Amelia Weidemann “If the heavens do not their visible spirits/Send quickly down to tame these vile offenses/… humanity must perforce prey on itself,”(IV. ii. 48-50). This quote comes from the fourth act in King Lear written by William Shakespeare. In the process to amend the social uproar that ensues after the first act, Cordelia later on in the play tries to reestablish the aristocratic ideal of service to one’s lord by waging war on the betrayal of her sisters. Shakespeare wants to illuminate that the tragedy of the play and society relies solely on the fact that mercantile power supersedes the feudal system.
The conflict of the play identifies with the triumph of capitalist values. William Shakespeare uses the ills of capitalism, alienation, and dowries to obtain wealth and power through characters in King Lear as a proof of tension between the old and new social orders. Lear’s distribution of dowry to his daughters is arranged around feudal relations. He invites his daughters to bid for land and gives it in exchange for love. “Prize me at her worth,” Regan exclaims to Lear during this process (1. ii. 78). Regan explains to Lear that she considers herself an equal or better than her sisters.
Shakespeare wants to exhibit that Lear’s request is tainted by market exchange while feudalism is present and that individuals often take advantage of others by wealth in exchange for love and care. Cordelia’s rebellion by not conveying her love symbolizes her trying to bring back the aristocratic ways of loyalty. Her argument of nothing is a matter of custom, not market exchange. “I love your Majesty/According to my bond; no more nor less… I/Return those duties back as are right fit,” (1. i. 93-98). Lear customarily asks for more than he deserves, which is the old order of feudalistic and aristocratic idea.
However, when taking Lear’s arguments into consideration when he says Cordelia’s price has fallen exhibits his betrayal of the traditional order. The statement “nothing will come from nothing” implies that value is no longer hereditary but is related to market exchange. Shakespeare wants the audience to understand that in the new social system dominated by market exchange, blood becomes irrelevant. For example, the new social order is demonstrated in this scene because Burgundy believes Cordelia is no longer a good bargain, her price has fallen. Whereas, according to France, she is herself a dowry.
France relies on the aristocratic concept of value as fundamental worth. As a daughter of noble birth, she is valuable in herself. As Cordelia leaves with France she leaves with the words: “well may you prosper” alluding to the change taking place between Old and New. Goneril, Regan, and Edmund represent the new capitalist order and break the feudal rules of trust to increase one’s power as a demonstration of the perils of capitalism as it appears in Marxism. Lear’s daughters believed that he should be banished from the kingdom for him to realize that he no longer has power.
As a result, Lear is alienated from both his family and kingdom: 0, sir, to wilful men The injuries that they themselves procure Must be their schoolmasters. Shut up your doors. He is attended with a desperate train. And what they may incense him to, being apt To have his ear abused, wisdom bids fear. (II. iv. 303-307) Since Lear was alienated as a result of disagreeing to dismissing his knights, it is evident Goneril and Regan symbolizing bourgeois, have unfair control over proletariats, symbolized by Lear.
In a Marxist society, bourgeoisies want more power, and as a result, proletariats are forced to give up theirs very similar to Lear’s situation. Also, the proletariats are faced with consequences, like alienation, if they attempt to fight back against the bourgeoisies, proving that capitalism has detrimental negative effects on society. Furthermore, Edmund represents the new class, questioning the arbitrary difference between the meaning of legitimate and illegitimate.
His criticism of religious ideology shows him leaving feudalism. “We make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon the star,” (1. ii. 113-115). Also, when he states “I grow, I Prosper” he is correlated to Goneril and Regan because they also betray blood for the power and wealth. His new philosophy of social mobility embraces the breakdown of the old feudal system: “the younger rises when the old doth fall. ” Shakespeare wants the reader to understand the negative consequences of Marxism and capitalism as they are related to blood.
A reading of this play under terms of Marxism would focus on wealth and dowry; Michael Ryan focuses his criticism on the distribution of dowries, feudal relations, and the market economy based on value. The action of King Lear moves from a breakdown of old order of punishment (exemplified in Lear’s banishment of Kent) through a period of lawlessness and strife to a moment of restored order characterized by the emergence of a new disciplinary form predicated upon an ideal of virtue or internally motivated and self-activated good behavior. Ryan 184)
The play is at a point where the old feudal ways and the new capitalist forms begin conflicting. Shakespeare, by revealing the King as nothing more than a human shows a connection between individual and monarchical freedom. Ryan highlights that the ending order focused on punishment is to be replaced by a new order that premises on virtue and that while it might appear to be good in theory, however, like many other utopian concepts human nature is not taken into account and an unsafe totalitarian society is created.
Another scholar by the name of Keith Linley wrote about King Lear and targeted the changing social order. “There is opposition between the old order (Gloucester and Kent) rallying to the king and the new (Goneril, Cornwall, Edmund) briefly cohering to destroy the king’s power,” (Linley 115). Linley wants to make the point that Lear is heavily concerned with the high positions. He discusses the many social climbers who attempt to behave badly to gain status from the new capitalist power. Though many people remain loyal to Lear, others leave him in hopes of wealth and power.
The social order is shattered due to the new coming age. William Shakespeare uses his compelling characters in King Lear to demonstrate the many differences between the old feudalistic system and the new capitalist based social order and the dangers the emerging order holds. Shakespeare informs the reader of the modifications needed in society to prevent capitalism from overthrowing the traditional aristocratic ways. Through Goneril and Regan, the dangers of bourgeoisies and proteltarists are evident and the negative effects they cause. With the differing social orders, lineage becomes trivial.
Blood no longer matters and wealth depends heavily on market exchange. Scholars highlight the difficulties and dangers of utopian concepts, especially when they are centered on bourse. He discusses the many social climbers who attempt to behave badly to gain status from the new capitalist power. The conflict between the idea of human liberty and the traditional order is resolved in the play by transforming the king into an item of pathos. By “humanising” the king, Shakespeare is able to fuse together the two ideas regarding absolutist authority and individual subjectivity.