“I am a man. More sinned against than sinning”
These words of Lear point out his self-obsessed pity. His “Oh woe is me!” attitude reveals that he considers himself a victim of cruel circumstances, pitted alone against fate. He suffers at the hands of merciless gods, whose retribution is unjust. His most beloved daughter, Cordelia, has (so he thinks) turned against him and his malicious, hateful daughters, Goneril and Regan, have tossed him out into the violent storm where he is at the mercy of any thunder gods with good aim. Lear had only a few moments before promised the Fool that he would be “the pattern of all patience.” But now, on the heath, while the tempest seethes around him, he rages about his suffering and misery. He had, also, five lines before stated that the gods exacted just punishment on those who have, he says, “within them undivulged crimes.”


Lear’s actions here on the heath are, in part, merely attention-seeking. Lear wants sympathy. He creates this image of himself as a helpless victim because he does not want to be seen as responsible for what is happening to him. In the mock trial of Regan and Goneril which he sets up in the outhouse near Gloucester’s castle, Lear accuses his two eldesr daughters of humiliating and cruelly treating him. Here, and in the storm earlier on, Lear is laying blame for his circumstances outside of himself, so that he does not have to feel guilty. Guilt is something that Lear, as king, had never had to experience. Because of his power, Lear had always been undisputed as the absolute monarch. Thus Lear will not allow the possibility to enter his thoughts thar he is at fault. Now, without his former power, Lear should realise that Regan and Goneril inherited their pernicious tendencies from him. This revelation does not occur to him, however, and Lear suffers for it.


To understand his self-evaluation while he us out in the storm, it is necessary to look at Lear’s behaviour before and after in the play. Lear is one of those he had been talking about: he has committed “undivulged crimes.” These can be looked at as sins, not crimes, because they do not go against the laws of Britain. They go against the Elizabethan world view, against balance and God. Though Lear (as a pagan hundreds of years before Queen Elizabeth I lived) would not have seen the world as ruled by the Chain of Being, it is used in the King Lear for the Elizabethan audiences to relate to. The sins which Lear commits throw the carefully arranged hierarchial order into chaos. These sins of character are: pride, anger and greed. Lear is too proud to admit that he is wrong. His pride is one reason that Cordelia is banished. Lear cannot understand that anyone’s, let alone his daughter’s, love for him could be “Nothing.” Anger also prompts Lear to this make this rash decision. This is the worst sin that Lear commits. His greed for power stops him from retiring peacefully with Cordelia after giving up the kingdom completely. Because these sins are not against the law, they cannot be punished by throwing Lear in the stocks, or hanging him. His punishment is mental anguish.


Lear has to face punishment for his many other sins. These include his dividing of Britain into three parts and his aristocratic ignoring of the impoverished peasants of his kingdom. These poor people have “houseless heads” and “unfed sides”. As Lear had enough to survive very comfortably on, he did not realise that others were not as fortunate. This is an example in the text where the punishment fits the crime. Lear becomes one of the “poor wretches”: hungry, homeless and cold. Another example is his sin of being a poor father to his three daughters. He was selfish, expecting love and flattery from his children, but not giving much in return. Lear receives, as a penalty, the same unfeeling, cruel treatment from Regan and Goneril.


From these punishments, Lear comes to understand responsibility: that of a father and that of a king. This shows that Lear’s punishment is for a reason. He learns from his hardships and matures, gaining wisdom to match his age. Instead of