempted to be established.
In order for justice to be formed, first one must understand the value of mercy. The giving and receiving of acts of mercy allow humanity to experience empathy providing a foundation in which they can govern their people. Shakespeare further reiterates that mercy is necessary as he demonstrates the reparation of previously disillusioned relationships once mercy has been established between them; therefore, it is proven that without mercy humans would lack the insight to establish justice within society.
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