Human Nature and the Curse of Perception in King Lear

“Thou, nature, art my goddess. To thy law my services are bound.” Although the word ‘human’ is omitted to describe nature here, that is the exact kind of nature Shakespeare’s villain Edmund is referring to; human nature. One of the things that strikes me about his statement is the malevolence in his tone, which becomes apparent if we read the entire speech. He elucidates the idea that the human species has an innate weakness of credulity only needing the slightest bit of evidence to be o’erswayed in the wrong direction. We see this theme in Macbeth with his trust in the supernatural, Othello with his jealousy of Cassio prompted by the machinations of the evil Iago, and Polonius’ know-it-all over-confidence in knowing the cause of Hamlet’s madness which prompts him to promulgate to the King that Hamlet could be altered such from no other thing besides the “neglected love” of his daughter Ophelia. He’s so confident in his assessment that he is willing to put his life on it. “Take this from this, if this be otherwise,” he boastfully proclaims. Ironically we know Hamlet’s madness was actually contrived to hide his foreknowledge of his uncle’s guilt; so in essence it WAS OTHERWISE than Polonius thought (HE WAS DEAD WRONG-PUN INTENDED) as THIS WAS TAKEN FROM THIS when Polonius is offed behind the arras. In Gloucester’s character, his fault is a blameless one as it is simply his old age and weakening discretion that leads him to his tragic fate. Edmund’s overt surreptitiousness and reluctance to show his forged and incendiary letter against his brother completely persuades his father that his other son, Edgar, was plotting his death to get his inheritance. To defame his innocent brother is horrible, but to incite his elderly father against his own guiltless son is cruel. Edmund uses tactics based on human psychology to convince Gloucester of a lie. The ease with which we all can fall into false conclusions paints a picture of a most precarious existence, and Shakespeare capitalizes on this motif in all of the tragedies. Most of the time if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck; but if we are wrong, even but once, we can fall victim to vicious birds of prey, and be left destitute and feeling remorseful that despite our linear and logical assessments of the world, we are endowed with a thought process susceptible to wrong conclusions. Not everything is as it seems; but most things are, yet when we are wrong, we pay a hefty price.

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3 thoughts on “Human Nature and the Curse of Perception in King Lear

  1. I ‘play’ at Shakespeare on my blog (Well it is a Texan Blog and not entirely devoted to Shakespeare… in my defence) I also spill much (too much?) virtual ink on Lenny Bruce and Texan Tales of Mine own.
    I do sprinkle a lot of Shakespeare in my posts (never miss an opportunity to do so, in fact).

    But you, you actually work at it.

    I just pick the low fruit: A quote here, a video there. Usually not (alas) ‘gotten’ by some.

    I admire what you are doing here.
    And I am going to read much more.
    Cheers,
    Lance

  2. Pingback: Human Nature and the Curse of Perception in King Lear | The Shakespeare Standard

  3. Pingback: Human Nature and the Curse of Perception in King Lear | The Shakespeare Standard

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