The Theme of Nothing in ‘King Lear’: Essay

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In his works, the famous William Shakespeare made it a habit to raise numerous important topics. And his play 'King Lear' was no exception. In it, next to such themes as suffering, appearance versus reality, family relationships, the value of nothingness, and how much 'nothing' can represent is of great importance.

In the first scene, Lear banishes Cordelia, which as a result reduces her to nothing. While Cordelia is deemed worthless, the King of France still takes her as his wife, because “she is her own dowry”. The idea that she does not need wealth to be worthy creates the fact that there is inherent worth in a person. Cordelia’s marriage with France allows her to assist Lear in regaining his kingdom. It is not until their reunion that Lear is able to understand his wrongdoings. Like Cordelia, Edgar is despised by his own father. To save his own life, he has to leave everything behind, including the people he knew, his wealth, and his riches. He truly becomes an image of nothing because he has to pretend to be an insane beggar named Tom. When Gloucester, Edgar’s father, loses both of his eyes, Tom (Edgar) can safely lead him to Dover, saving him from taking his own life and even restoring hope within him, giving him the will to live. Cordelia and Edgar are both portrayed as Christ figures because of their own 'nothingness', they were both able to rescue their fathers. Thus proving that something can be derived from nothing, as well as portraying the image that nothingness does have inherent worth.

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Cordelia and Edgar’s inherent nothingness allowed them to do things that would normally not be performed. Thus, the nothingness of both the setting of the play and Lear's universe allowed both Lear and Gloucester to gain personal wisdom and sight, respectively. When Lear is driven out of his old kingdom, Lear's universe entices a storm that causes Lear's insanity. Through his insanity, Lear gains a wisdom that has not ever entered him. Like Lear, Gloucester was unwise and metaphorically blind before his encounter with Lear's universe. Gloucester did not truly see his sons for who they were, all he saw was who his legitimate son was and the one who was not. Gloucester believed that Edmund was a loyal son and Edgar was a traitor, while it was in fact the complete opposite. It was not until his absence of true eyesight did he became aware of the situation around him. The loss of his physical eyesight allowed him to see metaphorically. When both Lear and Gloucester went 'nowhere', they were anointed with wisdom, thus proving that something can come from nothing, and it can also be positive as well.

In conclusion, the theme of nothing is one of the leading themes in William Shakespeare's 'King Lear' along with others. As described in this essay, the value of nothingness and how much ‘nothing’ can represent has been depicted primarily through the stories of Cordelia and Edgar, as well as through Lear and Gloucester's paths to wisdom and sight.

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