Justice Versus Mercy

“Peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice” (Ford, Harrison). Justice is very essential to restore a fair and supportive society. I am a staunch advocate of the fact that the societies where injustice prevails, they suffer badly and their future’s end in mere darkness. This is not a fact but your opinion. Justice can be interpreted as receiving what is deserved, whereas mercy means receiving what is not deserved.

Although these two qualities seem to share a completely different set of aspects, in a civilized human life they are placed together in a parallel position where one is as fundamental as the other. However, for the continuation of civilized life, justice is a greater concern and should be taken more seriously over mercy. King Lear, a tremendous effort by William Shakespeare provides a clear insight into the importance of justice. There are number of examples in the play where we realize that justice is very important not only in the play but also in reality.

In the following essay, I will elaborate with the help of examples why justice should be provided immediately without any delay and why justice is not only embraced by the civilized world but by the lord also; and lastly justice leads people to realize their faults/crimes and helps them to change. Justice is a strong pillar of society that should never be taken for granted or diminished because in doing so all of society will suffer to great extremes.

The significance of justice is not just limited to establishment of harmony and stability in society but also important to ensure the victim feels secure and satisfied after a crime is committed against them and lastly justice allows a person to take responsibility for their actions and grow as a person. Practising justice sooner rather than later is very essential in establishing an ongoing pattern of stability. We see number of examples of this in King Lear throughout the play.

For instance, in Act III when Lear’s messenger Kent/Caius is put in stocks by Cornwall, if Lear would have punished Cornwall for this, Cornwall would not have been able to commit the heinous crimes that he later commits. We also observe a delay in justice when Albany learns of Gloucester’s eye gouging. Albany was the noblest man in the land following the death of Cornwall. He should have immediately sought out Edmund and punished him rather than swearing justice. “Gloucester, I live to thank thee for the love thou show’dst the king, And to revenge thine eyes.

— Come hither, friend: Tell me what more thou know’st. ” (IV. II. 93-96). The time lacked in delivering justice provides Edmund and his allies’ time to prepare a fight against the king and his allies. If justice was served on time without the delay, many unfortunate events could have been prevented. Justice is not only served to criminals by man but also in a divine manner. The Play, King Lear shows examples of divine justice throughout the play. One example is when Cornwall gouges Gloucester’s eyes and for him no immediate justice is served.

On the other hand, divine justice is served as we hear from Albany “This shows you are above, You justicers, that these our nether crimes So speedily can venge! — But, O poor Gloucester! Lost he his other eye? ” (IV. II. 78-81). Not only is divine justice served to Cornwall but also to Edmund when he both betrays and fools Edgar. Edgar is forced to become a fugitive and adapt a different identity, becoming an innocent man seeking justice. Eventually, Edmund is brought to justice and Edgar is restored to nobility of a much higher nature, and in a way, is rewarded.

Divine justice displayed in King Lear shows us that not only will all criminals be prosecuted but that those who are oppressed, will at some point attain their former freedom, pride, and happiness. Furthermore, justice not only brings people to terms with their crimes but it also helps people understand themselves better and teach the difference between right and wrong. In the play, we notice this occurring in many areas. We observe it occurring to the central character of the play Lear himself because at first, he is very unjust.

It was revealed in the beginning of the play through Lear’s banishment of Cordelia. In order to determine how much of his kingdom he should leave to each of his daughters, Lear asks each of them to tell him in words how much they love him. Goneril flatters her father, and Regan praises the king like never before, but when it comes time for Cordelia to confess her love for Lear, she cannot bring herself to do it. In these well-known lines, she states, “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth.

I love neither our majesty according to my bond, no more nor less. ” In reaction to Cordelia’s refusal to act as a sycophant towards her father, Lear is caught up in a rage. He disowns Cordelia, denies her any inheritance, and virtually auctions her off to her two suitors, openly degrading her in front of these gentlemen because she no longer has a dowry to offer her husband-to-be. He does not stop to realize that Cordelia is the only daughter who truly loves him, and that Goneril and Regan are only taking advantage of the situation.

Lear’s treatment of his daughter further proves the expression, “Life’s not fair. ” Still caught up in this rage, Lear is approached by Kent, who attempts to bring Lear back to the reality that surrounds them. Kent defends Cordelia, and begs Lear to reconsider. Lear, however, entirely ignoring the years of loyalty his friend has shown him, banishes his friend Kent for siding with her. Later in the play, Lear is brought to justice (divine) for his unjust and irrational actions. Lear becomes homeless as his elder daughters whom he trusted betray him.

Lear is looking for both justice and shelter in the storm, where he realizes that he had not done enough for the homeless while he was in power to make such decisions. “Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are, That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp; Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, That thou mayst shake the superflux to them, And show the heavens more just” (III. IV. 28-36).

He also understands that a world will only be just when humans behave justly towards one another. Another example is evident when Edmund is mortally wounded by Edgar and cries “Thou hast spoken right, ’tis true; The wheel is come full circle: I am here. ”(V. III. 175-176) He understands that he was wrong and acknowledges that what he deserves has come to him. If the justice he received was less punishing he might have been a different man who would understand right from wrong. These examples very clearly display how the power of justice can change a person and help both, them and society.

“Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just” were words said by Blaise Pascal (1623-1663). Justice is a strong pillar of society that should never be taken for granted or diminished because in doing so all of society will suffer to great extremes. Mercy is only valid on individual basis, when the assailant actually learns from their mistakes. If we think that by forgiving constantly that the perpetrator will stop committing crimes, then we are sadly mistaken.

Criminals in Shakespeare’s King Lear must be punished justifiably, for their evil behaviour. Only justice and great power can attempt to restore the order of King Lear’s kingdom ruined by the dictatorship of Goneril and Regan. Through the examples from King Lear discussed in this paper we can see that the justice that was served too late or not served at all caused greater problems later on. We can also see that justice is not only admired by the civilized but also by the spiritual world.

None of us can say for sure what goes on in the spiritual world! Where a man fails to deliver justice, a divine justice is served. Lastly, from the examples explored we see that justice brings a person to terms with themselves. It helps them understand the wrong choices they have made and also helps them change if not too late. In the wise words of Harrison Ford “Peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice” we can contrast that in the world of Lear peace is eventually attained through justice.

Thus, the play suggests that the only way there can ever be justice and peace in the world is when human beings behave justly toward one another. A great quote my Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) sums up my point of why I chose justice over mercy, as he says “Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular- but one must take it simply because it is right. ”