King Lear Justice Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.
LEAR […] O heavens,
If you do love old men, if your sweet sway
Show obedience, if you yourselves are old,
Make it your cause. Send down, and take my part. (2.4.217-220)
After Goneril and Regan betray him, King Lear calls upon the heavens to take his side and send down a punishing storm. As if in answer to his prayer, Lear, and not his daughters, suffers in the ensuing storm when Lear becomes homeless and wanders the heath. Does Lear deserve this?
Rumble thy bellyful! Spit, fire! Spout, rain!
Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters.
I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness.
I never gave you kingdom, called you children;
You owe me no subscription. Then let fall
Your horrible pleasure. Here I stand, your slave,
A poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man.
But yet I call you servile ministers,
That have with two pernicious daughters join
Your high engendered battles 'gainst a head
So old and white as this. O, ho, 'tis foul! (3.2.16-26)
Lear sees himself as a victim of injustice – his daughters have betrayed him and now he's caught out on the heath during a terrible storm. What's interesting about this passage is the way Lear literally accuses the storm of being his daughters' agent ("servile minister"). For Lear, it seems the whole world is against him.
Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta'en
Too little care of this. Take physic, pomp.
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou may'st shake the superflux to them
And show the heavens more just. (3.4.32-41)
This is an important moment for King Lear, who has never before contemplated the plight of homelessness. Here, he realizes that he hasn't done enough to solve the homeless problem in his kingdom as he acknowledges that, as king, he had the power and authority to do something about it. This is pretty extraordinary because it suggests that the acts of human beings are the things that prove "the heavens [to be] more just." In other words, there can only be justice in the world when human beings behave justly toward each other.