by Jasmine W
King Lear operates on several complex levels in both its literary and thematic message. While the story and its characters’ actions all have a lot to say about the larger meanings of life, I found it very interesting to also witness a little bit of an ode to life’s simplicity as I followed along. As Gloucester famously states, “As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods; They kill us for their sport” (IV.i.41-42). When drawn in by the tragic plot full of betrayal, death, and irony, it is easy to forget about the story’s relation to the rest of the world. In retrospect, however, each and every one of the characters and our lives does not matter. Regardless of what happens to us, life and time move on.
It is here where a connection can be drawn between Shakespeare’s King Lear and Albert Camus’ The Stranger, which we read earlier in the year. In fact, I think almost any work of fiction can be viewed in part through and existentialist lens; nuanced reminders of just how insignificant human life is are present everywhere. That being said, I am a firm believer that the meaning of our life can only be determined by us, and dwelling on its insignificance in the face of eternity does not help anything. (But if that’s what you want to do, by all means, go for it.) If you make a mistake, it should be deemed that by yourself, and not by society’s standards.
Upon reflection, I find it thoroughly amusing that a play as tacky (in my opinion) as King Lear can raise such philosophical questions such as the meaning of life.