King Lear Justice Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.
The gods defend her [Cordelia]!—Bear him hence awhile.
Edmund is carried off.
Enter Lear with Cordelia in his arms,
followed by a Gentleman. (5.3.307)
If you want evidence that divine justice does not exist in the world of the play, look no further. Just as Albany prays to the gods to protect the innocent Cordelia from harm, Lear enters holding Cordelia's lifeless body in his arms. No wonder King Lear is known as Shakespeare's "bleakest" tragedy.
History Snack: In 1681, playwright Nahum Tate rewrote Shakespeare's play so it would have a happy ending. In Tate's version, Lear and Cordelia live and Cordelia falls in love and marries Edgar.
And my poor fool is hanged. No, no, no life?
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou 'lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never.— (5.3.369-372)
When King Lear, mourning the death of his beloved daughter, Cordelia, asks "Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life?" when Cordelia is dead, he gives voice the question we all ask when a loved one dies: Why?
In the play, Shakespeare refuses to console us with his answer because there simply is no good explanation for why Cordelia is dead while creatures with less to offer the world get to live. In other words, Cordelia's death, like so many others, simply isn't fair and there's absolutely nothing that can be done about it. Lear will "never, never, never, never" see his daughter alive again.